“And maybe that’s true at Dean & DeLuca in New York, too, but here, even in Starbucks if I set my laptop bag down beside my seat, they pull up another chair for me to set my bag on.
“When you pay, the cashier always says, ‘I receive from you one hundred’—or whatever bill you’ve handed over—and counts the change back out loud. I was at Julius Meinl for coffee and breakfast yesterday, and I needed my power cord. I asked the waitress to watch my stuff while I went to the car. About fifty yards down the mall, it hit me that I’d left my bag open, my purse full of cash and cards in the top, my phone on the table, and my laptop open. It didn’t feel like a security risk. I just kept going.”
* * *
“Either Filipinos have the greatest service culture in the world, or they’re secretly plotting to take over,” I tell my mom. Our weekly call has taken three tries—Skype-to-phone only works if you’ve got a Virtual Private Network concealing your IP address. The UAE government owns the phone—and the Internet—and they’d rather you not make an end run around their income or their security. Every now and then a screen flashes up:
SURF SAFELY. This website is not accessible in the UAE. If you believe the site you are trying to access does not contain prohibited content, click here.
Once, I clicked there. I was invited to fill out a form detailing the site I’d like to visit, my contact information, and my passport number. I decided I didn’t need Literotica that badly.
The labor market is hierarchal. All government jobs are staffed by Emiratis, the UAE nationals. Government jobs involve air conditioning, seated positions, and perhaps two hours of work stretched into an eight- or nine-hour day. Government jobs get every holiday off and often the days before and after. A local satirical news site posted the headline QATAR TO TAKE REMAINING SIX MONTHS OF 2014 OFF FOR RAMADAN, and like The Onion, it’s the underlying truth that makes it funny.
The hierarchy continues socially and financially downward. All non-government white-collar jobs are filled with Emiratis, white expats, and affluent, well-educated Indian and Asian expats. But mostly white expats. All retail and service positions—mall salespeople, restaurant staff visible to the public—are Filipino. All skilled laborers are educated Indian and Pakistani. Maids are Filipina. Nannies are Indonesian Muslims. All unskilled labor—construction, the portable carwash guys in every parking lot—is done by Bangladeshis and uneducated Indians and Pakistanis.
Retail staff seldom work alone. They say the denomination you hand them out loud so that their coworker is a witness to what they got, a witness to the change given. I do not ever complain about service, not only because it’s always good, but because my white-expat complaint would be taken seriously. There is an edge of fear under the cheerful subservience. They need this job, and a complaint—or a girlfriend they aren’t married to, or a child out of wedlock, or a debt they can’t pay, or a male server making too much eye contact with a female Emirati—could get them fined, jailed, de-visa-ed and deported back to whatever crap-ass ‘developing nation’ they scraped up their pesos, rupees or rupiahs to get here from. Send them back shamed and broke to share a room again with six sisters and the goat.
In the UAE, most jailed Pinoy are there for unpaid debts. They rack up credit cards and loans to pay tuition and clothes and food for the family back home, the family that asks and asks and asks in a culture that doesn’t say no. Sometimes a Filipino languishes in jail, owing for a car accident or a bad check, their embassy sending respectful requests, please, just deport him.
I shouldn’t leave my bag. It’s safe enough to leave our doors unlocked here, half the time we don’t lock the car. No-one’s likely to steal from me. But if I missed something and complained? I wouldn’t be the one that suffered.
* * *
“Don’t worry, Mom,” I say, “ISIS would have to get through Saudi to get here. No, no-one’s got Ebola. I’m safe here. Everyone’s very nice, and it’s very safe.”
I hang up and think about visiting the Philippines, about whether they will look after me this well in their own country, and how that, too, probably depends on money and skin. Then I draw the curtains, so my boyfriend and I can kiss.
whipchick spends her days in coffee shops, trying not to be too much work.