Thursday, March 08, 2007

Smokeless Tobacco, Gulf Ways and Nasty Item

Smokeless Tobacco

Smokers are now discriminated against in a lot of countries as smoke free environments are being created all around the globe. You no longer have smoking flights and ashtrays in elbow rests are now mostly decorative. Some airports have smoking areas still but these will be gone before long. A nicotine addict like myself who cannot quit can satisfy their cravings by taking a cigarette, tearing it up and emptying the tobacco into the palm of their hand. I then roll the tobacco into a small ‘plug’ and insert it between my lower lip and the row of teeth facing it. After it lies there for about a minute, the nicotine will quickly get into my blood and take the edge of the urge. It works for me. However, if I swallow some of the tobacco juice, it gives me hiccups. Sometimes, I would even take a cigar, tear off a small piece and make a plug out of it. I did get some side effects like blood rushes, nervous twitches, etc. so if you decide to do it, do so at your own risk.

Anti-smoking campaigns everywhere have probably boosted sales of snuff and chewing tobacco to unprecedented heights, mostly in the US. Snuff there is now getting to be quite expensive- some $7 a can. One can buy cheaper snuff at Dubai Duty Free for a bit over a dollar a can. In some other parts of the world, it cannot be obtained as easily, though. Australians do not seem to be familiar with it. Latin Americans and most Europeans (except Scandinavians) have not taken up the habit, either. If one becomes an inveterate dipper, the only way to obtain snuff would be over the Internet. Some companies, most notably the ones located in Scandinavia will ship it to you to the ends of the world. The call it “Snus” there.

Many Gulf Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Sudanese as well as Central Asians make their own snuff and chewing tobacco which is dirt cheap but it takes getting used to if you decide to dip it. The taste is bitter and some add lye to it so that it would irritate your gums and allow nicotine to penetrate your blood more quickly. Sudanese tumbak is particularly strong and it will make you stagger, and your glands will salivate in abundant spurts causing you to spit out brown good every two minutes. This is not something that squeamish or untrained people should try without proper adult supervision.

Nicorette gum to me seems to be a better alternative, although quitting the nicotine habit altogether would be the ideal option.

The Gulf Ways

In Oman I have seen something very curious- sloping street curbs. They look just like regular curbs but are at a 25 degree or lover angle and you can drive over them and roll into a parking lot without damaging your tires. The street is still there and so is the sidewalk but one does not need to look for an entrance into a parking area. Just drive straight into it. How wise, and how considerate!


One inconvenience in the Arabian Gulf, though, is that highways, parkways and freeways often do not have that many places to make a U-turn, and you are forced to drive for many miles until you reach some roundabout and can now go back to where you came from. Sometimes, if you are on a divided street and simply need to go to a restaurant on the other side, it is often better to just park on your side and cross the street as the U-turn can be astronomically far.


One peril to keep in mind and it is a very serious danger indeed, is that, while driving at night, you run the risk of God forbid running over some Arab ladies wearing dark robes and covering their faces who thus cannot be easily seen. Also, many streets are unlit, and a lady in a black “cloak” can come out at any time. Even as you pull out of your car port, some neighbours may have a bunch of female visitors who will not be easily spotted in your rear view mirror. In daytime, it is no problem because the sun is usually so bright that they can be noticed immediately, but at night, they are a real and present danger. Be very careful when you back out and also, when driving on unlit streets, turn on your high beams. Better safe than sorry.


If you see many cars double- or triple parked in front of a bank, hotel or some restaurant it does not mean that all the parking spots in the area have been taken. Usually, just some 20 yards from there, you will see many vacant lots. People there prefer to amalgamate their cars in one area, and then to patiently wait until other drivers leave so that their car could now be safely “released”. To the locals, parking even a short distance from the place where they are going in a hurry and having to walk seems to be a bigger nuisance than having their cars blocked by rows upon rows of other vehicles which leave them waiting even longer until their drivers will climb into them and unblock their cars. As a westerner who does not mind a two minute walk, one usually has no parking problem at all.


Many Sub-continental workers in the Arabian Gulf do not queue up at foreign exchange offices, Western Union outlets and other such places but seem to attack the counter in a disorderly and every-man-for-himself fashion. Lines simply do not seem to exist. However, there is a system in such a way of obtaining service, as well, even though it may not be obvious to you at first. The clerks seem to know very well who came first and who came later and still end up attending you on a first-come-first-serve basis. The staff have been working in such an environment for decades, and their skill at serving customers in the order of arrival is simply amazing. I used to get irritated at first, but now I feel very comfortable plunging myself into the swarm of expat workers milling in front of the counter. I know that I will almost never be treated unfairly and someone who came after me will be served before me. Try it and you will see.


We are used to thinking of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as former British colonial subjects, therefore, we assume that they speak English. However, in the case of the Gulf, many of the lower class laborers as well as clerks at many stores and tailor shops cannot speak even rudimentary English but speak broken , expat Arabic fluently. On the other hand, Gulf Arabs almost always speak beautiful English. So, you end up speaking Arabic to Indians and Sri-Lankans, and speaking English to Arabs. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?


I became pretty fluent in conversational Arabic by practicing it with Indian clerks, cleaners, laundry personnel and electricians. I rarely spoke it to Arabs who often switch to near perfect English when talking to me.

In Oman, driver licenses are good for ten years, and so are debit/ATM cards. How wonderful! How nice it is to know that you do not need to worry about renewals for a whole decade. Also, with Omani licenses, you can legally drive in other countries of the Gulf if you visit there. No international license is needed. Then, if you decide to stay in another GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) country and work, getting a local license is normally a piece of cake.

US driver licenses are also held in high esteem. In many Gulf countries they will often let you rent a car with a stateside license. Not a bad deal. And if you want a local license, only an eye exam is usually needed in many Gulf nations. However, I still got an international driving permit from AAA and drive with it just be on the safe side.

A Nasty Item

Have you ever seen luggage carts? Those little contraptions that are like little folding racks with wheels that you put your bag on so that you would not have to carry it and could just drag it behind you? I consider them a huge source of irritation. They come with those long (or not so long) bungee strings with hooks on both ends. Some hooks are plastic and thick, and after I put my bag on that trolley, for the life of me I can’t find a place on it to hook it up to. If the bag is thick, it is hard to see the bottom of the cart, and one needs to practically crawl under them to fasten them up. Then, the bag may slide off sideways if the string is not tight enough. Sometimes, you need to wrap it around the bag twice, and it gets so tight that it can snap and cause grievous bodily harm. If the hooks are metal and thin, they can hurt you pretty bad if they break loose.

With so many x-ray security checks on the way to and from the plane, you may often end up taking your bag off the trolley and putting it back on and repeating the awkward process of attaching your luggage to it all over again. Also, what happens when you finally check your bag in? Will you take it with you as carry-on luggage? Beware. They cannot be easily folded. If you try and fold them, some part of it will still be sticking out, and tying those bungee ropes around them will again be a nightmare. And you can pinch your fingers in them, too. I have ended up just checking them in as another item because they can also be a big nuisance when you put them in the overhead compartment. The cords can slip and snap, plus they take up too much space in there, anyway. But even if you check them in, that causes another inconvenience- some airlines only allow two pieces of check-in baggage per passenger, and you will not be able to check in some other, much more important items.
Do yourself a favor- do not buy such a trolley; buy a regular suitcase with wheels already on it because those luggage carts absolutely, positively suck.

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