Dear Ali: Sometimes when I take a taxi, the driver’s body odour is so strong that I need to cover my nose. What can I do? And while we’re on the topic of hygiene, how can I stop people from spitting? It’s gross. RF, Abu Dhabi
Dear RF: People come to the UAE from many places where standards of personal hygiene may vary. Deodorant might be a luxury that some cannot afford, and the body odour that you find repugnant might be deemed natural where they are from. Try to sympathise with the taxi drivers. They drive in hot weather and some days sit in their cars for 12 hours or more. They deal with the stress of traffic and are away from families for months, even years, at a time. Taxi firms should do more to educate drivers about standards here, but it would be impossible for the police to monitor such things. There are more than 7,000 silver taxis in Abu Dhabi alone. I would take down the driver’s name and number and call the company so that they might deal with each case in a discreet way.
We do have laws against spitting, but again, we simply don’t have the resources to enforce these laws. Spitting is not “gross” in all parts of the world. Like body odour, it might be seen as perfectly natural. Some can’t afford to buy tissues.
If we want to change behaviour, we need to come together as a society and educate people, not scold them. I do hope that the Department of Transport takes this more seriously in the near future.
Dear Ali: I’m travelling for business soon and would like to know what to get as a souvenir from Abu Dhabi to give to some friends overseas and business associates. HT, Abu Dhabi
Dear HT: First, I would advise you to pay a visit to the Made in UAE stand at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, which was founded by Emirati artist Azza Al Qubaisi. At her shop, everything is made in the UAE by Emiratis, and there you will find many of the things that I’m about to suggest to you. As you may know, Abu Dhabi means “father of gazelle”, a type of antelope. Another of the most important antelopes that we have in the emirate is the oryx. So I would go for an oryx statue, or a drawing with a red sand dune background.
You can find amazing artwork by local artists at exhibitions in the Cultural Foundation, or ornaments at the group of antiques shops near the old Splash Centre across the road from Abu Dhabi Mall. A traditional bag made from palm-tree leaves from one of our farms would also be an authentic gift, available at the handiwork shop at the Cultural Foundation and the gift shop at the Heritage Village. My favourite gift to give is original khalas dates, in packs or in chocolate bars, available at most date stores when they’re in season (July to September). Small Arabic coffee or tea cups with the UAE flag or authentic Emirati drawings on them are great gifts for friends who enjoy hot drinks, and even if they don’t, they are nice just to display. To add to the set, you could get them a coffee or teapot, which we refer to as a “dalat gahwah” or “dalat shaay”. Another option would be a burqa, the facial mask that elderly women wear in our culture, to display on their walls or shelves, or a beautiful shayla (headscarf), which you can buy or have tailored.
A coffee-table book on the history of our city is always a good choice. Abu Dhabi Life & Times: Through The Lens of Noor Ali Rashid is a great one. Another original idea is to get someone’s name written in Arabic calligraphy and frame it for the wall, which I like to do for my expat friends (you can convert your name to Arabic on my website, under the “Culture” menu). Finally, you can buy them some authentic oud perfume. This incense is well known in all Arabic countries, and in Abu Dhabi there is plenty of good oud, which we burn on coals when we get dressed. It gives off a lovely scent. We refer to it as “bukhoor”.
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