Ugly Americans

This is the story of how I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai, part of a series that starts here.

The days ticked away in Dubai.  Toni and I went an excursion a day; the most memorable was a “desert safari.”  I have been on a real safari, and it involved living things.  This did not, and I can recommend that you skip it if you’re in Dubai unless you love roller coasters.  It involved careening up and down and sideways—sometimes at a 45 degree angle—in sand dunes.  I was sick to my stomach and stayed that way until our driver blew a tire and we got to wander around in the desert while he repaired it.

desert-safari desert-safari-2

A couple rushed up to me and introduced themselves as being from Iran.  They asked if I was American and then exclaimed, “We love America!  America people!”  This was heartwarming, and it happened to me again when I was hiking in the Jordanian desert last year.  Yes, many of our government’s policies are terrible, and it’s good to know that people get the difference between the US government and the American people.

After breathing in dust for hours, Toni and I decided to go see a movie.  She asked the cashier about something—was there a good restaurant nearby or something like that.

“No English,” he smiled at her.

She repeated her question, speaking slower and louder.  He shook his head to indicate he really didn’t speak English, and she went for a third try, louder and slower.  Standing next to her, I murmured under my breath, “This is embarrassing.  He doesn’t speak English.”

“Okay!” She laughed and said to him slowly and loudly, “I’m sorry—I’m American!”  Then she did an about face and walked quickly into the darkened theater.

I was shocked and furious.  “Since when are you American?”  I demanded.

“Canada is in North America,” she said patronizingly.

“So you’re American when you’re making a fool of yourself, but Canadian the rest of the time?”

“I don’t need to explain myself to you,” she said.  “They don’t understand things unless you make it very simple.  They’ve probably never heard of Canada.  But they have certainly heard of America,” she said pointedly.

We were the only patrons in the theater and it was a double header of Bollywood hits.  It was in Hindi with Arabic subtitles, but you didn’t need an English translation to follow what was going on.

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie, here’s a summary of how they go, from my limited perspective: There’s a five-minute scene where they set up the boy-girl story involving forbidden love, mistaken identities, controlling elders, and a mischief-making best friend or auntie.  Then dozens of people dressed in matching costumes leap into the frame and perform a riotous song and dance number, preferably in a field of wild flowers, on a beach, or in the middle of moving traffic.  This is repeated over and over with different costumes and settings until everyone lives happily ever after.

I sat through half an hour of it but I was so fuming mad that I decided to leave.  Toni gave me a withering glance as if to say, “You’re insulting their culture.”  I knew I had been harsh and would have to apologize later, even if she didn’t acknowledge her part in our verbal scuffle.

I hailed a taxi.  “Take me some place I can get a beer,” I requested.

And that’s how I ended up in a brothel.  Because surely, a woman traveling alone and drinks alcohol must be a whore, right?

The driver dropped me off in front of a place called TGI Thursday’s.  Thursday, in the Middle East, is their Friday.  It had what looked like a maze of tall screens leading to the entrance.  I hesitated, but the driver had wasted no time in disappearing, so in I went.  I zigged and zagged and then emerged into what did indeed look—at first glance—like a TGI Friday’s in the US, except for the gigantic portrait of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum hanging over the entryway.

To be continued ….

tgit maktoum

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