“I’m from New York.”
That’s how I usually introduce myself.
That’s how I usually introduce myself.
Back home in New York, we love the Yankees and hate the (Boston) Red Sox, think our pizza is better than Chicago’s, and can’t comprehend why anyone would want to live any place else in the world other than in “The City.” It’s what we call ‘hometown pride,’ and whether you’re a born and bred New Yorker, or a transplant, one wears their New Yorker-ness as a badge of honor.
As a ‘born and bred’ New Yorker, leaving the city was one of the biggest hurdles in starting a new life in Abu Dhabi. With life so fast-paced and cut-throat in New York City, when one has the opportunity (or is pushed) to leave, it’s hard not worry that people will see one’s departure as some sort of personal failure.
So nearly two years into my ‘new’ life in Abu Dhabi, I’m still a New Yorker, but I’m feeling a different kind of hometown pride as well. Recently, Dubai was dubbed the best city in the Middle East for expats… beating out Abu Dhabi for the top spot in the region. Upon reading this news, I can’t deny I got my back up a bit.
For people who have never been to the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are as similar as they are different. Sure, we’re both part of the United Arab Emirates. And both cities are dynamic, progressive even. But Dubai and Abu Dhabi have totally different vibes and it’s hard to explain the differences to people who don’t live here or haven’t visited before.
I often compare Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles and New York. Dubai’s geography is vast, the city extends for miles and miles and the traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is as notorious as LA’s 405. A city of superlatives, Dubai is glitzy and has a star-struck element that lures the world’s top celebs. In that way, Dubai verges on being like Las Vegas and I think that’s where Westerners forget that there are certain rules of etiquette that need to be honored here – you can’t just get all sin-city in Dubai.
But I digress.
On the other side of things, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirates, and is the seat of power for this very, very powerful nation. Unlike the sprawl of Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s heart is on an island laid out on a grid, much like Manhattan.
While Dubai shows its wealth with tall glass buildings, Abu Dhabi celebrates its strength with its verdant riches. And while you may be wondering how a place might demonstrate its deep pockets through planted trees – just try growing a lush rain forest in a desert and you’ll understand completely. Much like New Yorkers revere places like Central and Prospect Park (green space where investors could be prospering with prime real estate), in Abu Dhabi we enjoy an embarrassment of green spaces, whether it’s the Al Ain oasis, the modern Mushrif Park, or the drive along the palm tree-lined section of Sheik Zayed Highway -- that abruptly stops when you cross over into the emirate of Dubai.
Where Dubai has a fast-paced mindset that centers around tourism, media and real estate investment – fast-talking, fast-paced and young; Abu Dhabi is deep into oil, culture, finance, and, well, oil. It’s stately, quiet and proud.
For the most part, people who live in Abu Dhabi don’t like the idea of living in Dubai, and people in Dubai wouldn’t dream of living in Abu Dhabi. Truth be told, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have what I believe is an unspoken rivalry that plays out in interesting ways.
For instance, last year Dubai came out with this cool video about the ‘super cars’ in its police fleet:
Soon after, in advance of the Fast & Furious film, a video popped up showcasing Abu Dhabi’s cops using similarly fast cars, helicopters and cutting-edge technology to keep our place safe (and yes, the technology is real):
And it kind of goes like that here.
While Abu Dhabi has Etihad Airways, Dubai has Emirates…
While Abu Dhabi has Emirates Palace, Dubai has the Burj al Arab…
While Dubai has the Burj Khalifa, Abu Dhabi has the Grand Mosque…
And while Dubai has its epic brunch, Abu Dhabi has, well… The Dubai Brunch.
Okay, you can't win them all.
Recently I went back to the States for a quick hit of New York City living and to get a fix of my fabulous forever friends. Though I understand it's still winter, New York seemed dark, dirty and dangerous. Moreover, I felt out of step with the place. Unlike my New York-self, I didn’t have a thousand places to be or a million things to do. Living in New York, I was always busy, busy, busy. But this time, even the dogs seemed like they had more urgent places to be than me.
For the first time since living in Abu Dhabi, I didn’t feel like New York was home and I was just temporarily away for a while. And it's okay, New York may be home again at some point in the future, for now, I’m clearer about my present place in the world.
On the return flight to Abu Dhabi, a fellow passenger asked me where I’m from.
“I live in Abu Dhabi,” I proudly replied.
But I’ll always be a New Yorker.