Friday, September 30, 2011

The World of Work - Day 10

I've been a responsibly employed member of UAE society for 2 weeks now and am learning a lot about my new company, Etihad Airways, and the work culture of UAE. So far so good, and here's what I noticed this week.

  • My first week, I read through a lot of the HR policies online and as per my employment contract (yes, you sign an employment contract that states your salary, benefits, and in this case work hours) my formal work hours are 42 per week. I think that's kind of funny - how exactly did they calculate 42 hours? Since I'm salaried, I end up working between 45 and 50 on an average week anyway so it really doesn't matter much. I get in between 7:30 and 7:45 and usually stay until 4:45 or 5:00. This is bound to increase a bit once I get rolling with my projects.
  • Lunch breaks are written in the policy as 20 minutes - maybe that's where part of those 2 hours comes from? But, like back home, I think people take what they need and just make sure to get their work done. Not sure how they run the call centers - that's where the strict timing really comes into play - not so much in Human Resources where I work.
  • I work in the Training Academy building, which is right across the parking lot from the headquarters. I have a cube in a large office with 5 other people currently (and one to start in the next week or two). It's quite a shift from my posh office at TDS and I'm still getting used to concentrating in spite of the noise and interruptions. (I know, my TDS co-workers are laughing right now ... and at the risk of your smirk getting even bigger, I'm pretty sure my cube is even smaller than your new ones - and I'm not joking.)
  • The other thing interesting about the Training Academy is that most of our Cabin Crew is trained in the classrooms just outside our Manager's office. This means that every day I walk past some of the most beautiful people on the planet - all dolled up and looking perfect. Talk about incentive to brush my hair and put on some makeup in the morning! :) Our flight attendants have strict grooming requirements including hair, uniform, shoes, jewelry, even shade of lipstick so they all look immaculate, young and gorgeous. I don't think I've seen anyone over about 25 year of age.
  • There are some nice similarities to TDS such as a strong internal communications department and pretty nice news site on the intranet. I feel like I'm able to keep up to date on company news and happenings and I really like that. They also send out a daily summary (to my boss, which she passes on) of all the external news articles relating to the airline industry, which is really cool and helpful for staying up to date.
  • And, of course, there are some real differences. This week I noticed the difference in office supplies. I haven't seen one file folder in the whole place. Went to the supply guys early in the week to ask for a few and they didn't seem to know what I was talking about - I walked out with a small binder. Come to think of it, I don't have any file drawers at my desk or anywhere in the office either, so even if I had some folders, where would I store them? Hmmmm, Etihad's way to keep things as paperless as possible??
That's the observations for this week. More to come!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jet Lag, Humidity and My First Day of School

We made it back to Abu Dhabi without too much trouble. There was a little confusion in Chicago where we needed to turn in our American Airlines boarding passes issued in Madison for Etihad boarding passes issued in Chicago, but after a wait and another trip through security, we were on our way. The flight was 13 hours and seemed a little rougher than the trip to the US - probably because of the timing and the fact that we'd made the trip only 2 weeks prior. So, keep that in mind when you come to visit - you'll want at least 7 and better yet 10 days to make the flight worth your while. And you can stay on a visit visa for up to one month if you really want to experience everything. ;)

The good news is that the Abu Dhabi temps are coming down a bit (today's high was only 100F and yesterday only 98F), but the bad news is that the humidity seems even worse. For example, I hung some t-shirts and a pair of linen pants on the drying rack outside before I left for work this morning (7:15am) and when I got home and brought them inside, they were still damp (6:00pm)! I've moved the drying rack inside for the next few weeks until things improve.

More good news. The building management came by and re-did our garden area. Not sure what I've shared but over the course of the summer we've gone from everything green to everything dead to things coming back from the dead to everything dead again ... all because of a faulty water timer that no one could seem to keep fixed. I came home to find everything cleaned up and replanted where needed and looking pretty good. Now, if we can just keep the water timer in working order, we'll have a really nice place for the winter.

And I went back to work on Sunday (remember our work week is Sun-Thurs). We got back home about 8pm on Saturday night, quickly unpacked and I was in bed by 10pm. Luckily, I slept soundly through the night so getting up for work wasn't too bad. Today was a little rougher as I woke up last night around 1:45am and tossed and turned for at least an hour, but all in all I'm doing pretty well. The jet lag when we first arrived in Jan was the worst for me on day 2 and then gradually got better, so I'm happy to be feeling pretty functional after only 2 days back.

And good thing too because this week at work I'm attending a five day course entitled, "Introduction to Aviation". Can you imagine that with a bad case of jet lag? :) Actually, the course is really interesting and the instructor is extremely knowledgeable about the industry so I'm learning a ton. I'm also in a class with about 25 Emiratis (I and the instructor are the only non-Emiratis in the group) which is providing another learning experience for me to better understand the culture. The only issue is that I stick out like a sore thumb as everyone else is in National Dress (Abaya and Sheila for the women and Khandoura and Gutra for the men). Good thing I did some shopping while home! :)

So, I'm slowing getting into a new groove and I feel a bit like I'm starting all over trying to manage a full time job and stuff at home (especially without a microwave, dish washer and clothes dryer). I guess I've gotten a bit used to the housewife life and now need to get back my time management skills. In the meantime, we may have to order out a few extra times per week. ;)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Madison Observations - Day 12

We're coming to the end of our world wind USA tour and having a blast catching up with friends and family. Our only regret is that we can't see everyone and can't spend more time with the folks we do see. Two weeks seemed like plenty of time, but now with 3 days left, there's still a list of people we won't get to see this trip. Thank goodness for Skype, Facebook and email. So, as we wind up our visit, here are a few last observations.

Customer Service
It's funny what you get used to. In UAE and in Abu Dhabi especially, customer service pampering is the ultimate goal. For example, when we checked into our hotel when we arrived in Abu Dhabi, our car doors were opened for us, our luggage taken out of the car and up to our room, and no tip was expected (and barely accepted when offered). What a difference to the Marriott we're staying in this week. I ended up checking in by myself as Brian was at an event for his conference. I asked the front desk clerk for a luggage cart and he simply pointed to the entryway. I wrestled our 5 bags out of the car and onto the cart and weaved my way into the hotel and past the desk. There wasn't anything rude or uncaring about it, just a funny observation that no one (especially a woman) would be allowed to do that in Abu Dhabi. At least 2 hotel workers would have insisted on helping and doing it for me.

We experienced a similar level of service at Boston Store when Brian was shopping for suits. In Abu Dhabi, our sales clerk helped him find the suit, get the right size, alterations were included and we were approached within 30 seconds on entering the store. At BS, Brian wandered for at least 5 minutes before the 2 available clerks stopped chatting long enough to notice him. Then had to do everything for himself and hunt them down to ask any questions. Alterations were an additional charge.

Yes, I know, I sound like a very snooty snob! It's really just an observation on how different service is and how quickly we've gotten used to a different style. No better or worse, I can tell you plenty of stories about shopping in Abu Dhabi and getting irritated by hovering sales people who are "too helpful".

I told Brian last week that I thought driving here was easier, but when he asked why I couldn't really answer. After giving it some thought, I've come up with the following ideas:

  • I know where I'm going. If I'm looking for something specific, I have a good idea of where I'll be able to find it, whereas in Abu Dhabi I'd have to do some web research to find out if the item exists and then go on a hunt to find it.
  • Most of the roads are two-way so it's much easier to cut across traffic to get to the other side of the road. As I've posted before, most UAE roads have an island in the middle to prevent you from cutting across the road so you often have to go a block or more past your destination, do a U-Turn at the stoplight and then get to the side of the street you need.
  • The speed limits are much lower. I hadn't really done the math to find out how our kilometer per hour compared to the US miles per hour, but now that I have, I realize our speed limit in town is around 45-50, the larger roads around 65-70 and the limit on the big highway to Dubai is around 95! I feel like I'm crawling along here which makes things a lot easier (if a little annoying when I'm in a hurry)
  • The driving here seems much more sane. Maybe it's the speed over there but I'm not as worried about being cut off, sped past or crowded out here. I'm finding it more relaxed and a little less stressful ... well, except when we get to a roundabout, which we're now used to, but seems to still be a mystery to Wisconsinites. :)
A few other minor things we've noticed and wish we could take back with us:
  • TV shows - much more variety here (and of course it's all in English, which helps) 
  • Restaurants - we do have some nice restaurants in AD, but the variety of food choices and the number of really nice places is better here (and prices are lower)
  • Decaf coffee with cream!
  • Target, Home Depot & Boston Store

A huge thank you to everyone who rearranged schedules, organized parties, made special foods and helped us with laundry!! We've had a wonderful 2 weeks and have gotten just the energy boost needed to face the rest of the hot summer in Abu Dhabi. And a huge apology to those of you we missed seeing on this trip - we'll try to catch you when we're back next year. (yep, we'll be back each year in September for the User's Group Conference for Brian's work.)

And, since many have asked, I am planning to continue the blog even after I get started with full time work again. The posts might not be quite as consistent or timely, but I'll keep blogging - thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Madison Observations - Day 6

We're back in the USA for two weeks and I thought I'd share my observations of being back.

Cool Crisp Weather
After months of hot, humid UAE summer, I had forgotten how nice a crisp, cool breeze feels. The weather has been absolutely perfect. Crystal clear blue skies and so much green I can hardly believe it. Temperatures have been mild and even a little chilly, which is perfect after sweltering all summer in Abu Dhabi. Couldn't have asked for more perfect weather for me.

So Many Shades of Green
I know I just mentioned this, but it really is the biggest surprise to me. After growing up in this area, I would never have thought I'd be so surprised and enthralled with the  greenery, but it's just such a contrast to UAE. I've gotten used to all different shades of brown (which is lovely in it's own right) and of course there is a lot of green planted in Abu Dhabi, but the sheer amount of vegetation and how uncontrolled and wild it is is really amazing. I can't help but think of the contrast - all the work we do in UAE to get a few trees and flowers to grow and prosper and all the work we do in Madison to keep the greenery from overtaking our lawns and parks.

Like We Never Left
Another interesting surprise has been how normal and natural everything seems. After an initial shock about the weather, how green it is and hugs and kisses all around, it's really just like we left it. We've found ourselves slipping into the same patterns as before we left. Yesterday we were faced with a free afternoon to do anything we wanted and ended up at a movie - because what we really wanted was to slip into our old routines and feel normal.

Seeing Friends and Family
This is of course the best part of the journey. Facebook, Skype, Blogger and email are amazing tools and have helped us keep strong connections to everyone, but there's nothing like a physical hug, real time laughter and just hanging out with the people we love. If for no other reason, we'll be home each year just to experience that connection.

It really is just like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Message in a Suitcase

Just a quick post as we're off for 2 weeks in USA and leaving in a few hours. I just had to share these photos of Rogue as I think she might be trying to tell us something.

Maybe she's just inspecting our bags to make sure everything is in order. Or maybe she's just trying to help us pack and looking forward to her "vacation" where she'll get extra treats and some wet food (thanks Gill!) Or, and this is probably the most likely, maybe she's just going to make sure that even when we're away, we'll have cat hair on our clothes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dive Log: Muscat, Oman

Our primary purpose for visiting Muscat over the Eid holiday was to do some more scuba diving in the Middle East. We had been to Dibba in Fujarah in early July and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of fish and thrilled by the warm water. Muscat still had the fish (maybe even more!) but it was as cold as diving in Hawaii (which is really cold!) We hadn't even brought our wetsuits expecting the same balmy water from Dibba! Luckily, we were warned before we got on the boat and were able to rent wetsuits for the day - I don't think we would have lasted 10 minutes without them.

We dove with an oufit called BlueZone watersports, which is run by a lovely woman named Christine who has been in Oman for more than 20 years. She worked to help establish the very first diving center in Oman, so she knows her stuff! Once again we were the only divers in the group, which was awesome as it allowed us to dive at our own pace with just a dive master. Along on the boat was a small group working towards their Rescue diver certification, so while we checked out the sites, they were fake saving each other from shark bites and empty air tanks. :)

We dove from a boat this time, unlike Spain where we dove from shore. The main attraction was all the fish - medium sized and all kinds of varieties. We did see one huge grouper (probably around 4-5 feet long) but most of the fish were of medium size. Butterfly, parrot, lionfish, nudi brancs, barracuda (a big school too - scary!) and lots more. The visibility wasn't great - a little less than Dibba I think, which probably prevented us from seeing some of the bigger fish and turtles (at least that's my story). It was a nice set of dives, but due to the cold water we were ready to come in after two. And due to the mediocre visibility, one day of diving was plenty.

I think we might go back one day and try a site off one of the islands up the coast a bit, or maybe another time of year with the hopes that the visibility is a little clearer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The World of Work - Day 2

I'm back at work and thrilled! Like I did when I first came to UAE, I thought I'd try to capture my first impressions - this time of the world of work in UAE. I figured day 2 was the perfect place to start.

Dress Code
I'm sure I've mentioned this in other posts, but now that I'm living it, it's even more noticeable. The dress code here is very formal - suits and ties for male managers and shirts and ties or the Etihad uniform for male employees. For women, a jacket of some kind seems to be the norm and sometimes it's with a matching trouser, skirt or dress and sometimes it's a bit more creative, but the jacket seems to be consistent (or the Etihad uniform for cabin crew). Luckily, the new nylons craze inspired by Kate Middleton hasn't caught on here so bare legs are fine, but skirts should be below the knee. I don't have any problem with the clothes as I've always loved jackets and have a few of them already. My problem is the shoes - after 8 months in flip flops and sneakers, I've got blisters on blisters from my heels (and that's after only 2 days!) Might need to do a little shopping for some comfy heels (oxymoron?). It's a whole different story when you need to dress up every day instead of a few times a week if you felt like it.

Tea/Coffee Service
Like most offices in UAE, we have a "tea boy" who keeps us supplied with tea, coffee or water throughout the day. He comes by a couple of times in the morning and again in the afternoon, takes our orders and delivers our drinks. Soooo nice! And, if we need something more fancy, there's a coffee shop (Costa's) in the main building.

Car Washing Service
Etihad has a wonderful parking garage that protects our cars from the heat and sun. In addition, there is a car washing service within the garage just like at most of the shopping malls! For about $5.50 you can have your car hand washed while you're at work! And, in the interests of environmental sustainability, they use a process that minimizes the amount of water while still getting your car sparkling clean.

Melting Pot
As I've discussed often, Abu Dhabi is a true melting pot and Etihad reflects this. Etihad (we) have almost 8000 employees representing 120 different nationalities! Amazing! The largest group is Indian, followed by Philipino and then Emirati (which is rare and impressive). There are less than 200 Americans on staff, and I'm betting most of them are pilots or work out of the New York or Chicago offices. In other words, I've yet to hear an American accent. I've heard my name pronounced every way you can think of (and not once how I'd say it back home). :) I'm excited to learn how this mix of cultures helps and hampers the business.

That's what I can think of for day 2. I'll keep the list going and share as I can.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Road Trip to Muscat, Oman

Taking advantage of a 4 day holiday weekend, Brian and I decided to do a road trip to Muscat, Oman. We did a little internet research and found turn by turn directions on someone else's blog - complete with instructions for navigating the Omani/UAE border crossing - sweet! So, off we went on Tuesday morning anticipating a 6-hour drive to Muscat. And for once, things went almost exactly to our plan and expectations.

The drive was interesting as we passed lots of houses (palaces might be a more appropriate description), the city of Al Ain, which is beautiful, rolling sand dunes that then morphed into rocky "mountains" and along the coast of Oman to Muscat. I've included a few random photos of the trip below.

The border crossing was painless. First step is that you have to pay to get out of UAE ... yes, you read that right, pay to exit (so annoying), but it was easy and only about $20 for the two of us. Then you drive about 30 minutes before you come to the entry point for Oman. We wondered what would happen should you get a traffic ticket while in the 'no man's land' between the two countries, and figured you'd probably pay twice - once to Oman and then to UAE. We decided not to test the theory. The entry point to Oman was easy and required that we purchase visit visas. We also had to have valid Omani car insurance for the duration of our trip, which we purchased a few days before. Otherwise, just a matter of waiting in lines and handing over our money.

Back on the road and into Oman towards Muscat. More nice scenery and before we knew it, we were pulling into the Crowne Plaza, our home for the next 3 days. The trip took us just under 6 hours, as we expected, and was really pretty nice.

 We were impressed by how green everything was. This road is over 100km long and has street lights and palms trees the whole way (like most of UAE actually). The second photo is in Oman and you can see the beautiful bougainvillea along the side of the road.

 Just two of the MANY roundabout art we saw in both UAE and Oman. I think I'll do a separate post of all the roundabout photos I have.

 We passed many trucks with cows, goats and even camels in the back - cracked us up every time.

One of the many beautiful houses we passed on the way into Muscat. This is one of the better ones - I'm not so good at shooting great photos when the car is moving at 130km/hour. :)