Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Murky beaches and potholes: five things you notice about the UK after you've lived in the UAE

Don't worry, there's no mention of Brexit below ...

The sun sets behind a construction crane in central London: one thing that stands out when returning to the UK in summer is just how long the days are. AFP 
The sun sets behind a construction crane in central London: one thing that stands out when returning to the UK in summer is just how long the days are. AFP 

With summer drawing to a close in the UAE, many British residents will have recently come back from annual trips home. And it doesn't matter how often I go home, there are always new idiosyncrasies that catch my eye.

Here are five things that were blatantly apparent to me during the summer of 2019 – and no, there's absolutely no mention or even consideration of anything Brexit related.

1. The major roads are terrible

I'm not talking about the frequent occasions when the likes of the M25 turn into a 10-kilometre-long car park, but the actual surface.

Motorways and dual carriageways resemble ploughed fields in their inconsistency. Potholes, the bane of mechanical suspension systems countrywide, appear to be ever more frequent – some say because of prolonged winters bringing deep freezes for months on end which cause the surface to turn into apple crumble and wear away.

Then there's the smooth, glasslike table-top roads of the UAE where barely a wobble is felt as you glide along at 140 kilometres an hour.

2. The days are endless

Is it really 8pm? I found myself asking this question day in, day out as I tapped at my watch or phone, thinking it must be playing an unfunny trick on me.

OK, so it isn't quite to the extent of somewhere such as Iceland where the sun barely sets in summer, but in the UK the sun can be up for almost 17 hours, allowing for pleasant evenings to be spent outdoors. Compare this to the UAE, where the sun is done and dusted by around 7pm during the summer.

3. Going for a swim just isn't the same

One of the joys of being in the UAE is the opportunity to swim. Whether it is at the communal pool in your residential tower, your own private pool attached to your villa or at one of the many fabulous beaches lining the Arabian Gulf, there is no shortage of opportunity to take a dip.

The temptation to strip off and take a plunge just isn't there back in the UK. The council-run public pools feel grimy, while the sea is predominantly a murky shade of brown that sends no invitations.

There's a realisation that you're unlikely to ever swim again in UK waters – unless you are one of those hard-edged folk who are happy to jump in the nearest icy river for the supposed health benefits that it brings.

4. The reality of homelessness

This is a difficult one to explain to children. It doesn't matter whether you are traversing the capital on foot or on the underground, there seems to be homeless people everywhere in Central London.

You can't enter a station without having to step past a collection cup and cardboard sign being held out requesting assistance. Some are old, others are much younger. Some can be seen tucking into fast food, while in other cases a full meal doesn't appear to have been consumed for a long time.

It's sad and it's unnerving, and just how do you explain it to kids?

5. Tap water tastes ... strange

It takes some time to get used to drinking from the tap again, but it's not only the concept of it that is initially alien – it's the taste as well.

While many houses in the UAE have free drinking water stations outside of them, for many, bottled water is the common drinking method in the UAE. In the UK, that is mostly reserved for a desperation purchase while you are out and about on a hot day, or an attempt at cool sophistication as you place a bottle of Evian next to your MacBook Pro for an Instagram picture with a caption stating "hard at work while everyone else enjoys the sunshine".

Once you've managed to remember how to place a glass under a tap and turn it on, there's the actual experience of drinking it.

Opinions differ, but I say it tastes ... chalky.

Updated: September 17, 2019 10:21 AM

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