When traveling, you have two choices. You can be treated like a guest – or like a foreigner. If the latter sounds more appealing, drop the Western Europe guidebooks and head for the Russian capital, or the sparkling city of Dubai.
When you grow up in Dubai, you don’t worry about security. You can walk the streets past midnight without fear of getting harassed, you can leave your bags unattended at restaurants without fear of them getting robbed, and you can even drop your wallet and rest assured someone will pick it up and give it back to you. Don’t believe me? There are at least five social experiments on YouTube proving just that.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the UAE’s crime rate is among the lowest in the world, according to official figures. But how much more proof do you need than someone who was born and raised in the country?
That is why when I flew to Moscow on my own for the first time in March, I was worried. Growing up to a Middle Eastern father and a Russian mother, I longed to visit my maternal homeland. Yet I feared what I would experience in the city described by mainstream Western media as filled with gangs, drugs and predators.
After all, I had travelled to what are frequently cited as Europe’s greatest cities, like London, Rome and Paris, and experienced just that.
My memorable front-row experience at the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show under the Eiffel Tower was tainted by a stranger who stalked me afterwards, my London business trip was defined by one colleague being robbed, while another was assaulted while jogging in broad daylight. My much-anticipated holiday in Rome had me clutching for my purse for fear of pickpockets instead of enjoying my pizza carefree.
To my pleasant surprise, I experienced none of that in Moscow. In fact, the Russian capital reminded me so much of Dubai that I felt I was home – not to mention that the skyscrapers, the brightly-lit streets, the mega shopping malls, the high end cafes and the designer fashion brands all reminded me of Dubai’s own cosmopolitan look.
Some of you won’t be surprised.
“It felt safer than London,” one of my former colleagues told me after attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow. “There were police everywhere,” another expressed. “Everyone was so friendly,” another one said. After spending almost two weeks in the city, I found myself saying the exact same thing.
Just as Dubai’s success as a touristic destination and home to nearly two million expatriate residents is credited to its outstanding law enforcement, so should Moscow be recognised for its security. The numbers don’t lie, as crime rates in Moscow hit a record low in 2018, according to state-owned agency TASS, and police seem to maintain a presence everywhere around the city, from shopping malls to parks.
Speaking of the outdoors, in case you were wondering, Moscow isn’t freezing cold all year round, as Westerners often insists on implying. Right now, the temperature is as high as 33 degrees Celsius, with the city having experienced its second hottest June in history this year. Plus, in the centre at least, you don’t have the kind of dust and dirt you encounter elsewhere in Europe. Let’s be honest, the Champs-Élysées could really use some cleaning, while the main streets of Moscow and Dubai share one very important factor: cleanliness.