The Netherlands to Dubai UAE - Expat Interview With Francine

Published: 17 Nov at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,United Arab Emirates
Francine Spiering left the Netherlands 14 years ago to follow her geologist husband to live in the vibrant city of New Orleans. It felt like a giant step to give up her job (in publicity for cultural organizations and freelance book translation) to become “the spouse” but as it turns out, it also proved a great opportunity to focus on her biggest passion: food. She lived in New Orleans for nearly 5 years. The city will forever hold a special place in her heart: it is where her son was born. In 2002, she moved to Cairo, 3 years later on to Miri (Malaysia) and since 2010 she lives in Dubai. Along the road, Francine got a kitchen diploma at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, focused on private fine dining catering and cooking classes, and now in Dubai she writes a food blog called Life in the Food Lane (see listing here)

Life in the Food Lane

Here's the interview with Francine...

Where are you originally from?
The Netherlands

In which country and city are you living now?
UAE, Dubai

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We’ve been in Dubai since April 2010 and plan to stay at least another 2-3 years.

What do you do?
Whoever came up with this word, it always makes me smile at the images it conjures up, but for want of another word: I am the trailing spouse. While I didn’t enjoy giving up my job 14 years ago to go abroad, I have no regrets either. It made me follow my dream of “doing something with food.” It was actually my husband who encouraged me to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. It was never the plan to “have a restaurant”. Many other factors aside, an expat lifestyle and restaurant do not go together. I’ve been content freelancing in the kitchen, always small-scale and personal. Since I am in Dubai: writing a food blog.

Life in the Food LaneDid you bring family with you?
My son was born in New Orleans, and is now in Secondary. His schooling takes precedence when it comes to relocating. His say in the matter is increasingly important: this expat lifestyle only works if all in your family are happy with it. So far, so good, and I think all three of us believe that “home is where the heart is”.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I have “relocated” to USA, to Egypt, to Malaysia, and recently to the UAE. Every country has its challenges, most frustrations pertaining to “setting up shop”: finding a house, settling the lease, getting all the paperwork done (including residency visa, licenses, and various connections). Dubai is predominantly an expat-city: over 70% of Dubai’s population is expat/foreigner (don’t quote me on the exact number, it can be more or less but it gives you an idea). The feeling is double-sided: I feel like like a foreigner among other foreigners in Dubai, and yet at the same time I feel very much at home.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Meeting people can be very easy in Dubai. It is a very international, outgoing city, bursting with opportunities to meet people. However, like any big city you can still feel like a lost soul in a sea of people if you don’t know anybody. It may take an extra effort in a city like Dubai. There are ladies night, coffee mornings, events and festivals (one of my favorites is the Literature Festival). There is always so much going on.

Life in the Food LaneWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Dubai’s hinterland is ruggedly beautiful, with sand dunes, desert landscape and mountains, whereas the coast offers excellent beach life. There is a lot to discover in the UAE, from heritage sites to spectacular natural scenery. The city itself has the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a big, modern city: a huge range of restaurants, trendy clubs, shopping till you’re dropping, interesting modern architecture, and a couple of world-known landmarks. Standard of living is high. International schools are good, as are daily groceries supermarkets, catering to the wide variety of nationalities that live in this city. An exciting development is that the focus on “locally grown” is on the rise. More and more, organic and locally farmed produce is available, and the local “farmers market” is growing bigger every time.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Dubai is relatively safe, international, and overall easy living.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Dubai is not a cheap place,

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Every place has good and bad, and negatives are always personal ones. If I were to pick one for Dubai, it would be the lack of lively street life. Dubai is a driving city. Another negative is the relentless building in Dubai: it seems Dubai is never and in fact also nowhere finished. The downside is not just aesthetics: so much building brings too much dust in the air. And since it hardly ever rains, the dust is here to stay…

Life in the Food LaneIf you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Spend the first week or even the first day or two being a tourist. Explore the city from the laid-back, no pressure “tourist” perspective first. Do the open-top hop on/off bus thing. Visit the Cultural Center (and have a cultural breakfast). It is a relaxed way to get your bearings in your new habitat, and it helps to ease the unavoidable stress of settling in.

What has been the hardest aspect to expat life so far?
Partir c’est mourir un peu. Missing my family, my gorgeous nieces and sweet little nephew, my friends… I’m the first nor last to mention this as being the hardest aspect of expat life. Even if the world virtually shrunk with Skype, Facebook, and other social media, nothing can beat a physical hug and a live chat.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your expat footsteps?
  1. Read up on your new country before you leave, and find social networks such as clubs and organizations you might be interested in, and send an email to make contact. It is always easier to know someone already, even if it is virtual.
  2. If you have school-aged kids: pre-visit schools before you sign them up. And make sure there is no waiting list!
  3. If time (and money) allows, take your time looking for a home. You’ll be living there for a while!
  4. As soon as you have an idea of the lay of the land, start driving around and get to know the city. Make sure you bring a fully charged mobile and enough credit, just in case you get lost.
  5. Make it your home from day one, even if you’re a foreigner, and a temporary resident at that. Temporary living is a mind-set that will wear you out.

Life in the Food LaneTell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Life in the Food Lane is written by a diehard foodie, and larded with travel stories, food anecdotes, culinary trivia, reviews, and reflections. It is a blog that will take you on a virtual food tasting, from dinner in Dubai to jungle ferns in the remote interior of Sarawak; from molecular gastronomy to Alba white truffle hunted in the woods in the Langhe (Piedmont). Food Lane recipes focus around an ingredient, such as black pepper, beef tongue, quail, octopus, golden beetroot, and always include photographs and culinary trivia or anecdotes. This being a Dubai-based blog, it also has a fair share of posts relating to the Dubai food-scene.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Through my food blog. There is an email address on the “about” page.

Francine blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Life in the Food Lane has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Francine, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There are 2 comments

Kathleen Smith wrote 8 years ago:

I loved this blog story! Francine you have so many good tips, and an interestingly positive perspective. Actually, it's just enjoyable to read you writing! Thanks for your insight to our world of Support Spouse/Trailing nomads! I appreciate this entry so much that I stopped packing up to relocate back to the UK to read and comment- just the tonic I needed this morning. Thank you.

Karin Brakel wrote 8 years ago:

Great to read this interview and Francine's blog. I will follow you and wish you all the best with your expat life in the foodlane - well done! Greetings from Karin - a trailing cook!

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