Adversity makes strange bedfellows. So does opportunity.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Dubai, where a variety of factors, though all rooted in the monetary, makes people choose to live together… with strangers.
For as many people who may flock to the emirate for the life of luxury, there are those who are happy to have a bed to sleep in and some extra space for their belongings.
If a bedroom turns out to be too costly, just a bed space will do.
And if that space cannot be afforded, even the bed can be shared.
Thousands of strangers from all over the world come across other strangers, within the private setting of their living space.
Different cultures, generations or personalities live side-by-side sharing kitchen, bath and bed in return for the cheapest monthly rent.
Whether the setup is successful or not, sharing will be done.
The 31-year-old Olga, an East European, has become an expert in the field.
Moving from place to place, she now knows that not every living condition is made for her.
She describes her most recent living situation – a shared bedroom with only one bed - as a disaster:
“The girl I lived with smoked, although I told her that I hate smoke.
“She talked to me when I was reading, used my stuff without asking and she would answer her phone in the middle of the night, while I was sleeping right next to her.”
When one day Olga stood up to use the washroom, and her flat mate took over her laptop, closed all her conversations and started her own, Olga was done.
“I could not bear to live there anymore.”
When sharing a small area it is hard to escape from the person around you.
It is then not surprising that in an attempt to avoid running into the ‘horror roommate’ people tend to minimise their selection criteria, resulting in room-for-rent classifieds that resemble those on a dating site;
‘Filipino lady only’, ‘vegetarian only’, ‘bachelor only’ or ‘working lady only’ are some of the search criteria that are used in these advertisements, often added with a list of personality requirements such as easy-going, silent, hardworking, clean, etc.
“I prefer to find somebody with the same nationality as mine,” says Filipina Rachel, adding that she has had some nice flat mates of other nationalities too.
“Of course, there are many nice people, but it is comfortable to know that somebody is cooking the same food, speaking the same language and sharing the same culture. There is less chance of miscommunication.”
It angered Basheer Kareem, a Syrian bachelor, who was looking for a room in Dubai before he moved on his own. “I do not qualify for most of the available rooms because I am an Arabic male. As soon as a mentioned these credentials on the phone, I lost my chance to see the room,” he says.
“I do not mind living with somebody of a different nationality at all.
Why do people judge me on my nationality?” he wonders.
His luck changed when an Indian family offered him a room to rent. Also, his reality turned into a nightmare.
“I was not allowed to use the kitchen, not even the fridge.
“I was also asked to leave my door open at all times, because the lady of the house used a part of the drawer in the room. She wanted to walk in whenever she needed. And she did, without any warning,” says the Syrian.
Not always is a shared living a miserable experience and a great deal depends on luck.
“I was very happy with my first place in Dubai,” says Maarten van Visseren, a Dutch resident in Dubai.
“I rented a room with an Emirati bachelor, who lived in the same house.
“Although I found my own place after a while I will never forget his hospitality and polite behaviour. He was a great flat mate.”
Things can go horribly wrong if you run into the wrong person, Maarten agrees.
“The problem is that you cannot really be sure what kind of person you are dealing with, and many people are desperate to find a cheap place to rent.
“They forget that they will spend most of their time in that place.”