When choosing where to vacation, I always prefer visiting family and friends.
I favour this option not solely because of the lure of discounted accommodation - although this perk is welcomed by a budget traveller such as myself - but rather to experience the destination through the eyes of a knowledgeable local instead of a clueless tourist.
This preference recently whisked me away to the European continent, where I enjoyed the hospitality of three friends in three cities. And although I was treated with endless generosity and provided with appreciated comfort by each friend, it was the hospitality of two strangers in Brussels that took me aback while reminding me of my own country's generosity.
My decision to fly on a cut-price flight (did I mention I was a budget traveller?) had me on a waiting list for the return to Abu Dhabi from Brussels. Unfortunately, as the Etihad employee explained, I had gambled on a weekend flight during the high season.
Unable to board, I was stranded without a means of communication as a dexterous pickpocket had relieved me of my phone in Barcelona. No contacts, no friends and a potential two-day wait for a ride home, I was resigned to spending the night in a random hotel. I was then advised to take the last train to what I would later discover was a seedy part of town.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon a kind-hearted French couple who came to my rescue.
Upon explaining to them my dire situation and inquiring about the dodgy neighbourhood I was setting out to, they unhesitatingly offered to take me in.
These complete strangers who I had spoken to for no more than a minute put me up in their humble apartment, offered me food and drink and gave me access to their phone and internet.
They topped off their unconditional kindness the next morning by going out of their way to escort me all the way to the train station's ticket counter.
That this unselfish act was taking place in modern Western Europe, where such gestures are a rarity rather than the norm, made it all the more astonishing. And yet had the same occurred in the UAE, I would not have been as surprised.
Acts of kindness toward strangers are in the fabric of Emirati culture, stemming from the incomparable hospitality of Bedouins.
Bedouins ritually offer at least three days of food, drink, shelter and protection to any stranger encountered, no questions asked.
This tradition continues today among many UAE citizens. A Qatari in Doha recently confessed to me how moved he was when an Emirati work associate dragged him out of his Abu Dhabi hotel room, paid the bill and insisted he spend the rest of his visit with him. "Although we are a giving people, I experienced kindness on another level in Abu Dhabi," said the young Qatari.
I have also been witness to family members bringing home random people from airports who were stranded for one reason or another.
Although I was a recipient of such unconditional charity in Europe, knowing it is part of my country's foundation is another reason I am glad to be back home.
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