The story behind a signature: One UAE resident's tale is a sign of the times

With my second Abu Dhabi expat stint coming in an age of biometric checks, eye scanners and mobile phone fingerprint ID, I haven’t really had to use my signature to verify my identity all that often

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“This will be the third and last attempt, sir. If this is not successful, there is going to be some difficulty.”

These are not the words you want to hear coming from your bank representative first thing in the morning.

I am sitting in a tidy cubicle feverishly trying to complete an order form for a cheque book. I have all my ID with me - passport, driver’s licence, visa, even my lapsed gym membership card – I didn’t plan on the fact that my signature would be the thing that might stand in the way of me moving into my new apartment.

It is an outrageous amount of pressure. Beads of sweats form on my forehead and I adopt a loose handgrip on the pen. I literally count to three – much to the amusement of the banker – and in a swift motion I lunge at the paper and rapidly scrawl my signature again.

The 10 seconds it takes to verify it is torturous and unnecessary. I am on the verge of offering him a vile of my blood or a lock of hair as extra collateral when he clears his throat.

“Let me give you some advice,” he says. “Change your signature immediately.”

And with that he swings the computer screen around to reveal a set of faintly recognisable lines I scrawled seven years ago when I first opened my account.

If he was suggesting it resembled a child’s etching, then he would be partly correct as I have unwittingly managed to maintain my signature since I first scrawled it at the age of 9.

I recall that period clearly, as it was the first time I was forced to grasp the concept of loss. Having been born in Abu Dhabi to Eritrean parents, we knew our time in the UAE had a shelf life. Our time here came to an end almost 28 years ago when it was decided that we would join my maternal grandmother and aunts in Australia as part of the family reunion visa scheme.


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At the airport my Dad gave me a small green form and told me to fill out what I could. Considering my age at the time, it was debatable if that was an official document, but I would like to think it was part of his preparation to man me up for the life that was to come.

He wasn’t joining us - like many Eritrean families, he stayed behind to work to ensure the money was coming through - he would spend the final Abu Dhabi days advising me to up my maturity “as you are the eldest. Enough, you are the man of the house now”.

As you would expect being a 9-year-old, my signature was as childish as I was - I wrote my first name and manipulated the last letter so it would resemble a cross between a flag and a boat mast – perhaps it was my subconscious attempt to express this new phase of my life, which would see me travel far away and become an Australian.

Remarkably, with the exception of a few slight amendments over the years, the signature has remained relatively intact up until now. I used it to open my first bank account as an 11-year-old, and not long after that for my public transportation card.

The only amendment it received was in high school when my Year 8 maths teacher, the gregarious Mr Zabadel, used my name as an example in his Algebra class.

“In maths terms, his name is basically Saeed to the power of 2,” he said. “So we can also call him Saeed Squared.”

The name stuck for the rest of my high school days, and I was so chuffed about it that I added a little two in the middle of the flag/mast, where it proudly remains on my Australian citizen certificate and my passport.

But it was the squared symbol that came back to bite me at the bank. With my second Abu Dhabi expat stint coming in an age of biometric checks, eye scanners and mobile phone fingerprint ID, I haven’t really had to use my signature to verify my identity all that often. The fuzzy memory made me misplace the little 2 that caused the eagle-eyed banker much concern.

I have opted to keep the signature and have begun to sign my name below journal entries for daily practice. But the banker is right, signatures do say a lot about a person.