A toe in each ocean: 5 surprises of ex-pat life

Living in two places can be the chance to dip a toe in two cultures or be bogged down by what’s difficult in each. There’s a song by Spanish guitarist, Paco de Lucia, whose title sums it up perfectly. Entre dos Aguas (Between two Waters).

To combat the latter tendency, here are 5 things I enjoy, in my old and adoptive home:


Credit card craziness

I’m not much of a shopper. I prefer it in short bursts. But was amazed to discover in my latest trip to England that people now tap to pay. You can get the whole way across London by placing your debit or credit card on the tube turnstiles.

When I had just arrived in Muscat, my husband handed his credit card to the woman behind the counter in a mall. To save – I guess – the hassle of exchanging the processing device, she simply asked him for his pin!

Such is the low rate of thievery in Oman that people sometimes leave their car keys inside the ignition outside supermarkets (so you can move their vehicle if it’s in your way!)


Looking/not looking

Everybody stares in Oman. I don’t think it’s (only) that I look peculiar to locals! People just seem to look at each other with curiosity. And they smile:You’re another person in the world. 

In England ‘it’s rude to stare’ so if you catch someone, they’ll quickly look at the air to your left. Unless you ask for directions. Then they’ll explain it down to the last reference point, often walking and talking you along the route.

(btw I have a feeling that somewhere in the world there is an invisible line beyond which you shouldn’t bother to ask for directions. People will tell you anything just to ‘help’, preferring this than sending you on your way – If you know where that line starts (and finishes) please let me know!)

Green and Blue


I used to miss  a certain shade of UK green. On the golf courses, or mini hotel ‘lawns’, Oman’s verdant places are mainly manufactured.

It wasn’t until I discovered the colours around the ocean in Muscat that I relented in my search for green. The city sits on three stretches of water. Few of the locals swim in the sea, so you’ll have miles of blue to yourself, and the beach’s tones are mesmerising.



In provincial parts of the UK, curry is mainly Bangladeshi and catered to the British palate. In London, the surge of creativity around food means that a whole panoply of spice is gaining ground. Celebrity chefs have even infiltrated our sacred chicken tikka masala and the results can be spectacular.

Around 20 % of the population in Oman is from the Indian subcontinent and it shows in the authenticity of the food. The dishes taste like they did in Delhi and the view from Mumtaz Mahal restaurant in Al Qurum is, I’m afraid, unparalleled by Cambridge’s spirit-levelled streets.


I couldn’t write this without mentioning my favourite bean.

I noticed, this visit, that Cambridge has, in a matter of months, become crammed with tiny independent coffee houses. (Here’s something I wrote on the subject just two years back – how things change!). This is wonderful news and begs the question, which one today?


The best coffee to be had in Muscat is not in the American chains. A cardamon and coffee blend is still served in people’s homes. This stuff is seriously old (not the actual drink – at least I hope not) but the tradition, which dates back hundreds of years.

It’s hard to feel alien where the waters are so open to the breeze from other lands that the enjoyment of both comes in part from their multi-cultural heart.

PS Here’s Paco de Lucia playing Entre dos Aguas:

Please comment if something comes to mind… 😉


3 thoughts on “A toe in each ocean: 5 surprises of ex-pat life

  1. Hi! I found this post from a comment you made on Mythic Scribes, and, as a fellow expat, was intrigued. Oman sounds fascinating. I love how people leave their car keys in the ignition. And I don’t drink coffee, but if I was in Oman (or that part of the world) I would have to try it, just because they seem like they’d get it right. (Like you say, they’ve been doing it longer.)

    Anyway, glad to have found your blog and pleased to make your acquaintance. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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