Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Searching for Alcohol

Two weeks in the villa and we are still without broadband, despite Etisalat installing the router yesterday, which is now taunting us with its little green flashing lights. This has probably been the worst customer service we have experienced since arriving in Abu Dhabi.

My dongle continues to keep us going, and a nice cold beer in the evening is reducing the stress from their continued failure to deliver. I'm having an extra beer this evening as Jo is about to remove the stitches from my head, to save me the bother of going to a doctor.

Being able to have a beer is no small thing in the UAE. Since Abu Dhabi is part of a Muslim country there are stringent rules about alcohol consumption. It is important to observe the laws and customs so as not to find yourself in jail.

Alcohol consumption is only legal for non-Muslims and even then alcohol can only be drunk within a licensed establishment (tends to be hotels and not many other places) or private venue. There is zero tolerance for public drunkenness and drunk driving (ie: driving having drunk any alcohol at all).

If you are a non-Muslim resident in order to buy alcohol for consumption at home you must obtain an alcohol license, and then buy the alcohol from a specialist store.

Thankfully in the last year or so the Government has streamlined the process of applying for an alcohol license. Rather than attending the Special Licence Office (SLO) in person (and getting a numbered ticket for the queue no doubt), you can apply online.

The online process is fairly straightforward. You upload copies of your residency visa, Emirates ID card, and importantly, a letter of no objection from your employer (I've not heard of any examples of an employer refusing to give permission but I'm sure there will be some out there!).

The final part of the form is where you nominate the alcohol shop where you want to collect your alcohol license from. There is a list of maybe 20 outlets across the Emirate.

Now I completed my form on the afternoon of the day that Jo and kids arrived in Abu Dhabi, and also the afternoon that my crown came out embedded in a Reisen chew. This meant I was a little distracted, and forgot to make a note of where I had nominated to collect my license. Never mind I thought, when I get confirmation of its approval they will no doubt tell me where I can collect it.

A week later I was pleased to receive the email confirming my license had been approved, but to my horror it simply said it would be available for collection from my "nominated outlet"!

With my blood pressure increasing I quickly sought out contact details for the SLO, no telephone number, only an email address of course, and sent an embarrassed message explaining my problem and asking if they could tell me where I was meant to be going.

I fully expected to get a response saying that as I couldn't remember a simple thing like that it was probably best that I didn't have access to alcohol after all. However, all I got was an automated response acknowledging my email and saying it would be responded to within 48 hours.

The next strand of my plan was to compile a list of all of the alcohol shops in Abu Dhabi, and start contacting them all to see if they had my card. Of course this list is only available at the point of the process where you have to nominate, which meant that I had to create a new (probably fraudulent) application in order to access the required information. I made sure to cancel the new application before exiting the site.

I started googling the various outlets to get their contact details, and had sent a couple of emails before I noticed that my email from the SLO included the comment that "your nominated outlet will be in touch to arrange collection". Thank goodness for that!

So began the waiting game. Hoping, every time my phone rang at work, that it was an alcohol shop rather than a potential client offering me a multi million dirham contract. However the call never came (neither has the multi million contract yet).

I was starting to think that I would need to trek round all of the outlets when the SLO came up trumps, and emailed to tell me that my nominated outlet was the one closest to our villa. Perhaps I should have realised that would be the logical choice!

With a great sense of relief off I went to collect it. There was a minor panic when they couldn't initially find it, but then it was discovered in a box in the back storeroom. It was in my possession at last!

The license is in the form of a "credit card" (another one to add to my growing collection), which comes together with a book explaining the dangers of alcohol, and setting out the rules which must be followed, as reproduced below:

1. Individual alcoholic beverage licenses can only be granted to non-Muslim residents of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, over the age of 21.

2 The maximum limit of alcoholic beverages purchased is 20% of one’s basic salary.

3 Purchased alcoholic beverages are for personal use only and resale is strictly prohibited.

4 The licensee can consume purchased alcoholic beverages only at one’s personal residence, or at any private residence where he/she is a guest.

5 Purchased alcoholic beverages cannot be displayed or carried openly in public.

6 Licensee can purchase alcoholic beverages only from Abu Dhabi-licensed retail stores.

7 The licensees are only allowed to purchase up to the monthly alcoholic beverages limit.

8 Anyone caught inebriated in public spaces or in the road will be jailed as per UAE law (including driving under the influence, where the zero tolerance rule is observed).

9 The license will be withdrawn upon any violations of the previously mentioned rules and regulations.

10 The license must be renewed on an annual basis.​

A few important points to remember there, and I must remember to make a note of my nominated outlet when I come to renew next year.

Actually going to an alcohol shop is a slightly surreal experience. They don't advertise themselves too openly, and certainly have no window displays. There are clear signs at the door saying Muslims are not allowed, and video cameras appear to be monitoring who is coming and going.

Once inside it is pretty much like a UK off licence, and full of desperate looking expats rushing around clutching boxes of booze. At the till you theoretically have to show your license (but of course after all that trouble they rarely bother asking for it), and once you have paid your alcohol is put into strong black plastic bags for you to carry to your car. It is hard not to feel that you are doing something very naughty as you scurry out of the shop to your car, avoiding all eye contact.

Anyway, I'm sure it will get easier, especially when Jo has her own license. At the moment she has to send me a text asking me to go to shop on my way home, something it know she is scared to do given how grumpy I used to get if she asked me to stop for some milk on the way home from work in the UK.

This has turned into a bit of a marathon post, but as always, thanks for reading.

PS: Having another beer now as five of the stitches have been removed, without too much pain. The sixth one is proving elusive as it is buried in a scab so we are saving that for tomorrow when I've been for fresh supplies.

1 comment:

John Chambers said...

Another interesting blog, Peter. A good long one, nearly made me late for Probus, giving the vote of thanks to a retired Uni professor on My Travels, anywhere but to the UAE.
Dad