x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Finding your place in a new land

One of the first realisations for a new expat is how much you miss "your place". You know what I mean: that comfortable spot where you melt into the surroundings and lose yourself in people-watching and brooding.

One of the first realisations for a new expat is how much you miss "your place". You know what I mean: that comfortable spot where you melt into the surroundings and lose yourself in people-watching and brooding.

Anyone with a Place knows it is not easy to find. Sure, some have stumbled upon one, but like any budding romance, you have to see whether you and the location are compatible. Does your personality and the colour scheme fit? Are the chairs welcoming? Is the menu flexible or traditional?

And that is before considering the really important stuff such as the soundtrack and staff.

It's these things that could make or break the relationship.

The music, like the staff, needs to complement your various moods. Both have to know when to perk you up and when to remain unobtrusive.

After weeks of failed dalliances with a pool hall, restaurants and one awful beach club, I resigned myself to a life of shopping malls and hotels.

But I'm happy to report I was saved: I fell in love last month. Walking out of an Eastern European restaurant, I was seduced by the vibrant sounds emanating from the corner. There it was, a mostly outdoor cafe snuggled between two old apartment blocks, with rickety wooden chairs and tables sprawled outside on the dirt floor.

I am always attracted to places secure enough not to flash a neon sign to lure you in.

Once seated, a waiter casually strolled by and asked for my order. No fake smiles, no big production, just: "Drink? Sheesha? The two?"

This place's shai kushary (loose-leaf tea) was smooth and their sahlab, a sweet milky concoction using corn starch and coconut shavings, was note perfect.

Even the music, while a tad loud, was an appealing mix of old Egyptian crooners and songbirds speaking of past revolutions over lush strings.

The best part, though, had to be my fellow customers, all regulars and gracious enough to add another person to their tribe.

Some are older and are referred to as The Doctor or The Engineer (calling one after his distinguished current or past employment is an old Egyptian past-time); the younger set sips soft drinks and nonalcoholic fruit beers.

The only clear name uttered is of the manager.

Wearing a bumbag, he darts around customising his service to each customer, a satisfied smile on his face at all times.

By the third date I realised this Place was a keeper and it became a regular part of my Abu Dhabi life.

And for those wondering why I am being deliberately vague, the key factor in turning a mere location to Your Place is its exclusivity.

This one's mine. I hope you find yours.