My pride is not a safe currency in Abu Dhabi. It dips a lot.
And yet, the places where I feel most comfortable are those venues where people know my dignity for it’s worth. You can try to work it out in Bitcoin but it still comes out in rouble. Nada.
Take Al Hajaz Coffee, a shisha cafe with very few pretensions and a friendly, if occasionally piss-taking staff and clientele.
One staff member there was a youngish Syrian fellow named Ahmed, who would not speak to the only “European” regular in any English through his distaste for the lack of effort to learn Arabic. Fair enough.
But this led to difficulty. How would said “European” know that the words being taught by Ahmed had nothing to do with a camel’s orifice and a close relative?
A couple of queries with an Emirati in the office showed that Ahmed was, in solid fact, sharing knowledge. Even if he was laughing hard enough at the pronunciation to become the proud mother of several puppies – after a day or two of lying down, of course.
At one stage during the afternoon, Ahmed’s tortured tones would join that of whatever voluptuous, exotic Lebanese diva was on the telly with the lyric “Habeeeeeeebeeee”.
A couple of the men in the cafe would look on in distaste. One Emirati, whose name I was never to know, only connected with me once – when a dill who came into the club became extremely abrasive.
Shared, raised eyebrows. That was all.
The rest of the gentlemen there – Abdul, the owner; Lukman, the man behind the jump who deliberately sounds like an Arabic Manuel whenever he feels like talking English; and later Mustafa, the man who replaces every medium-sweet Turkish coffee as soon as it is spent – are perfectly welcoming.
But I miss Ahmed. He reminded me of my first visit to Shannon Airport in Ireland, which considers itself home of the Irish coffee, after a 72-hour flight on a Philippine Airlines jet that broke down three times on the way to Heathrow. (It was only chosen because it was the last carrier that allowed smoking when you left Australian airspace).
We, a party of five including two young children, left the plane with very sticky suntans and the smell of a planeful of passengers with only one bog in operation.
When we landed to be greeted by old friends and relatives, we of course stopped at the airport bar.
“I suppose you’ll have a Fosters,” the barman said with what I hoped was a good-natured snigger. “Didn’t fly halfway around the world to have what I can get at home. Give me six pints of Guinness and two raspberry lemonades.”
He did. It was only on the way back to the table that I realised one of us wanted a cafe latte. Bugger.
There was only one answer: “You didn’t fly halfway around the world to have our fecking coffee.”