Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 30 October 2020

When I realised I was a real life Abu Dhabian

Embracing a new country and home can be a lovely experience. Delores Johnson / The National
Embracing a new country and home can be a lovely experience. Delores Johnson / The National

‘I’m from New York.” That’s how I usually introduce myself. Back home we love the Yankees and hate the Red Sox, think our pizza is better than Chicago’s and can’t comprehend why anyone would want to live any place other than in “The City”.

It’s what we call “hometown pride,” and whether you’re a born and bred New Yorker, or a transplant, you wear your New Yorker-ness as a badge of honour.

So nearly two years into my new life in Abu Dhabi, I’m still a New Yorker, but I’m feeling a different kind of hometown pride as well. Recently, Dubai was dubbed the best city in the Middle East for expats, beating Abu Dhabi for the top spot in the region. Upon reading this news, I can’t deny it got my back up a bit.

As UAE residents know, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are as similar as they are different. Sure, we’re both part of the United Arab Emirates. And both cities are dynamic, progressive even.

But Dubai and Abu Dhabi have totally different vibes that are hard to explain to those who have never been here.

I often compare Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles and New York. Dubai’s geography is vast, the city extends for miles, and the traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is as notorious as Los Angeles’ 405. A city of superlatives, Dubai is glitzy and has a star-struck element that lures the world’s top celebs.

On the other hands, Abu Dhabi is the seat of national power. Unlike the sprawl of Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s heart is on an island laid out on a grid, much like Manhattan.

While Dubai shows its wealth with tall glass buildings, Abu Dhabi celebrates its strength with its verdant riches. And while one may be wondering how a place might demonstrate its deep pockets through planted trees – just try growing a lush rainforest in a desert. In Abu Dhabi we enjoy almost an embarrassment of green spaces.

Where Dubai has a fast-paced mindset that centres on tourism, media and real estate investment with a fast-talking, fast-paced and young feel; Abu Dhabi is deep into culture, finance, and, well, oil. It’s stately, quiet and proud.

For the most part, people who live in Abu Dhabi don’t like the idea of living in Dubai, and people in Dubai wouldn’t dream of living in Abu Dhabi. Truth be told, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have what I believe is an unspoken rivalry that plays out in interesting ways.

For instance, Abu Dhabi has Etihad Airways, Dubai has Emirates. Abu Dhabi has Emirates Palace, Dubai has the Burj Al Arab. Dubai has the Burj Khalifa, Abu Dhabi has the Grand Mosque. And while Dubai has its epic brunch, Abu Dhabi has, well ... the Dubai Brunch. OK, you can’t win them all.

Recently I went back to the United States for a quick hit of my past New York City life. While it was still winter, New York seemed dark, dirty and dangerous. I felt out of step with the place. I didn’t have a thousand places to be or a million things to do. Living in New York, I was always busy, but this time, even the dogs seemed like they had more urgent places to be. For the first time since living in Abu Dhabi, I didn’t feel like New York was home and I was just temporarily away for a while.

Though I suspect I will always be a New Yorker, on the return flight to Abu Dhabi, a fellow passenger asked me where I’m from. “I live in Abu Dhabi,” I replied with a new sense of hometown pride.

Christine Hinz is a writer and publicist in Abu Dhabi

Updated: April 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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