The indignant look pelleted at me by my mum when I asked her why we didn’t have a driver like everyone else, is still seared front of mind. Six-year-old head-case me couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being chauffeured from swim practice to piano lessons by a surrogate, behind-the-wheel parent. “Because we are not like that. You don’t need one. Who do you think you are?”
My mum is Greek, therefore please feel free to read the above with theatrical anger, accompanied by hand gestures similar to a washing machine’s spin-cycle.
Silenced into a rock-hard corner of her 1996 Ford Thunderbird (remember those?) I muttered out a miffed, “But we have Mala at home (our beloved full-time maid who I preferred to my mum from the hours of 7-8.30am and 1.30-8pm on weekdays and 7am-8pm on weekends) why can’t we have a dri…”
Yep, I’m nodding along with you – this reeks of expat brat – the pejorative catch-all term for ‘spoilt and entitled’.
I do hope I haven’t lost you already.
If it helps, this anecdote still sits in my stomach like a bullet. But I can tell you, my sentiments sit staunchly similar to my mum’s now, post coming-of-age and well, better sense.
My expat child experience happened in Bahrain. My whole life (bar birth) was spent on the island in a verdant compound replete with diplomat-esque security. I was, however, raised on a strict diet of discipline with a humble helping of luxe living as opposed to the other way round. “Just wait till you’re living in Europe,” side-eyed my mum years later, closer to my fleeing the nest.
At 18 years-old, reality’s heavy-duty bricks did a rude free-fall on my head when I landed in the UK. For six years I was a pseudo-adult with a firmly fixed monthly stipend which went towards responsible home-made omelettes, the occasional trip to Thorpe Park (during non-reading week) and a highly rationed wardrobe from Primani (if you know, you know). I was good at it though. My parents never got that call asking for more funds for fun. My aptitude for adulthood is learnt behaviour. I saw my parents as careful and unwavering – leaving plenty of margin for predictable unpredictability. Those six years extended to another three when I lived at home again in my mid-twenties (full time job, paid for everything except rent) until I finally landed smack bang on SZR almost three years ago. That was when I shed and shook off the promise of parental pleasantries for good.
Again, I can see your eyes-rolling. What makes my ascent into adulthood any different to everyone else’s wobble?
I am a product of easy living. Expat kids – especially those who come back to the region with their families still here and frequenting the same (if now dilapidated) haunts – tend to have the expectation of a sure-fire safety net. It’s all relative to every individual but our struggles in the face of the rest of the world, are #dubaiproblems – cut to the oh so satirical @dubaiproblems. I defy anyone who doesn’t crease from laughter at the litany of Jumeirah Jane Story posts. We are too quick to freak out and get frazzled. We don’t know actual, western hardship. My mum always ironed me straight (literally – remember, Greek) whenever I performed a sinfully expat brat act, but even she couldn’t resist the region’s toasty tendrils and oft battles to assimilate to the “system” – drag the ’sys’ and you’ll sense her disdain.
Cut to present day Dubai and I am still here on my fantastic lonesome. I bought a freelancer visa and I am officially my own life raft. I proudly hold my breath from one end of the month to the other till my next line up of payments come through. I don’t have an (un)limited access to the bank of mum and dad and I adore this autonomy.
I just moved apartments. From scratch. All I had were the bare bones of an apartment with cavernous pits for domestic appliances, having had a fully furnished arrangement before. For two months I was sledgehammering my bank balance, furiously freelancing atop a full-time gig to pay for media consoles, poufs and shelving units.
And just when I thought my bank balance was relieved of bottomless payments, a traffic fine flew into my WhatsApp for ‘failing to adhere to lane discipline'. I was later on the floor of my empty apartment with friends, up against it all. But in an exchange of profound bonding and epiphany, I took the beating of relentless reality as a ‘it is what it is’ situation and the more you fight it, the more it fights you.
With deposits done and dusted, I am now sitting in my Pinterest board realised, smug at the fact that this was all done by me, for me. I’m dreaming of dinner parties, anticipating leakages from some pre-existing shoddy plumbing and keeping a watchful eye on my plant babies.
I guess, in the first instance of this column, this is a slap-on-the-thigh, well done you, you’ve done what has been written into societal scripture for yonks. You are a grown up – the kind who does avocado toast on a porcelain Maison du Monde dish, pays rent in advance of post-dated cheques and knows how to tackle limescale like a bawse. This is adulting at its most fist-pumping and free.