Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lunch-break language barrier

Today I ate lunch at one of my new favorite spots – a tiny strip of manmade land, no wider than a two lane road that juts out from the main island of Abu Dhabi. I can park my car right along the water and get an unobstructed view of a small bay and the Gulf beyond. It’s still too hot to eat outside so I had to stay in my car with the ac going, but it was worth it for the change of scenery (plus I could listen to a podcast of This American Life while I ate).

The view from my car—

You’ll agree it’s a big improvement from where I spend the rest of my work day and often find myself eating lunch (there’s a whole other story behind that, and it’s not because I have too much work to do) —

Notice the “privacy panes” lining the 360 degrees of glass walls surrounding my desk. Do those stripes remind you of anything?

But I digress.

After I finished my sandwich I decided I could brave the midday sun for a few minutes and snap some better pictures of my surroundings. So I got out of the car and took these—

That's Marina Mall in the distance, our home away from home when we first moved here and were furnishing our apartment.

I grew tired of the mall, but I never get tired of that turquoise water.

Just as I snapped this last shot I heard the voice of a young man call to me from behind, “Hey!”

I ignored it at first, assuming it wasn’t meant for me; but, there it was again, “Hey!” 

I turned around to find a fancy white SUV, driven by an Emirati male, about 19 or so, attended by two of his buddies. He waved me over to the car.

I don’t usually go up to cars full of men when I’m by myself, but this was a very public place in broad daylight. I could tell their intent was friendly, so I walked a bit closer.

“You take picture,” the young driver said in broken English.

Trying to interpret his meaning, several scenarios quickly played in my mind: a) He could be commenting on the fact that I was indeed taking pictures (too obvious for words), b) He could be asking if he could take my picture (not likely given what I know of Emirati men), or c) He could be asking that I take a picture of him with his friends (except he wasn't holding out a camera to me).  

As the wheels in my head were turning, he kept repeating “You take picture,” with a goofy grin on his face.  Finally, I got it – “Oh,” I said, “you want me to take your picture and send it to you?”

A flash of confusion crossed his face, but he nodded slightly and repeated his phrase again, this time gesturing towards my camera.

I was also confused. What an odd request. I mean, now I would have to write down his email address and remember to send it to him, and then he’d have my email address and that would be awkward and probably inappropriate. As if to confirm my analysis, though, he said emphatically “You won’t forget.” And I thought, how presumptuous of him to ask for this favor and then demand that I follow through.

But it seemed he was determined so I figured I'd take his picture, and then try to discuss the logistics. I raised my camera to three smiling faces and said, “Cheese.”

Notice the Ray-bans and the Calvin Klein t-shirt. 

The driver asked if he could see the photo, flashed a huge smile of approval at what he saw on the camera viewfinder, handed it back to me, and just as I was about to get down to the business of obtaining his contact info, he drove off!

All at once it hit me what had just happened. He had noticed me taking pictures of the water, assumed I was a tourist, and thought he’d give me the best gift of all, a snapshot of a real live group of Emiratis in traditional dress. When he said “you won’t forget,” I thought he was telling me not to forget to email him the picture, but actually he was saying, “I will allow you to take my picture so you won’t forget your experience in Abu Dhabi.”  

Again, I thought how presumptuous he was, but kind of sweet in his innocent assumption that I would want this. And I do. So I guess he was right. 


  1. What a great view you have when eating lunch and I'm not talking about your office, lol. Funny story, great picture of the guys.

  2. Since the one thing I did not see while I was there was your office, I'm glad to finally get a view of it. Would I be guessing right to say the stripes of the vertifcal blinds remind you of prison bars? I know how you feel about your office.

    Knowing that, I can well imagine how refreshing it is to look out on the beautiful azul ocean water, which I remember well, and be able to glance across to the Mall, which I also remember.

    Brings back memories of last March.

  3. Hi Shannon! Finally I get to send you a comment. I was never able to log onto your blog before, for some strange reason. Happy Birthday to you on Wednesday! Your mom reminded me of your grandfather and I visiting you right after you were born. I remember holding you--what a darling baby, and now a very attractive young lady! I love the pictures--send more! My love to Sam.

  4. LOL..Oh that's funny, typical emirati's...just like typical kuwaiti's here... lol