“Now would be a great time to turn your phone OFF,” I tapped out in a text to DH while on a spending spree at Marks&Spencer the other day.
Being on a digital rein is a royal pain, I tell you. And the text – from the bank telling him the exact amount I’ve splashed out and where – always seems to reach him, even if he’s travelled to the most far-flung corner of the world and I can’t get through myself.
It means he comes back from trips and can joke around with comments like: “Right, let’s see where you’ve been over the past few days. Ah, breakfast at Shakespeare’s. Lunch from Costa, again.
“And what’s this?” he’ll enquire, as he scrolls through the HSBC texts giving away my movements around the city’s malls and supermarkets.
In all honesty though – and contrary to what people across the globe might think – women in the UAE enjoy a great deal of freedom. The bank texts are for fraud purposes; it just so happens that as the primary card holder, our husbands tend to get the messages.
And, compared to an initiative in neighbouring Saudi Arabia – worryingly called Relax! We’ll track your wife down! – the UAE’s electronic trails are nothing. A text is sent to the male guardian of any female national who leaves Saudi to alert him of her departure (though maybe it is the woman who gets the last laugh, as the text doesn’t say where she’s gone).
But that said, even in the UAE, the most liberal of the Gulf states, there are times when a Western woman will find it a little peculiar (you could switch that word for ‘frustrating’, if you’d like to read between the lines) that she can’t do something she’s always done, like drive, without a ‘letter of no objection’ from her husband.
I’m used to it now – and, in fact, I love the way women are treated here, with female-only queues that really speed up boring, bureaucratic chores – but DH and I still joke about it.
The other night, I was mad about something. I can’t even remember what. And, occasionally, when I’m angry, I’m guilty of pulling the trailing spouse card.
“Well, just book me a flight back to England then,” I frothed at the mouth [horrible wife, I know, but it was late, the kids had been playing up, etc, etc].
For us, it’s not as simple as going to the airline’s website and pressing ‘book’. We use a staff system that I’m pretty clueless about.
And that’s when I realised. The corners of my mouth started twitching upwards. I suppressed a laugh.
Then I caught DH’s eye and he was trying to keep a straight face too. Suddenly the argument seemed silly.
“I can’t even leave the country, can I, without asking you?” I laughed, shaking my head with mock resignation.
[Rolls eyes – and vows to make this the year I get a bank card in my name only.]