January 30, 2012

Laws and People's Behavior

When you live in one place all your life, you don't realize how much the laws affect people's behavior and people's mores and cultural views affect the laws.  Having lived in four US states and six countries ( 4 countries being majority Christian and 2 being majority Muslim) in my lifetime (just 30 years young now), I have seen a wide range of laws and rules.

Most of the ones that attract my attention are on safety, alcohol, and other social aspects like relationships, marriage, public display of affection, etc.

In Belgium, as long as the kid could see over the bar, he was served a drink. I drank alcohol in Belgium when I was 17 and it was legal. In Spain, the teenagers were filling the public squares drinking all night long. In certain states I lived, I could only buy wine in a wine store and liquor in a liquor shop, I think it was North Carolina and Maryland that were some of the stricter states I lived in. North Carolina didn't allow 'happy hours' because it encouraged drinking and driving but Washington, D.C. sure made up for them (of course I used the metro most of my time in DC). In Missouri, they were selling liquor and wine at the Walmart.  In the UAE, you have to have an alcohol license to buy and it is related to your job, visa, salary, and you have to get it renewed every year and you can only buy from certain stores that seem to be hidden. Most laborers can't even buy alcohol so they start making moonshine (insert an American Southern accent here) or bootlegged alcohol, or so I read.

In the US pork is next to every other meat. In the UAE, if it is offered, it is in a secluded section of the grocery story just for the non-Muslims and separate from the rest of the food not to taint it. At a hotel buffet in  Sri Lanka catering to Muslims during the Eid holiday, the pork was served at the far end of the buffet line requiring quite a walk to get to it and being far away from the rest of the food.

In Spain, no one got married before 30 and everyone was living with each other out of wedlock. In Belgium, my host brother got married to his wife after several years being together and having a few kids together before marriage. In the UAE, you would put in jail and deported for that. Extramarital sex is against the law. In fact, I have known a few European couples that got married before moving to the UAE just because of the laws and the visa situation.

In Sri Lanka, I saw a family of 4, a baby and small child included, all on a motorcycle with no helmets. In the US, you probably get fined riding a bike on your driveway without a helmet or frowned upon by neighbors. In the UAE, there aren't strict laws about buckling children up in the backseat but the expats are trying to bring those laws about through their Letter writing (see my post about 7DAYS) and various other campaigns. I basically follow my US child seat laws in the UAE just to be safe even though I don't have to. One time my nanny hadn't buckled Rex up in the backseat as I was about to back out of a grocery store, an expat British lady came up to me in my car and scolded me saying something like 'you should know better, you are an expat!'
NOTE: An excerpt from Dubai: Fastest City explains that reckless driving is a part of the life in the Gulf for two reasons: 1. Self-important " me first" attitude and 2. the belief that safety is in God's hands.

In some parts of the US, you can't drive and use a mobile/cell phone at the same time. A big one in Texas recently has been no texting or using phones around school zones. In the UAE, it is common practice even though there might be a law against it. I am not sure. Just to be safe with my son and because it might be a law, I don't use my mobile while driving. I am hearing a lot of radio commercials against it in Dubai now so maybe they are stepping up that campaign.

Now I am not sure if it is a law but under the topic of government subsidy, I would like to add a few notes on gasoline, water, and electricity. All three are subsidized in the UAE and for water and electricity, Emirati citizens pay next to nothing for it.

Gasoline in the UAE is subsidized. In Dubai, I have a huge Toyota Sequoia my husband bought for me to drive our son around for safety reasons. He drives the Honda Civic to work daily and I drive the Sequoia around our neighborhood, to the malls, and sometimes into town when we have a need for it. He tells me there is a huge difference as to how people treat you on the road, better with the Sequoia, so he LOVES to drive my car on the weekends,I digress, we will leave that to another topic. To fill up my car, it costs me about $30 USD. In the Houston, it would be about $60 or more.

Electricity. One month in the summer, our bill was $900 USD. YES, $900! We had the company come and investigate why it was so high and we aren't really sure what happened but oh well. I learned that Emiratis pay half or a 1/3 of what expats pay for electricity so I asked the electricity company guys how they didn't know I wasn't Emirati? They laughed and told me they had copies of my husband's passport and so they knew I wasn't a local as I stood out in my shorts and American accented English. Basically the expats subsidize the locals' electricity bill so they really need expats to help over the costs. Another trick from someone I heard was if you have an Emirati landlord to get them to register for the electricity bill so you can pay the Emirati rate. Too bad our landlord is Pakistani. Anyway, there are complaints around the GCC region that if locals knew the value of electricity, they wouldn't waste it. Especially being the fact that we are living in a desert. Anyway.

Along the same lines of electricity is water. Water is subsidized to Emiratis as well. Concern for being green and not wasteful, recent articles in 7DAYS show concern that this teaches people to be wasteful and not conserve the precious resource which takes a lot of energy to be desalinated over here and so water here is not like water in most other places because it takes a lot more energy to make potable.

Christian countries have certain concerns and Muslim countries other concerns. Some countries are a lot more conservative than others. The people's opinions, believes, and behaviors affect the laws and the laws affect the people's behavior and opinions. I read a really good quote recently and since I can't find it now it is summed up briefly as, individuals accept behavior that appears to be tolerated by many. There is societal pressure and power in numbers and that is what leads to laws and rules.

It is exciting living in a place with a huge melting pot of cultures trying to live together in a uniquely constricted universe.

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