Yes, I know I've only been here for 2 days, but I thought it would be fun to document some of my first impressions and then compare notes over the next couple of months and then years. So, here's what I've noticed so far.
Women's Dress: There are a number of women who wear the traditional muslim abaya, which is the long black robes and head scarf (the burqa, by the way is the specific scarf that covers the face). When I first saw these, the women all looked the same, but then as I paid more attention and was able to notice more details I could see the 'bling' for lack of a better word. Many have beautiful detailing like embroidery, silk trim, colorful beading (I wonder if the bedazzler is popular here? :) They are really creative and some are classically elegant and some verging on gaudy ... well, relatively speaking, they are still long black robes, the detailing is only around the hems of the sleeves, neck and bottom of the garment.
Very Polite: Abu Dhabi, and I think the entire UAE, tries to differentiate through exceptional customer service. Part of this is the extremely polite approach I've seen from all the service employees at the hotel. Everyone greets us with Good Morning, Good Afternoon or Good Evening Madam or Sir. There is always eye contact, holding the doors, etc. In fact, Brian alerted me that it's a bit impolite to do something for yourself (like open a car door and take out your own luggage! ;)
No Begging or Pressured Sales: I'm not sure why I expected some of this, but I've seen nothing of the sort. There are no beggars anywhere that I have seen (remember it's only been 2 days, but still) and there are no aggressive sales people in the malls or on the streets. I'm curious about whether this will be different when we visit the souk, which is the local more traditional market?
True Melting Pot: There are so many nationalities here! Lots of arabic spoken, of course, but everything else you can think of too. Everyone speaks a little English, but sometimes the accents are so thick, it's hard to understand. We went to the breakfast buffet yesterday at the hotel ($40 a person!!) and the variety of food was impressive. Everything from your traditional eggs, sausage and pancakes to a huge cheese and fruit station, wonderful pastries and then an Arabic station. I love variety so my breakfast was granola, cheese, humus, black olives and croissant with nutella spread!
Foreign yet not really: So, yes, it's quite obvious we're in a foreign country, but at the same time, there are so many familiar chains available. Here are just a few I've noticed so far: Starbuck's, IKEA, McDonald's, Chili's, KFC, Clinique, Coach, L'Occitaine, and many more. Luckily, no Wal-Mart!! The equivalent is a place called Carre Four, which I think might be a British chain?
Again, we haven't been here long enough to really understand the culture, but these are a few first observations.