UAE National Day

pa·tri·ot·ism –noun
1. devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.
2. desire to decorate one’s car in excessive fashion and make loud noises in celebration

Back home in the United States, we have a whole set of traditions related to Independence Day. In Austin, where I grew up, my neighborhood hosted a parade. It wasn’t a big, showy event. It was purely for the local residents. It was an opportunity for little kids to decorate their bikes and ride down the street while the grown-ups watched. For the ones that were still too young to ride their own bikes, they rode with their parents or were towed behind them in wagons covered in red, white, and blue. We even had a couple local politicians show up to press the flesh. After the parade, you eat a couple of hotdogs, go to a movie, and then sit outside and watch the fireworks at night. All in all, it’s a relatively simple affair. More importantly, however, there is a calm routine which underlies the excitement—a defined beginning and ending for the event—and some sense of organization to our revelry.

Celebrating National Day (December 2nd) in Abu Dhabi, however, was a whole new cultural experience. I was not at all prepared for what took place. It was loud and chaotic. Thank goodness the locals don’t drink. It might have been bedlam if everyone was drunk too.

You have to understand that the UAE is only 39 years old. They’re still a very new country and they’re only on their second president. I can imagine the 4th of July celebrations in Washington, DC were pretty darn festive in the early 1800s… except right after the British burned down the capital in 1812. For those early Americans, they’d literally fought for their freedom. They’d just discovered the new definition of themselves as American. It must be somewhat the same here in the UAE. Emirati’s are fiercely loyal to their cultural heritage and very protective of their nationality. The rulers, especially the late Sheikh Zayed, are revered the same way we Americans have enshrined Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. I don’t know how tall Sheikh Zayed was, but I imagine he must have been close to 7-feet, so strong is this country’s admiration of him.

To show their love and respect for their country, the people go all out. But most noticeably, they decorate their cars. I don’t mean they tie a couple of streamers to their radio antennas. I mean they take them to custom auto shops and spend literally thousands of dollars on decals and window covers emblazoned withthe faces of their leaders. “I ♥ UAE” is printed on everything. Even buildings take on a decorative flair by covering themselves in “Christmas-like” light displays to show their patriotism.

Once everyone is fully decked out in red, green, and black, the entire city descends upon the Corniche and forms a mile(s) long traffic jam of celebration and frivolity. Children hang out of windows or even ride on top of vehicles while covering any passerby in Silly String or shaving cream. The grown ups driving the cars rev their engines and honk their horns to add to the cacophony of the day. But only the Emirati’s truly get to participate, mind you. Sure, literally everyone—locals and expats alike—are dressed head-to-toe in UAE colors and slogans, but we’re really just lined up on the sidewalk watching the procession creep by.

I guess that’s the way it really should be, though. Right?

I’ve never lived in a foreign country long enough to call it “home.” Though my times in Japan, England, and France have all been meaningful, they were all transitory. I knew exactly when they would begin and when they would end. I never even thought to consider myself “Japanese,” “British,” or “French.” But, Abu Dhabi is home now. At least it’s where I live. My true “Home” will always be Texas, North Carolina, and/or the USA (depending on my current location and temperament). I don’t know when I’ll be leaving and I don’t necessary want to. But I do wish I could participate fully in the society—be more than a temporary resident—be more than the guy watching from the sidewalk.

I didn’t intend for this post to be quite so serious when I sat down. It just turned out that way. And now for something a bit more casual… the fireworks display from Emirates Place.

  • Etisalat Building Decorated for National Day
  • Sama Tower Decorated for National Day
  • Emirates Palace Laser Light Show
  • Cars Decorated for National Day
  • Covered in Silly String
  • Cars Decorated for National Day
  • Cars Decorated for National Day
  • Emirate Palace
  • Corniche Fireworks Display
  • Corniche Fireworks Display
  • Corniche Fireworks Display

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