The Home Bird's survival guide to Oman

By: Heather Duncan

As a shiny new Expat arriving in Muscat airport back in September 2012 I wasn’t quite prepared for what I had let myself in for. Sure I had a suitcase full of bikini’s and a few treasured possessions packed, my dog had been flown special cargo and I knew the exchange rate from Pounds to Rials but was I mentally ready? Probably not, no.

Being raised in Scotland, UK my former life was very different to what it was soon to become and I’m not just talking about the weather although that has been a nice bonus. As a self-confessed home bird I have never dreamt of living anywhere other than home. Life at home was comfortable, we had a house and a routine. Oh boy I love a routine. So when I announced to family and friends that my husband and I would be relocating to Oman for a job that he just couldn’t refuse the eye rolls and mutters of “it won’t last the year” made me more determined to make this move work. To this day I’m not sure if they were talking about our marriage or the move but either way we have proved them wrong. However, that didn’t mean that it was easy for a Home bird to change her ways. I’m a planner, a list writer and one of those people that gets frustrated when plan A is changing into a plan B. Don’t even get me started on what happens if we have to resort to plan C.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I wish now that I had researched some of the more important things to becoming an Expat in somewhere as extreme as the Middle East, or really just chilled out a bit more in my own head and went with the flow – it would have saved many a tear, believe me. Granted the Middle East is nowhere near as extreme as the media like to make out but educating yourself to a new culture and way of life before you arrive can never be a bad thing. Now that I have relaxed into the Omani way of life I can laugh at my former self, I was far too uptight and used to my old ways that I couldn’t be open to try something new. Oman is such an amazing, inspiring yet peaceful place to live it has taught me so much and that there is more to life than worrying about whether everything on my check list is complete.

So here we go, These are my top 5 tips to surviving your first year in Oman:

1-    Insh’allah time keeping - I’ll warn you about time keeping first because I still can’t quite get my head around this one at times. Personally I’m a stickler for time keeping and if I say I’ll be there then I’ll be there on time or at least a few minutes early. The Arab’s however, and the majority of long term Expats now also, are very good at telling you a time or a date and following it up with “Insh’allah”. You can pretty much bet your bottom dollar, or Euro whatever, that they are not going to be there at that time. The statement means “God Willing” or if Allah allows them to do this as no one knows what their own future holds, he will decide for them.

So if a delivery man tells you he will be there “Monday at 11am Insh’Allah” take this with a pinch of salt as it very well could be Wednesday at 4.30pm. They don’t mean anything bad by being “late” it’s just a different perception of timing and they aren’t as up tight as us Brits.

Even to reflect my more laid back attitude I haven’t replaced the battery on my watch that died three months ago. The old me would never have been so casual but still old habits die hard and I’ll always be the one sitting waiting looking at my phone for the time.

2-    You will be stared at, get used to it - This is predominately at women but also applies to the men. It really can take a bit of getting used to but you have to understand that the majority of people are just intrigued by the way you look and rightfully so, you look so different to them! Personally having blue eyes and more freckles than I care to acknowledge seems to set me apart from others and I am stared at a lot. Dressing modestly will help you an enormous amount and this comes back to educating yourself to a new culture. Public areas with large amounts of locals such as the mall and supermarkets are places where you should dress with respect and it will be a lot easier to go about your business without being stared at. You may think that new strapless sun dress looks cute but it is sure to be a man magnet! The first few weeks are a learning experience but gradually you find your own style and what you are comfortable wearing. Even now I keep a spare scarf/shawl in my car incase I need to pop into the shop on the way home from the beach.

3-    Paperwork, don’t count on it - This can be a bug bear in any new Expat’s arrival experience in Oman when paper work takes days, weeks and several “official stamps” until your passed onto someone else. Oh and don’t expect anyone to tell you where exactly to go either, you may be lucky enough to have a representative from your company (called a P.R.O) to help you with paper work to get your medical examination, official residents card and driving licence amongst other things. Be sweet to your helper you never know when you might need them again for help. If you don’t have anyone from your host company to accompany you then be sure to find someone who can advise you, most people learn through trial & error and spread advice through word of mouth.

4-    Keep you PDA’s to yourself - If you aren’t clued up on the abbreviations PDA means “Public Display of Affection”. This is something that should be taken seriously. As much as you may love your other half it is best to avoid kissing and cuddling in public, you could really offend someone. Maybe two or three times in a year have I seen an Arab couple hold hands in public, it’s just not the done thing here. When you get used to it then it’s no big deal but sadly many a new Expat will learn the hard way. I witnessed first hand a young European couple on a Expat beach openly canoodling, back home our reaction would be “Ew, get a room” but sadly for them it ended in the police arresting the man and leaving the girl red faced and alone on the beach. I learnt my lesson through them and I keep my affection to myself.

5-    Explore and try something new - Once you have made the brave jump into the Expat life there is no point in cooping yourself up in your apartment. You have made it this far so get your adventure juices flowing by taking trips, meeting new people and exploring your new country and I am confident you will be amazed at what you can find. Oman is such a wonderful and fun country to be in so take advantage of the fact that you can take part in so many different activities from flying through the golden dunes in 4x4’s to learning to scuba dive and spotting all sorts of exotic marine life. My favourite activities are hiking in the Wadi’s and snorkelling to spot a variety of animals such as Sea turtles, Clown Fish and Dolphins. Many activities are free or cost very little so there is no excuse not to get stuck in.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingHeather Duncan is a Scottish expat living in Oman. Blog description: A Scottish girl in an Arab world. The adventures of a 25 year wife uprooted from a comfortable life in Scotland to a whole new life in Oman.
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Contest Comments » There are 8 comments

Graham wrote 5 years ago:

Excellent survival guide Heather. Very informatative and funny. After having a holiday to Oman this year I can relate to alot of the things you have mentioned. Good luck with the competition sis :) Graham x

Erin wrote 5 years ago:

Great insights Heather! I agree with everything you have to say here! It's hard to get used to everything in a new country, especially one as different as Oman. It's nice to see someone put our difficulties into words! Good luck! Hope it continues to get better for you in the Gulf....inshallah! ;)

Heather Robertson wrote 5 years ago:

Some good things to know before taking the plunge to the Middle East. Nice to know that it's a positive place to be.

Yoka wrote 5 years ago:

I just read your blog for the first time and really enjoyed it! I like the way you write, it's fun to read and there's always the point with arguments.

CMT wrote 5 years ago:

I soooooooo get the Inshallah! After seven plus years in the Middle East, I actually find it popping into my thoughts!!! (Inshallah, I will not be late, etc.). Very good read, and very useful information for newcomers. I enjoyed checking out your blog.

Graham Hudson wrote 5 years ago:

Refreshing posts that cover the real nature of being a visitor to another country

Eliza wrote 5 years ago:

you're an excellent writer and capture the first year as an Oman expat perfectly! Duncan Adventures is one of my faves:-)

Abhi wrote 5 years ago:

Excellent style of writing, fun filled and at the same time informative too... keep it rolling... Cheers...

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