Wednesday, October 21, 2009
A couple of months ago I was having some drinks with friends in Abu Dhabi and I mentioned that while growing up it was the most natural thing for me and my friends to leave a movie theater and just leave all of our popcorn buckets and empty sodas in the seats for the ushers to clean up. Everyone did it and in fact, we would leave our seats with garbage by them in front of ushers who were completely accepting of cleaning up after a movie. It wasn't until I went to Japan and my now wife yelled at me for leaving my popcorn bucket in the seat that I started picking up my garbage in movie theaters. I quickly realized that not picking up after myself was unacceptable. As I was telling this, the two friends who were with me looked at me like I was an inconsiderate slob. Whether is was because they were from different cities or because they were a half-generation older, they claimed that they had never left garbage in a movie thearter and never would have considered it. When I thought about it, it seemed odd to me that while my friends and I would never have left garbage in a park or a fast food restaurant, something about a movie theater made it open game.
That's all changed now. Here, everything is meant to be left for someone else to pick up. Why? Unskilled labor. In fact, it is so inconvenient to clean up after yourself, that I get funny looks and scowls when I try. "That's what those guys get paid for!" I've always felt that it was a lame excuse in the States because people were really paid to do other things and only had more work to do picking up after people. Here, they really are paid to pick up after people. In the cafeteria, the garbage is full and trays unstackable. Let "those guys" get it. Just leave the tray on the table and it'll be gone within a minute. Just don't get up to get some napkins with half a sandwich sitting on your tray or that will be gone, too.
One day when I was leaving work, I was in a hurry and left my mug on my desk. The next day, it was washed and in the cupboard in the breakroom. I wasn't sure if I'd put it away without remembering, but sure enough, the same thing happened a few days later. If you want to be environmentally friendly and reuse plastic spoons or cups, hide them away or they'll be in the garbage in five minutes. Want to make a cup of tea and come back after making a few photocopies? Don't count on the tea still being there. At least your mug will be freshly washed. There's always a fresh pot of coffee brewing, too.
I wanted to take some books to my classroom one day and someone who works at the college yelled at me and told me to get one of the helpers to get a cart and bring them out for me. Normally, I don't have any trouble finding them , but it was the time of day when they're all busy washing the teachers' cars (for a minimal fee) so there were none around. I ended up taking them to the room myself, but I had to do it kind of sneakily.
A lot of people complain about what slobs the Emiratis are and how they're pampered and never learn to do things for themselves. In some ways it's true, but you can't really blame a person for never doing anything for themselves when there's always someone around to do everything for them and none of their friends has ever done anything for themselves. Sure, at some point, the locals will have to stop expecting everything to be done for them. Even I learned to clean up after myself at the movies...until afew months ago, that is.