Some observations on Florida, after a three-week vacation, before starting my long trek back to the Brown Planet, the United Arab Emirates.
First, it’s January and most of you already are weary of the election-year noise. In the U.S., we are assaulted with political messages, opinions, lies and lunacy. Too much Internet; too much cable TV; too many tweets.
But at least the outcome in November will be a fairly accurate reflection of the will of the people who bothered to vote. The system is flawed, as we all know. Mitt Romney must pretend he enjoys hanging off the right wing of the GOP aircraft to win the nomination. And a tsunami of special-interest money will crash on both Democratic and Republican campaign shores thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling about what constitutes freedom of speech.
But, hey, it’s not Egypt or Tunisia, where Islamic fundamentalists are taking power. More than 80 percent of Egyptians are illiterate and are not consulting their local newspapers to understand what life under a fundamentalist government will be like in five years.
And you’re not in the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait or Oman where they hold elections for advisory assemblies, which make bland recommendations to their rulers, most of which are ignored.
Second, enjoy the rain, the grass, the flowers. All that intense color is good for the spirit. The folks in the UAE do their best to try to landscape the cities, but the rocky, brown desert still dominates the land.
Third, enjoy the American toilets. The Arabs adopted the European design and they just don’t work as well as ours.
Fourth, embrace the Fords, Chevys, Honda Civics and used cars. Even in glitz-loving South Florida, I found it comforting not to be constantly surrounded by Maseratis, Mercedes and Range Rovers. Despite the growing wealth of America’s dreaded One Percent, you still get the feeling there’s a vital middle class in the U.S., which explains why nearly every Abu Dhabi cab driver would pay his life’s savings to get a work visa in the U.S.
Fifth, look at the art on the walls of your shops and offices. In the UAE, most walls are adorned with paintings of the rulers. I’m sure they’re nice guys, but it really gets boring seeing their faces everywhere you turn.
Sixth, many Americans are nice. We have this reputation of being abrupt; too busy checking our iPhones to be attentive or courteous. I found most of the car-rental agents and gas-station clerks and restaurant staffers to be quite the opposite.
Finally, I have nothing against abayas. Arab men and women clearly are comfortable with having women covered from head to toe in black.
But like the vibrant green grass and bright blooms of the bougainvillea, I enjoyed seeing women dressed in whatever they liked.
I’ll stipulate that some women share too much cleavage with the rest of us. But speaking as a Floridian now working in the Middle East, that’s a small price to pay for the visual benefits well-dressed women provide.
Formerly managing editor of The Palm Beach Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tom O'Hara is a senior foreign editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. He can be reached at email@example.com
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