“You’ve gotten so fat Miss Dugdale, you used to be so pretty. Now you are so big,” is an example of one of the insults I’ve received while living as an expat in the Middle East.
While this is also true in other parts of the world, if there is one thing we get used to while living in some Arab countries, it’s the barrage of insults disguised as the delivery of home truths.
Whether it’s complete strangers reminding us about our body clocks (like we’d had chance to drown out its tick tock since it was mentioned an hour ago) or the receptionist advising us to wear makeup because, quite frankly, we are hideous without it, it’s just something many of us come to accept.
So it was amusing when, a couple of weeks ago, a member of the Mumsnet website asked fellow users to talk about the most offensive things that have ever been said to them.
Over 150 people posted with insults ranging from being given weight loss tips just hours after giving birth to being confused for everything from prostitutes to being the mother of the bride at a sibling’s wedding.
Nevertheless, none of them could compare to the ‘home truths’ residents of the UAE have received over the years.
We decided to do some digging and come up with some of the most shocking.
Dutch expat Lisette Macklin lived in Dubai for 16 years. She told us about a time she walked in a popular pharmacy in the city.
She explains: “The lady said ‘Morning madam, are you here for face cream? Your wrinkles are very bad!’ I wasn't even 40 yet and didn't think I fared that badly!”
British expat Theresa Tsui, who has also lived in the region. says her Chinese heritage also leads to plenty of insults coming her way as well.
She adds: “Another time I was at a supermarket checkout. The cashier says: ‘Kabayan?’ (using the Tagalog reference to address Filipinos) I reply: ‘No, Chinese.’ They reply with: ‘Yes, I thought so. Your face is very flat.’
“Also, it was one quiet afternoon and I hear a knock at the door. A western man was standing there. He asks: "Is your madam home?" I shut the door and opened it one second later and said: ‘Madam here, how can I help?’”
She may live and work in New York now, but British expat Michelle Curran still remembers the insults she received while living in the Middle East for nearly six years. A frequent taxi user she was often grilled about her marital status with drivers horrified that she was over 30 and unmarried.
She says: “Just before I left the region, one taxi driver said: ‘You have no job, no husband, no children. Nothing. This is not good. What are you going to do? Are you not worried? And you are 33. Did you not think about these things? Why would you quit your job?’ He then tutted a lot. I felt like saying: ‘Turn around mate and drop me at the creek so I can wade in to my death!’”
And taxi drivers seem to have form for insulting their passengers.
Fellow British expat Eva Smith adds: “I remember a Dubai taxi driver once scrutinising the freckles on my arm and asking what they were. I told him and said a lot of people had them. He said they were ugly and I should try to cover them. It was his honest opinion and I don’t think he was trying to be rude but still, it really made me paranoid!”
While Dubai-based author Miles Buckeridge says he appreciates some things may be lost in translation and people have varying tolerance levels when it comes to insults, he believes we all need to employ some tact.
He says: “I think culture provides a lens for intent as well as perception. But I also believe, as a global humanist, it is important that we understand we have a responsibility to be respectful of one another's cultures. Diplomacy is something we should all seek to respect in this cosmopolitan society. I feel that ignoring this, is a detractor to cohesion.”