My father was right. Never do business in the Arab world. You’ll get screwed, he warned. I hated my father, which is maybe why I first got turned on by the thought of getting a job in Saudi Arabia – a not-too-subtle way of putting two fingers up at him perhaps?
So it hurts my pride to admit it, but a decade later I moved to Abu Dhabi, fed up with not getting paid by Saudi clients…When I left I was owed some 150,000 riyal – over $40,000. The Emiratis, I thought, may not be as charming as the Saudis, but at least they pay their bills.
But this culture of screw the client, screw the supplier – or screw anyone for that matter – is still endemic across the Gulf region as a whole in a society that at the one time needs the foreign expertise it imports in abundance but at the same time resents having to admit that in so many ways they are simply not up to it.
Sometimes the lack of any kind of empathy with the client is simply staggering – such as today when I spotted a special offer in one of the supermarkets… for car windscreen defroster!
Ignore the fact that outside it is currently 42 degrees Celsius; and that the weather forecasts warn of chilly nights ahead when the temperature even thinks of plummeting below 20 degrees. Heaven knows who they think will buy this stuff. Perhaps it is good for cleaning windows or killing off the swarms of cockroaches that are so common over here?
A recent high profile case of screw the man in the street occurred with the now-highly publicised case of Blackberry phones. Last year the phone companies launched a major promotion for Blackberrys with the result that thousands upon thousands of people purchased these wretched devices. This year we are told they are a security threat because of closed networking, so not only will text messaging be stopped, but also the reception of eMails.
To say there is widespread consternation would be an understatement. So many businesses had bought them to make it easier to stay in touch with their employees out on the road. But the government’s response is simple. Buy another phone. Who cares that you are out of pocket because the powers that be have decided – yet again – to change the rules as it suits them.
Well, thought I, I don’t use my Blackberry for eMails or for Blackberry texting, so I’m alright. As if! With my phone not even a year old, the battery now only holds its charge for less than two hours. So I took it back to Jumbo Electronics from where I bought the phone, clutching my one-year warranty.
Sorry, it’s not covered, I am told. Why not? The phone has given up working properly less than a year since I bought it. Batteries aren’t included in the warranty. See – it says “accessories not included”.
Since when is a battery, without which the phone will not work, classed as an accessory? Apparently when it suits the supplier – ie always in the UAE. The warranty is not worth the paper it is printed on.
As if to add insult to injury, the Jumbo salesman offers to sell me a new battery for AED175 – or $48 – or how about buying a smart new android phone – a snip at AED2,499, he tells me.
I silently suggest he goes take a running jump and flounce out of the Jumbo showroom, telling him I will never shop there again.
The problem is that I can’t just flounce out of the United Arab Emirates telling them I will never do business with them again. Which means I’m likely to continue getting screwed a while longer.
I haven’t told you yet about being screwed by my landlord; being screwed by the phone company; being screwed with my TV cable supply; being screwed by the car repair company…. Oh, I could go on, believe me. But in parting I would suggest you go look up a Facebook group called “I bought an apartment in Discovery Gardens and got ripped off”. Having moved from Discovery Gardens to Lakepoint Tower - the god-forsaken pile of junk I live in now, I ought to get round to posting on that site that they ain’t seen nothing yet! But this is the UAE. They probably are all too aware of that fact by now.