Thursday, October 27, 2011

The World of Work - Day 30

Work is going great and I'm learning a lot about UAE, the Airline industry and ... office supplies. As my TDS friends know, I love me a good office supply. I love to be organized (or organised as I should be typing now), I love labels and most of all, I love pens and paper. So, imagine my disappointment to find such a lackluster selection of office implements at my new job. Here are just a few of the encounters I've had so far with office supplies.

What? No file folders?
As I said, I like to be organized and for me that means having a clearly labeled file folder for each project I'm working on. Sometime during week one I went to the office guys in the printing room (they dispense the office supplies) and asked for some file folders. They looked at me funny. I thought maybe it was a language thing so I brought one over to show them. No madam, we don't have. (sigh)  Which actually makes sense because I don't have any file drawers in my desk, so how would I store the things anyway? And a hanging file folder? I didn't even try. Now, I see this as a good learning experience to find a new way to keep myself organized (maybe it's time to go completely paperless, which is probably the point of not stocking file folders). So far, I'd give myself a C-, but I'm working on it.

A holey mess
My next encounter was a direct result of the lack of file folders. No file folders? Okay, plan B = binders. I got a couple of binders and a 2-hole punch ... yep only 2 holes. Okay, no worries, I've got a 2-hole punch for 2-ring binders, all is well. ... Until I brought some of my supplies from home to the office. When I came to  the UAE, I brought along a binder, some file folders, my 3-hole punch and a few other things as I needed to assemble my work portfolio for interviewing. I brought all the extra supplies into the office and am just now realizing how little I'll be able to use here.
First, was the problem with my Franklin Covey planner, which is a 6-hole binder and requires a special hole punch ... which I thought I brought with me ... which I cannot find. (sigh) - it's now sitting on a shelf taunting me to be 'highly effective'.
Next was a 3-ring binder, which I thought I had licked because I also have a 3-hole punch. Well, I tried it just yesterday and it won't work either. Because paper is a different size here and the top (or bottom) is actually longer than the binder, so unless I want paper sticking out of the top, the binder (and the punch) will have to go back home too.

The paper chase
As I alluded to above, paper is not 8.5 by 11, it's A4, which is 210 x 297mm or 8.3 by 11.7. Now I know this doesn't seem like a big difference, but try putting an A4 sheet of paper in a sleeve built for 8.5 by 11 ... it doesn't work ... I know, because I've tried it. So now, my very cute, very brightly colored page protector sleeve thingies won't work here either. (sigh) Luckily, my small collection of file folders will accommodate both sizes.

You call that a pen?
Actually pens aren't that bad here. They are cheap ballpoints like most companies use at home (except for Epic, which has some of the nicest pens around - and that Brian keeps tucked away so I don't steal them) but these actually work most of the time. Not sure if it's the warm climate or a different type of ink, but you don't get that clumpy mess you sometimes get with bics back home. Still, as a pen snob, most of what I use I brought from home and my collection of fountain pens is getting a workout, which is nice.

Missing my smelly markers
The biggest disappointment is in the classroom itself. We have whiteboards and flip charts like all classrooms, but we only have whiteboard markers ... that we have to use on the flip charts. I'm a marker snob as well as a pen snob and at TDS made sure we always had a ready supply of "smelly markers". No, not the smelly as in make you gag markers, the smelly as in red smells like strawberry, green smells like pine ... mmm, I miss them. I've been coping, but it's been my biggest trial as whiteboard markers aren't made to work well on flip chart paper.

So, I'm learning to adjust, and just might have to make a trip to the office supply store and see what I can find that fits the sizes and styles here ... wait, is there an office supply store? Surely they must have some - must do a little research.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World Record for the Most World Records

I was driving home one evening and heard on the radio that the UAE holds the world record for the most world records ... no, I'm not joking. Well, I went out to the Guinness Book of World Records website and while I couldn't find a record for the number of records, I did find quite a few world records held by UAE. Here are a few, for the whole list, visit their website, which I've linked below.

  • Largest Yowla Dance - Yowla is an Arabian dance that is done by the men using rifles (I know, it sounds bad, but it's really not). They kind of twirl the rifles like a baton, throw them up in the air and dance around in a circle. The largest Yowla dance was achieved by 285 participants from 3 different tribes within Fujairah, which is one of the 7 Emirates that make up the UAE. 26 November 2010.
  • Longest Driverless Metro Line - This one's in Dubai as you may have guessed. It's the red line and the record was logged in May of this year.
  • Most Expensively Dressed Christmas Tree - you all remember this one, right? Valued at more than $11 Million, it was erected and displayed by the Emirates Palance hotel in Abu Dhabi from 16-29 December 2010.
  • Most Sand moved in 30 seconds with a teaspoon - I thought this one was funny. It was achieved in Dubai at the World Records Pavillion in Global Village in January of 2009. It sure would be an easy one to practice for around here!
  • Most expensive shot of cognac - now this one is quite interesting for a Muslim no-alcohol-allowed country! It was another one held at the Emirates Palace Hotel. In August, 2008 they made the "Hardy Perfection" brand available for $2,226/ shot. 
Well, you certainly get the picture. There are a lot more on the website, but that gives you a taste and while I'm not sure UAE has the MOST world records, they've certainly made a place for themselves in the record books.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Building a Workforce

One of the most interesting things about UAE is the idea that UAE Nationals, or Emiratis, are the minority making up only about 15% of the total population in the UAE. Coming from the US, it's hard to imagine and truly understand. It would be like another culture with a separate language moving into WI and taking over. Imagine if rugby or cricket became the WI sport of choice and we had off for Christmas, but only a small few actually celebrated - instead, the majority of the population celebrated Dwali or something else you were unfamiliar with. It's very interesting to contemplate.

When the UAE was formed 40 years ago, the vision was to create a world center of business, finance, art and tourism - a garden in the desert - and it was clear that this would have to be done with outside help (and a lot of oil money of course!). And so, the expat arrival began with the task of providing ideas, experience, access to methods and materials and as a result Dubai and Abu Dhabi are much closer to that original vision. Along the way, however, it has always been the goal to "teach a man to fish". In other words, the expats were brought in to help the UAE Nationals learn and eventually take over the work of the country. That has happened in some areas and industries and not as much in others and there are big concerns and a focus on "Emiratization" - a bit like the diversity goals in the US, but much more targeted and specific.

Now, the UAE has gotten so big so fast that the idea that expats will work themselves out of their jobs seems ridiculous ... or at least many many years off. But that doesn't change the end goal, which is to equip this Nation to lead itself and be self sustaining by sharing our knowledge and expertise with our National counterparts. In my role in Leadership Development, it's a key objective and one that is taken very seriously at Eithad. We are constantly talking about how to attract more Emiratis to the business and once there, how to continually develop them to higher roles within leadership. Because the airline industry is new to the UAE, it's almost impossible to find experienced Emiratis in the field so the company has developed some amazing programs to develop young Nationals in the field of aviation and then bring them on board at Etihad. It's a brilliant approach, but one that takes time, which can be frustrating when you want to see UAE Nationals in high level leadership roles now.

An interesting challenge and plenty of job security that's for sure!

Got a question, a comment, a suggestion for a topic? Leave me a comment here or an email at I'd love to address your specific questions rather than come up with random topics that may only interest me. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Abu Dhabi Film Festival

Starting last weekend and running into the next is the 5th Annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Like most film festivals, this one has short films, documentaries, features and other events to round out the festival. They've set up a red carpet down on the Corniche complete with film stars. From the US came Topher Grace (that 70s show), Evan Rachel Wood and others who I didn't recognize.

We went on Friday night to the first show at the new outdoor venue at the Fairmont hotel. It was a beautiful venue with a view of the Grand Mosque. They had built this amazing screen and made quite a show of raising it before the movie started (everything's a production here of course!) Here are a few pics. And apologies that there aren't more - I forgot the camera at home so had to rely on Brian and his camera phone. And I obviously didn't give him specific enough instructions on what to take pictures of. :)

There was a snack bar and area to buy sodas and the chairs were relatively comfy for outdoors. It was warm, but there was a really nice breeze the entire night, so it was very comfortable. The only thing not enjoyable about the experience was the film itself. We saw a Swedish film called Stockholm East and while it was well done and acted, it was extremely sad and depressing.

We decided to go out for a drink after the show and we were both a little crabby after such a depressing film. Guess I'll look for a comedy next time. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

So how is the weather?

It's been a good week, the weather is getting cooler, I've got a few projects getting started at work, our garden is back to normal (almost) and we got to fill out the census.

While that last one is true, it hasn't amounted to anything yet. A few weeks ago, I opened our apartment door to find a professional looking envelope. Kind of curious as we were home all day and no one rang the bell. I opened it to find forms for the 2011 Census. Interesting. Hadn't heard a thing about it, but okay. I opened it, read through the instructions and filled out the form, which was pretty basic and pretty much like the one back home. I tried to then figure out how and when to send it, but the plan is that someone will come by later to collect your responses. The next day, the paper had an article explaining that census takers would be around sometime in October (toting iPads no less) to capture your responses ... I guess the forms were just so you could practice answering the questions. :) Well, we're still waiting, and yes, I know October's not over yet so maybe they'll be by in the next couple of weeks, we'll see. The funny (aka typical) thing is the lack of communication - in the States we start hearing about the Census months in advance and are bombarded with reminders and requests to fill it out. Here, we got them forms THEN an article in the newspapers and a few adds on the radio and then nothing. Maybe they don't have to cajole people to complete it here?

The weather is actually getting better - the humidity has dropped and my plan today is to put the clothes drying rack back out onto the patio so we can get our office back. The temperature has dropped about 10 degrees F, which means it's in the low 90s now, but you'd be surprised what a difference that makes. By the time it drops another 10, I'll have to wear a sweater! ;) We had a huge sandstorm the other night, but either the TV was too loud or it never made it as far as our place because I missed it - too bad, sounds like it was a good one.

And, our garden is slowly coming back around. If you haven't been keeping up, we struggled with the garden area all summer - first not enough water, everything died, then too much water, we had mold, then the water stopped altogether and everything died again. While we were in the US, the gardeners came by and replaced all the dead stuff and fixed the water timer so everything is now green and growing. That, coupled with the cooler weather means things are looking pretty good at the moment - another month as things start to fill in a bit and I'll post some photos. Rogue, as you can imagine, is in heaven. She gets 15-30 minutes out there each night and loves sniffing around and finally plopping herself right in the sand to smell the flowers and watch the birds.

Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My First Class!

This week I taught my first class at work. Every time I step back into the classroom, I'm reminded of how much I love what I do. Some people get 'called' to their professions and that's truly how I feel about corporate training (had to be careful not to say teaching, because high school English teacher I am not very good at! :)

The class was Building Working Relationships and included EQ, Assertiveness skills, Conflict Management and Influencing skills. I inherited the content and lesson plan, but the latter was so sketchy I ended up doing a lot of development around the actual class activities. I was supposed to have 11 participants, but ended up with 7, which was fine as they were a talkative group very happy to participate and share their ideas. It was a nice mix of departments, tenure and nationalities which made for some really interesting discussions. I continue to be grateful of how welcoming, helpful and nice everyone is.

As for the class itself, things worked pretty much as they do back in the states (except I don't have any smelly markers for the flip charts! :). I do have someone to clean up the room each evening so I don't have to worry about cleaning the whiteboards or taking down the flip charts, but most everything else works the same. The participant expectations have been slightly different (at least in my very limited experience so far).

I've been pleasantly surprised to find that participants really want to practice rather than just discuss theory. Back in the states, when I introduced a role play, I could expect about 50% of the class to roll their eyes and/or try to weasel their way out of it. Here, 3 people (of 7) asked for more on their evaluations!! WOW! Going to keep that in mind for the next class.

Today, I was helping out another instructor and class had gone over time by more than an hour and they didn't even blink! In fact, they were thrilled to keep going and get the opportunity to do more practice. I'm in heaven!

I know, I know, it could be a fluke and I'm sure there will be a post in the future about how awful a class was, but for now, I'm wallowing in my success and looking forward to the next one.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Falcons with Passports

Falcons are a big deal in the UAE and an important part of the culture here. Falcons have been used for hunting by the desert dwelling people of Arabia for years and are often thought of as family members, much like hunting dogs (or a cat named Rogue).

Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest birds on the planet and can fetch prices of more than $2500 depending on the blood line. And owning a falcon legally is only possible with a license, which will take you around 7 years of training to obtain. Getting into falconry is a serious commitment and a costly one.

So, I shouldn't have been surprised when I learned that falcons can ride inside the aircraft on Etihad Airways. There's a whole pet policy dedicated to the transport of falcons, which are the ONLY animal allowed inside the cabin on our flights. A falcon owner can carry up to 3 falcons, but only 2 of them can ride in the cabin (the 3rd has to ride in cargo with the rest of the pets). And, you need to purchase a full far seat for the bird - one travels buckled into the seat and the second on the floor of the cabin. Unfortunately, I haven't yet seen this, but maybe now that I'll be flying Etihad more frequently, I'll get the chance. I'm guessing these guys fly business or first class too because if you can afford a falcon, why on earth would you sit back in coach?

As a side note, not even seeing eye dogs are allowed inside the cabin - only falcons. Dogs and any other animals with the appropriate papers need to travel in cargo. Luckily, Rogue is quite happy staying at home and getting spoiled by our cat sitter when we're away.

Okay, so I get that the falcon can ride in the cabin - fine and kinda cool, but then I also heard that many falcons have their own passport! Not wanting to be the butt of a joke, I looked it up online and sure enough, the UAE government portal includes instructions on how to obtain a passport for your falcon. After some further reading I found out that the passport process (which seems to be limited to UAE) is an attempt to reduce the illegal trade in falcons and was established in conjunction with a falcon registration program that started in 2002. In fact, now, falcons can only travel abroad with the proper registration and a valid passport. Boy, would I love to see that in the immigration line at the airport!

And I wonder if falcons also bemoan the fact that their passport photos look terrible?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Airline Industry 101

In my first few weeks of work, I've learned a lot about the airline industry, and since I'm an educator to my very soul, I thought I'd pass along some of that learning.

I sat through a 5 day course entitled, " Introduction to Aviation" with an entire group of UAE Nationals. What was most funny about this was the instructor's first question, "What is your opinion of the state of the airlines right now?" In my mind I was thinking "terrible" based on the the last several years of cost cutting by US carriers and increases in all kinds of charges from baggage to food to even water on a flight we recently took to Spain. But, to my surprise, the entire class responded with "great". It was another realization that the airline industry here in the Middle East is booming, while in the US it's going bankrupt. We later learned that what happens to the airlines starts in the US, then moves to Europe, then Asia and finally hits the Middle East. Does this mean Etihad will start charging for baggage? Hard to say - I sure hope not.

The most fascinating thing for me was the whole business of airlines. Due to skyrocketing fuel prices, the margins on a single flight are really very low (industry average puts it at 3-4%). And the costs an airline incurs are mind blowing. You may have read about a new plane that Airbus is currently working on - the A380. It going to be 2 stories with showers, a lounge and they even talked about a small basketball court!! Incredible! And only a mere $350 Million Dollars ... per plane!! Rumor has it Etihad has ordered 10 of them. Makes it sound like a rich company, but it's just not. The margins are so low that it's really hard to make a profit ... at least outside the Middle East. We were told that for British Airways (and I'm sure this is the case for many of the US carriers as well) their pension debt is so high that it's worth more than the airline itself. Back in the day, they gave very generous pensions that are now coming due, and with people living a lot longer, ending up more costly than any one anticipated. Since the Middle East carriers are still so new, even if they offer pensions (which many don't), they won't have to start paying out on them for a number of years yet.

Another fascinating thing (well, to me anyway - are you still awake?) is the timeline airlines have to operate with. Due to a backlog of orders, most airlines wait 3-5 years for their ordered plane(s) to be delivered. Talk about having to plan ahead! Our trainer said the airline industry needs to be always thinking 10-15 years into the future in order to make sound business decisions. What a switch from Telecommunications where you could barely plan 6 months in advance because things are changing so quickly. 

Okay, so that I don't bore you for too long (I do want you to come back after all) I'll end with some interesting tidbits:
  • As many as 20% of ticketed passengers never show up for their flight. This is why most airlines overbook their seats to an extent and why sometimes we're asked to get voluntarily bumped from a flight.
  • Airlines have to pay each country's government for the permission to fly over their airspace. In addition, they have to pay the airport for landing fees based on the size of the aircraft and terminal fees per passenger. No wonder ticket prices are so high!
  • They also have to pay for a 'slot' to land at a given airport. London Heathrow is considered the busiest international airport in the world and a landing slot can cost upwards of $20 Million (yes, that's US dollars!!!) This slot gives you the permission to land one plane at that airport for life. YIKES!
But of course the MOST INTERESTING thing I've learned so far is how to cash in on my employee flight discounts, which includes unlimited flights at 50-90% off the published fare to anywhere Etihad flies ... for me, Brian, my parents and his parents. WOW, what a generous perk - can't wait to start taking advantage!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

British Vocabulary Quiz

As an American from the Midwest and a lover of language and accents, I've gotten a kick out of comparing how we, in the US, and they, in the UK, speak English. I've learned a few new vocab words while at coffee mornings and while playing Mahjong and thought I'd test you all with this short quiz (answers at the end). Enjoy! ;)

A)  If you put something in the boot, where would you be putting it?
  1. in the kitchen pantry
  2. in the trunk of your car
  3. in the back of the garage
B)  If you tell someone you are gobsmacked, you mean you are?
  1. really angry
  2. really frustrated
  3. really surprised
C)  Where are you going if off to the loo?
  1. the bathroom
  2. the patio
  3. the bar
D)  Pants refers to which part of your outfit?
  1. trousers
  2. underwear
  3. athletic shorts
E)  Nappies are?
  1. cat naps
  2. napkins
  3. diapers
F)  A Swimsuit is called?
  1. swimming costume
  2. swimming suit
  3. swimsuit

There are lots more, but since you're probably starting to get bored, I'll get to the answers.
A) 2;  B) 3;  C) 1;  D) 2;  E) 3;  F) 1