Monday, 8 June 2009

Getting from A to B in Dubai: It ain't easy.

It should have been simple; arrange for our IT man to drive an overseas visitor out to Jebel Ali for a meeting at the head office of a major US firm.

First snag, trying to find exactly where the company head office is located. Its not as easy as it sounds. Dubai has no system of street addresses so there is nothing like "#244, Najoom Street, Leyaltown, Dubai" or anything like that, locations are given in relation to local landmarks. Readers may remember I wrote about street directions given to me when I first arrived here "…its where the Oasis Centre used to be", which wasn't much help to me as a newcomer as the Oasis Centre had burnt down at least 12 months earlier.

There are numbered streets here, but the same street numbers are used in each of the communities (suburbs) in Dubai. If you live in, for example, 11A Street in Mirdiff, there is also an 11A Street in Satwa, Jumeirah, Al Quoz, Rashidiya and another 11A Street in each of the 100+ communities. No wonder the sharwama delivery guys get so confused. A recent arrival in our office was bemused when filling out a US form as he tried to squeeze "The villa with the orange door just past the second roundabout…." into the small box on the form allocated for his residential address. Its either that or expect overseas authorities to believe that everyone in Dubai lives at the Post Office - Dubai residents quickly get used to putting 'PO Box xxx' as their residential address.

Back to the task in hand. I found the Jebel Ali company's website but unfortunately no location map there. The simple answer seemed to be to phone the head office to ask for driving directions from, say, Ibn Battuta Mall. I thought to myself "Surely they'll be used to this type of call. They'll probably have a map they can fax or email to me." So, I made the call at 5:05pm, bearing in mind that in Dubai office hours are 8:30 - 6pm so the office would still be open.

The phone rang and rang and just as I was about to hang up, a voice answered and said something unintelligble. That was the best part of the conversation, from there it went downhill:

Is that XYZ Inc?
Yes Madam
Can you give me driving instructions to your office please. I have a visitor who has an appointment at your office tomorrow.
No, I'm sorry the office is now closed.
But they have to be at your office first thing tomorrow morning. I need to give them directions tonight or they'll be late for their meeting.
No I can't do that, the office is closed.
If the office is closed, then why are you answering the phone?
It's my duty.
Okay, can you just tell me the nearest exit number?
No I can't do that, you'll have to telephone the office tomorrow.
Why can't you tell me now? Is the office location moving overnight?

And then there was complete silence except for the dying moans of my attempt at sarcasm. He hadn't hung up though, he was just waiting for my next move, it was a standoff. This man was not going to overstep the limits of his authority and dip his toe into the murky waters of customer service by giving me directions to the office he was currently standing in and presumably travelled to every day. No siree, that sort of stuff had to wait until the office reopened the following morning.

I admitted defeat and hung up, my brain addled. Eventually I contacted someone else at the head office, who helpfully sent me a faxed map showing the location of the site office of an unrelated construction company (?!?!)

The next morning the visitor set off with our office IT man at the wheel. After an hour of driving round and round Jebel Ali, they rang the head office (after opening time of course). They were given careful driving instructions which unfortunately proved to be wrong as the road described to them hasn't even been built yet!


  1. Yes, but waht about now,for those "Older Dubai residents", where they are now replacing the signs indicating teh suburbs, such as Al Quoz, with road or street signs, the suburb is no longer indicated, leading to further confusion, thnak goodness for the GPS. I observed this on the way to KTM only this morning!!

  2. I agree with Anon about the totally confusing new street name signage, I can't even find my way to suburbs I'm familiar with any more.

    By the way, not only are there hundreds of duplicate numbered streets, the numbering follows no known laws of mathematics. You'll find, for example, that 11A Street is nowhere near 11 Street. And 11 Street is not between 10 and 12 Streets.

    It's just random numbers and letters stuck on random poles, presumably by workers who couldn't read either Arabic or English but had a truck load of signs and a suburb full of empty poles.

    The good old days of using landmarks was much easier.

  3. So here I am sitting in the US, having spent 20 years of my life growing up in Dubai moved on to the US however I miss Dubai dearly.Your blog is one I visit everyday and enjoy your posts.

    Dubai has a uniqueness to itself and a classic example is the old way of finding directions by stating landmarks. It was very easy once the city was small but a proper way of street numberings is now needed.

    I bet a lot of people from around the world read your blog! keep it up.

  4. Thank you for your kind words Ex-Dubai Expat, I'm so glad you enjoy the blog and I really appreciate your feedback and encouragement.

  5. It would be quite simple for the relevant authority to get a map of Dubai and divide it into segments, giving each a suburb name and postal code. Then each street should be named and numbers of properties allotted. If finding names is a problem I suggest starting with Street 1, Street 2 and so on. Later the streets could be renamed to honor people. There's nothing new in any of this. The wonder is that it doesn't happen in Dubai