Same-Same, but….

Most of us Dubaiyans are familiar with the phrase “same-same and probably have already adopted it into our own vernacular. My first encounter with the curiously, endearing phrase was — of course — with sales clerks.

It typically goes something like this:

Q “Is this a real Birkin bag?”
A ” Yes sir-m’am, same-same — but different”

Certainly, I very well know a designer bag worth 50,000 Dirhams sold in Karama will not be the real thing, but I still like to ask the question — just for kicks. 😀  Same-same is a borrowed phrase from SEAsia, and a catchy one to boot. We all end up using it. It works well when you just don’t know how to explain something in detail other than it’s pretty much the same as what you know/use/eat/do.

There is a phrase we say in Spanish" Lo barato sale caro". Translation: Cheap things turn out to be expensive.

There is a phrase we say in Spanish: “Lo barato sale caro”. Translation: Cheap things turn out to be expensive.

Same-same, which is often followed by but different is just a common denominator phrase our global nomads here can understand in Dubai’s spoken language abyss. There are a gazillion languages spoken in the UAE, but no official lingua franca. I foresee that happening, though, just how Creole languages developed over time in the Caribbean. Back home, it’s common to hear yute instead of youth, nyam instead if eat, gyal instead of girl, and we often get “vex”, not mad — all same-same, though. 🙂

Our Caribbean Creole is said to have lexical items mixed and morphed from African, Spanish, Dutch, Carib, and Taino languages. Words are contorted and broken down into an endless semantic progression. I can only guess within time the odds of some form of a Creole language will happen here too, where mainly Arabic, English, Tagalog and Indian languages is what you hear all at once at any given moment.

Some things that are Same-Same, but Different in Dubai:

  • Fast Food. Pretty much the same menus. What’s different? McDonald’s McArabia sandwich, hot date pie, and fattoush salad. Rice bowls are on the menu too (catering to the Filipino population). And lots Tawook, Tandori, Adobo, Zinger this and that’s.
  • IKEA. Pretty much the same with product names you cannot pronounce, insane crowds, and their infamous Swedish meatballs. What’s different? They sell Swaramas in the fast food snack bar on the way out. J
  • Nightlife. Pretty much the same in terms of music, laser beams, watering holes, and big angry bouncers. What’s different? 3 am is the limit and the lights will come on abruptly. Apparently, clubs are slapped with heavy fines if they even go over one second past 3 am. Local attire (Kandoras and Abayas) is not allowed in clubs. Clubs are also pretty much closed down during local religious holidays.
  • Police Cars. Pretty much the same with sirens and lights. What’s different? Some of them are Lamborghinis!
  • Beauty Trends. Women love all things beauty and fashion. What’s different? The harsh boxed eyebrow look (I call them Instagram eyebrows), overdrawn lips, and mile long lashes. Here, curvier is more accepted vs. Western cultures where there a constant fight to be thin.
  • Holidays. People everywhere love their days off. Religious days come with great sales just like most countries. What’s different? Eid is celebrated in a similar fashion like Christmas, and Diwali is just as important. So we get more than the usual great seasonal sales events throughout the year.
  • Pop Culture. Hip-hop, anime clubs, comic com, gaming, metal heads, paintball, karaoke, poetry, a rapidly developing art scene, and a fashion district all exist here. What’s different? Somehow, it will all have the influence of the richness of the cultures of the Arab world. There’s even an Arabian version of anime called Otaku. How cool is that?

So the thing is we are extraordinarily similar in very important ways, except perhaps with a few variances in culture, government, and ideologies. If you’re an expat anywhere, the worst thing to do is focus on the differences. If you stop thinking I wish they did it like us or We don’t do it that way at home, you will become more accepting, much happier, and empower yourself to enjoy your life abroad more.

Cultivate a thirst to the learn more about the people, the local culture, and multitude of experiences in Dubai. When you develop an approach that no one should be off-limits, you’ll realize that everyone has something to offer.

The takeaway: Often we focus on our differences, but it’s so much fun to celebrate our similarities!


In the U.S., we call them townhouses. Here they are Villas. Same-same.


School buses here are smaller and have curtains. Different. 🙂


The cheesy T-shirt you see many expats wearing. 😀


Back home, we call these jojos. Much to my dismay, hubby came home with some of these one day from work. Not sure what they are called here. Same-same, I guess.


Back home, we have tropical storms Here they are sandstorms. They both create havoc. Same-same, but different.


Apparently, there is a Rock City here and in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Only those from the VI will know what I’m talking about. Not quite the same, though. 😉


People here, like everywhere, get the same aches and pains. Same-same. 🙂

Bathrooms here are often called washrooms and usually have prayer rooms next to them. Different.

The bathrooms here are often called washrooms and usually have prayer rooms next to them. Different.

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