CARLIE: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. Are you dreaming of just packing up your life for an adventure abroad? In this episode, you’ll hear from a couple that did just that. They made the decision to move from the UK to Oman, and in just a few weeks, they were off.
Teacher, Sheri, and author, Matt, will explain how they navigated getting the right visas, adhering to the local dress code and working culture. You’ll also find out about the cost of living in Oman, how easy it is to make friends with locals, and what they believe makes the country such a great place for expats.
Oman is really known for having a strong expat population. Can I ask what brought you both to the country?
SHERI: Well, to start, it was my mother, came over 18 years ago to Oman. She had never heard of Muscat. She was at a time in her life where my parents had divorced and she kind of wanted to travel. My brother and I were living abroad and she thought, well let me just go and see what this place Oman is all about, and she’s been here ever since. So, it started off with me coming over to visit her on holidays and I just fell in love with the country, really. And I remember my first visit to see her, I said to her, I want to live here one day.
I just love the the houses, and the architecture, and the the lifestyle, and the weather. And I remember her saying to me, yes, but working here is very different to coming on holiday and it’s hard. And she wanted me to stay where I was because I had a good job in London and I think she was worried that I was gonna up sticks and and come and join her. So, it started from there and, yeah. And then, obviously, I’d bring Matt over on holiday with me to visit my mom and he also fell in love with the place. And then one day… what happened?
MATT: Yeah, we had kind of reached a point in our careers, a couple of years ago, where we’d done pretty well. Sheri was running a department in a school and I had a martial arts school, and I was also moving towards writing, and we were just at that stage. Our two children have grown up now, we’re at that kind of turning point and we literally looked at each other in the lounge one day and said, should we go? Should we go and have a play somewhere? And that was it.
Three weeks later, pretty much, as she came earlier and we sold a whole lot of stuff in our house, I was (inaudible) on less and less and less stuff, we just we just kind of ebayed and, whateve,r got rid of everything. And that was it. We just thought, let’s go and play somewhere else. So, here we are.
CARLIE: That’s amazing. I think a lot of people dream of doing that, you know, just making that decision and doing it, not thinking too much. I guess, for you Sheri, you knew where you were going, you had experience of being there before, so it wasn’t like you were heading to somewhere. And the same with you Matt, you’d visited before so you had some familiarity with where you were going to land, I suppose.
SHERI: Yeah. And coming out, though that was five years ago, whatever, I had a little taste of the pressures and, you know, the work life here as well, which kind of didn’t put me off it. actually. All those years, back for the last five or whatever years before coming here, I did actually feel like there was a, we say this, there was a scratch that needed to be itched.
MATT: It’s well and truly resolved that particular scratch.
SHERI: Matt jokes and says, has your itch been scratched yet?
MATT: When’s the next adventure?
CARLIE: You had done just a three-month working stint in Oman.
CARLIE: And so, when you decided to make the move, did you need a visa? Did you have to apply to be able to come and live in Oman?
SHERI: Yes. So, the the rules here are pretty strict. You basically have to find a job first and then, I mean, there are other ways of doing it. You can come over first on holiday and then find a job here, and then sort your visa out, the school or the company will sort your visa out when you’re here, it just means leaving the country again and then coming back in on your work visa. But, yeah, I was lucky enough to have all of that sorted for me.
Yes was pretty easy, a little bit more tricky for Matt but maybe just a few months, and then everything was sorted for him. But the the decision to pack up and come here, literally was three to four weeks. And we were here and then everything kind of fell into place.
MATT: We do live a little bit like that, which I don’t recommend to anyone sensible. It’s a little bit, kind of spiritual, if you like, where we just make the decision first and trust things to fall into place. Even the logistical things which, you know, are not governed by anything spiritua, they’re actual physic. But we’ve kind of always operated like that, so we just just went. But then, when we get here, for me, there’s quite a lot of red tape, because, although we’ve been together, we’re both divorced as it were. So, we’re not officially married, we’ve been together.
MATT: So, I couldn’t get a family visa. So, of course, in England we are considered married, we are, you know, I mean in your head sort of… but that’s not the same, we’re in a Muslim country.
MATT: So, they’re not the same rules. So now, you have to work around that. Now, they wouldn’t matter at home, but here they do matter, so Ihad to find another way. So, I had to find a sponsor who would then give me a job. As it turns out, there’s a friend of mine who works at martial arts place, who then hired me, if you like, to be a martial arts teacher so we got around it.
CARLIE: Oh, right.
MATT: There’s always ways around it but you do have to think outside the box here, because it’s not always done for you, if you see what I mean?
CARLIE: I was going to ask Matt, because you are an author, I assume that means you’re an entrepreneur, you’re self-employed, so how did you go about, especially if you both aren’t married and, as you said, Muslim country, how did you go about making sure you could come with Sheri and actually be able to stay?
MATT: Yeah. Well, initially… I’ve always come on three month visitors visas, which mean at the end of that I just then drive out of the country to… where’s the next place?
SHERI: It’s Hatta border, which is about a two, three hour drive.
MATT: Yeah. You go there, have coffee, turn around and get stamped, which is fine. And, you know, we plan to come here for a couple of years, which has now changed, and I was happy doing that every 90 days. Of course, Covid hit.
MATT: Now, you couldn’t get out of the country. You could, but I then couldn’t necessarily get back in. So, now I’m sitting here going, well I don’t need to move anywhere because of restrictions but am I, if you don’t go out in time you get a fine, and I wondered, am I mounting up thousands of pounds worth of fine, at best, worse being deported, because of Covid. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case at all.
MATT: They were the restrictions. You know, we went to the official office and they said, just sit tight, all good, let’s wait what happens. And then, this kind of serendipitous meeting with this man at this MMA play said, I’ll sponsor you, you can be one of my coaches.
MATT: And, two weeks ago, I got my residence card here.
SHERI: So, he is officially legal.
MATT: So, we don’t have to panic anymore.
MATT: Thank you.
CARLIE: I’m sure it’s a great feeling, just to have a bit more of a solid base there too.
MATT: It hadn’t really mattered to me, I didn’t think. I wasn’t that bothered. Sheri was much more bothered about it. Because, of course, as a South African, they don’t stay in their own countries for about more than five minutes, do they? So, they’re everywhere. So, she was used to that and I didn’t really think I was that bothered until I got the card and then I was like, oh that actually feels really, really good. Something in me relaxed which I hadn’t known was tight, and it was a nice feeling. Yeah, it was good.
SHERI: But a lot of couples who come over, there’s also… even if we were married, legally married, there would still be a problem because the woman cannot put the husband on her visa anyway.
SHERI: So, other way around, if it was Matt who had the teaching job or whatever, I would be able to go on his visa.
CARLIE: So, you would have had the same problem because you were the one with the job.
SHERI: It would have made it a little bit easier, I think, but just because of the the rules. So, a lot of women actually come over without their spouses. I know three or four people that have come over without their spouses, and their husbands come over on holiday every so often or they come for a few weeks then they go back home. So, I know a few cases like that because of the the difficulties. But I don’t think it’s as difficult as some other countries to achieve.
CARLIE: Well, I am curious about that because Oman is a Gulf state. I know of, you know, a lot of people living in Dubai for example, and that it’s quite a liberal country, a cosmopolitan country by, I suppose, middle eastern Muslim country standards. What have you had to navigate aside from the partner and visa issues being in a Muslim country?
SHERI: For me, for both of us really, is the obvious dress code. It’s not as strict as some other Muslim countries, but our dress code at my school, where our work, is particularly quite strict, so we have to just manage that. So, my whole wardrobe has been changed.
CARLIE: And that means long sleeves, long skirts.
SHERI: Yes. Long sleeves. The floatier the better.
MATT: I’ve tried to stay away from the floaty skirts, for me particularly, they don’t fit my body type, as such.
SHERRI: So, those little things. Even Matt, before, there would be no problem for him to go running into the mall with shorts on or whatever, but one day he was stopped, not so long ago, and they didn’t allow him in with shorts. So, he said, can I just run upstairs and buy a pair of tracksuit bottoms. They let him run in, he went, bought a pair of tracksuit bottoms, put them on and then he was allowed to be in the mall.
But then there’s other places where it’s more relaxed, like on the beaches, and the hotels, and things like that, obviously. And again, it’s not as strict as some of the other Muslim countries.
CARLIE: Do you need to cover your hair Sheri or is that not a requirement?
SHERI: No. Only if you go into the main mosque that you can go and visit here, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, you have to completely cover up. But, otherwise, the dress code isn’t too bad, that’s easy to to deal with. What other things have we encountered?
MATT: The biggest thing to navigate, for me, is Inshallah. Inshallah means, essentially, God willing, or, hopefully, which is the same as the spanish Mañana. So, when, you know, you come from the UK or wherever else but you’re used to things working quite well, here there’s a lot more, we just kind of see how it goes, and that can be incredibly frustrating.
There are some places in the world that are so ‘foreign’, if you like, like the far east here, that they’re a real cultural shift. Like, you’re you’re in France, right? And if you go from the UK to France, they’re all (inaudible) the same, the weather’s the same, language- you can pick up stuff, they’re similar, right? They’re not very, very foreign. Some places, I’d say Japan, here, Africa, are so different culturally, that you have to get used to their style.
And here it’s very, kind of, we just see how it goes. So, you need to be prepared for everything to take 84 times longer than it should. Relax into that, and actually, kind of get lost in that. If you can get used to that, it’s an incredibly fun place to be. If you can’t, it’s just constantly stressful.
CARLIE: Does this mean things like, if you have an appointment at 10 a.m…?
MATT: Yes. (inaudible)
SHERI: I’ll be there at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. Okay, be there at nine o’clock. Quarter to ten, still not coming. No, I’m coming, I’m on my way, just five five minutes. Twenty minutes later… anyway. But then, saying that, other things like, for example, here in the summer you do not want your air conditioning units to break down, you cannot have no AC on. So, just for example or something, if one of them breaks down, you call somebody and they are literally there within 20 minutes.
MATT: Yeah. And they also could be here at two o’clock in the morning.
MATT: So, it’s a very different way of of living, it’s it’s incredibly different.
CARLIE: So, inshallah applies to everything except life threatening things, like air conditioning?
MATT: Yes. It’s a real kind of contrast of styles, it’s fascinating. But you do have to get your head around it when you come from a classic, kind of western, A goes to Z and all the letters in between. That isn’t the case here.
CARLIE: And Sheri, what about school culture? I know you’re a teacher, what’s different about the education system and your daily work in Oman compared to- you were working in London before, I believe?
SHERI: Yeah. Have you got three hours? It blew my mind in the beginning. I won’t lie. I’ve got used to it now. They take the education here very seriously but there’s a lot of top priority focus for grading children here, but from four years old.
CARLIE: Oh wow. That sounds very intense.
SHERI: Yes. So, there’s a lot of testing, a lot of, you know, giving these children A* and B’s and C’s and parents have a very, very high expectation for their children to do well. They don’t see that a B and a C is still good.
SHERI: They want the A’s and the A*’s and, in fact, they want the A*s more than the As. A is sometimes is not good enough. But this is coming from very early on, right from the start of their school life. So, I’ve had to get used to that pressure from parents and from the, you know, management and stuff, to test these children and try and do it in a way that’s not upsetting them or stressing them out.
So, that’s been quite different. Because, I mean, yes ,we do grades and things in England but much later on in their school years, I think only really from grade three.
CARLIE: Yeah. And it really only gets serious in high school surely.
SHERI: Very serious, yeah. They want to know, they want to see evidence of why their child has not got an A* in english or maths, and so that side’s been quite difficult. And the workload, I mean the workload in England was tough, but here I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
CARLIE: And you’re teaching a lower level. I mean, you were talking about children that are four years old. I don’t mean to to say that teaching infants is an easy job, but…
SHERI: I’m teaching grade one this year, so they’re five and six year olds. I teach 50 children, so I’ve got two classes of 25 children each. I teach the english and maths. Yeah, so they’re very young, but there’s a lot of them and our workload is massive. So yeah, I won’t lie, it is exhausting, but then obviously it’s also extremely rewarding. And we’ve been online again for the last four weeks which has been a challenge as well, but-
CARLIE: Because of the pandemic?
SHERI: Yeah. We have another spike here. It’s been quite challenging. And also, I arrived on the 31st December 2020 and started work on the 5th January, and then we were in lockdown from March so-
CARLIE: Oh, wow.
SHERI: We heaven’t really had, like, a normal life here, really.
CARLIE: I really sympathize for anyone who has moved abroad in the Covid years. I mean, I had friends in London who were there from Australia, and at some point they just decided, you know what? This is not what our expat experience was supposed to be, we’re not able to go anywhere, we’re not able to enjoy, you know, UK life and culture like we thought we would, so we’re just gonna go home. Is that something that you both have considered in your last couple of years in Oman or are you happy to just ride it out?
SHERI: We actually have been saying quite a lot that we’re not ready to go back to England.
MATT: Yeah. I mean, it would be a lie for me to even put myself in any level to suggest that I’m working like Sheri. I’m living the dream. I wake up, meditate, write, take the dog out. I have got everything I’ve asked for. But that’s the choice I made as a writer. I gave up my martial arts school at home just to write. So, I am getting everything out of this. But, I’m in a very selfish work.
I mean, I’m an author. It’s just me, I have to entertain. So, I’m very happy here. But we have been discussing, actually, we’re not ready to go back. This is actually quite cool. We’re happy being in this bubble, whether it’s the kind of, you know, pandemic bubble or just the Oman bubble. So, we’re gonna, you know, sit tight for a couple years and see where else to play after that.
CARLIE: And Matt, how have you found it, essentially, working solo? I mean, I guess the life of an author is a little bit solitary anyway, regardless.
MATT: (inaudible) Yeah, exactly.
CARLIE: I mean, you’re not, you know, but you can’t go, for example, somewhere else to write, I don’t know, I don’t know if co-working exists in Oman, but you can’t go to a cafe and decide to do a bit of writing? Or, I assume networking with other entrepreneurs is kind of limited.
MATT: Yeah, that’s true. And actually the week Covid hit here, I was set to fly back for the book launch of my book, The House People (inaudible). And so, I was all set up go back to London, do a book tour, and that was all cancelled. So, it kills those sort of things. Then, I was supposed to go to Poland to do a talk, that was all killed. So, it does shut down your platform building, which is necessary.
So, that’s kind of the marketing of your books and the sort of, you know, the platform work, as I say. But, the actual writing stuff, I pretty much do wherever I want to do, which is great. I’m very lucky that we’ve got a huge house here- that isn’t showing off. That is just because we’ve never lived in a huge house and they’re really cheap here.
SHERI: And we wouldn’t ever live in a house this size again.
MATT: Yeah, we’d never live in it. And they’re super cheap. So, we often say we don’t use 90% of this place either because the roofs are very high. So, I get a chance to move around the house and just work from wherever I am, so I’m kind of very lucky. But, you’re right, the networking side has pretty much died off, although it’s coming back a little bit more and more. But, we have been able to do that online, book clubs and, you know, publisher networks, all that sort of stuff. Yeah. It’s been a challenge, but it’s fine, we got over it.
CARLIE: Speaking of houses, I’m curious about the cost of living in Oman. Because, I know, for example in places like Dubai, it’s not exactly cheap but then there’s like tax efficient, until recently. I guess, they’re bringing in more taxes in Dubai, in the UAE now. But, there are reasons why foreigners go to these countries. And you mentioned that housing is quite cheap, so what sort of living costs can foreigners expect when they move to Oman?
SHERI: Well, the accommodation and petrol are super-
MATT: You just want to fill your car up because you’ve never before filled your car up and it’s gone, how much did you say that wasn’t? That’s amazing. That is something to do
SHERI: Yeah, it’s amazing. Like £18 to fill up a big four by four car.
MATT: It’s so exciting.
SHERI: And, like we said, we said, the rent here is… well, we think it’s really… I mean, we’ve got a it is a big house. We call it the mansion on the hill because as you’re driving up the hill, you just see our house and it’s it’s gorgeous. And it’s got a massive garden, and it’s lovely, for half of what we were paying for a tiny flat in London. So, very reasonable. So, accommodation, petrol-great. Everything else-
MATT: Everything else everything else is crippling. We came unstuck. We thought we’d come here, two years for a bit of a play, save some money. You know, we both work hard, save some money, get a bigger deposit, come back home buy, a house, right? That was the the master plan. No, that did not happen. As Sheri said, the housing and the petrol cheap, some (inaudible) the rest- we’re really surprised it’s more expensive than England.
CARLIE: Is it because they’re, essentially, needing to import everything? I mean, I read somewhere that if you want to live a western lifestyle in a middle eastern country, you’re going to pay for it.
SHERI: Yeah, definitely.
MATT: And also because it’s not just you wanting to live a western lifestyle in a Middle Eastern country, they want to live a western style in the Middle Eastern country. So, a lot of the places, even for the shops they’re offering stuff for the Omani’s, want the western feel. The old traditional, as it is around the world- I can’t speak of the smaller Muslim countries, I don’t know, I haven’t been there. But, from what I read, you know, more and more they’re wanting kind of the western feel, which is both heartbreaking and kind of enlightening at the same time. You’ve got this mixed, losing culture, and then gaining another culture. But, it is expensive.
SHERI: It is expensive.
CARLIE: So, what do you do to try to minimize costs? Like, I did read that if you eat middle eastern or asian foods, you’re going to be having a much lower grocery bill than if you’re trying to find the baked beans in the supermarket, for example.
SHERI: Yeah. We don’t overspend on anything. And food-wise, we’re both pretty…
MATT: Food for us is energy between jobs, it’s not it’s like something we have to do to stay alive. We’re not foodies, so we don’t spend loads on going out and stuff like that.
SHERI: Yeah. And, like you say, we do get quite a lot of takeout but the takeout here is really good. So curries, the best curry in the whole world.
SHERI: Really good curry, but not like your rubbish curries.
MATT: Yeah, not like British high street curry. Proper. It’s fantastic.
SHERI: Really good curry. And reasonable. And then, that can sometimes last us for two or three nights. So, we’re terrible like that.
CARLIE: Because leftovers are awesome.
SHERI: And like we get a lot of local Turkish restaurant takeaways here. They’re very good. And also, really reasonable. And it’s, you know, healthy and it’s not rubbish. But yeah, we’re just careful, not not like overly careful, but I’ll go to the the cheaper supermarkets rather than the, kind of, more expat supermarkets here. Like, we have a a supermarket called Al Fair, which basically is Waitrose.
CARLIE: Okay. So, that’s where you go if you want to get some fancy…
MATT: If you want to get Marmite. You got to go there. No, with your accent you won’t even know that, it’s going to be Vegemite.
CARLIE: Vegemtime, exactly. No but like, yeah, here in France too, like every Aussie needs to know where they can find Vegemite and Tim Tams. And the whole hack is that, you know, in Paris, in some of the monoprix’s, you can find Tim Tams. In some cafes they will sell Vegemite, if it’s like a cafe run by Aussies, because Aussie coffee culture is spreading around the world. Do you have your locations? This is the supermarket you go to for your British food?
SHERI: Yes. So yeah, Al Fair if I want to get my favorite things. But then you have one bag of shopping which costs nearly a hundred pounds with just a few things inside.
CARLIE: With Marmite.
MATT: A bag of Marmite, exactly.
SHERI: LuLu’s is a massive supermarket where you can get everything. I don’t think they have Marmite at LuLu’s?
SHERI: Actually they have more South African things there, so I can get all my favorite South African biscuits, and crisps and things. And then you can get four or five bags for the same price.
MATT: Yeah. That’s like your Lidl. I don’t know what you have in France- Carrefour? Do you have Carrefour in France?
CARLIE: Yeah, we do. Yeah.
MATT: Okay, so that’s that. LuLu is one down. So, LuLu, Carrefour, and then Al Fair, you know, if you were going through the shopping experiences.
CARLIE: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
SHERI: Supermarket shopping here, is like maybe one of my worst things to do. I hate it.
CARLIE: Really? I actually really loved supermarket shopping when I first came to France because everything was new and different, and I loved exploring the brands and, you know, the three aisles of cheese, for example.
MATT: Yeah. Well, that’s France. It is France, of course.
SHERI: I do remember in the beginning, just walking up and down the aisles, just thinking, wow, they’ve got everything, so much stuff. And now I’m like, oh I have to go later as well. And I think, oh do I have to go today? Can we just squeeze one more night-
CARLIE: One more day.
MATT: Yeah, exactly. Just one more day.
CARLIE: Well, now we’re doing the click and collect. So we just order it online, we don’t have to walk into a shop, it’s the best.
CARLIE: I must be honest, I really didn’t know, even visually, what Oman was like. And then a friend recently went there on holiday and posted some pictures on Instagram. And I was stunned, because there’s like these beautiful oasis in the desert, it seems like beautiful crystal clear blue watering holes and palm trees, and that sort of thing. So, can you tell me a little bit about what the Omani landscape is like?
MATT: It’s the perfect picture of the Arabian nights. If you think of a western childhood dream of Arabia, Oman is it.
CARLIE: Like something out of an Aladdin storyboard.
MATT: Completely. It is. It’s an Aladdin 101. It really is. And Oman, it’s on the coast, so in certain places you literally have dunes. I used to call them sand dunes, I got told off. They said they’re not sand dunes they’re dunes, because obviously they’re made of sand. I’m like, okay.
CARLIE: Is this like the whole center median strip, ATM machine…?
MATT: Yeah. So, in some places you have dunes that run into the sea, literally.
CARLIE: Oh, wow.
MATT: And further down towards (inaudible). And where we are, for example, we have mountains behind us, behind this wall here, a range of mountains- Muscat is in a bowl of mountains. And then you cross, they’ve been built on now, but essentially, you cross this sand dune plane. And then, 15 minutes away, where we take pup for a walk, is the sea. It’s stunning. It’s one of the most beautiful places, and we’ve been lucky to travel to quite a few places. It’s probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, wouldn’t you say?
SHERI: Beautiful. And you do snorkeling trips and fishing trips here, and about 40 minutes out, you arrive at these beautiful islands, which is like you have arrived in the Maldives. Just crystal clear. You can see all the way, like swimming pool water. So yeah, just beautiful.
MATT: And there’s turtles. There you swim with the turtles and the manta rays, it’s amazing.
CARLIE: Oh wow. Okay, Oman is suddenly moving up my list of destinations.
MATT: I absolutely love Middle Eastern architecture. The mosques here, they are as much for me a work of art as they are a place of worship. They’re stunning. And you have all these different types here, that kind of feed your eyes and your soul a bit, they are a bit special.
MATT: So, even just coming to look at the mosques… they’re amazing. Really nice architecture.
SHERI: Yeah. They take huge amount of pride in their mosques and their architecture here.
SHERI: And what we like about it, is it’s not as built up and as busy, well it’s getting busier, but you don’t get the high-rise buildings like you do in Dubai. They want to try and keep it as traditional as possible. Still, the rule is that you’re not allowed to build buildings over a certain height, so you will never get those must have huge, big high-rise skyscrapers. So, it still kind of has a traditional feel, doesn’t it?
MATT: Yeah. You have to come. We have a spare room here. You come.
CARLIE: Well, I mean, you live in a mansion on a hill, so it sounds like you have plenty of room.
MATT: I tell you, with 90% of the space we don’t use. You only need one room to eat our toast and Marmite, don’t we?
SHERI: Yes. I mean, it’s crazy to have a house this size, but it is fun. And that was one of my dreams when I first started coming over to see my mama. She was always in an apartment, very nice apartments, but I would be like, nah I’m gonna have a villa one day. One day I’m gonna live in a villa in Oman.
CARLIE: And do many foreigners end up buying property in Oman?
SHERI: I haven’t heard of very many. But there are quite a few now, like the wave development, where I think a lot of expats have bought units. And at one stage it was very reasonable. I remember about 16 or 17 years ago, I actually was thinking of buying a plot of land, it is massively built up now, but it was very reasonable to buy a plot of land and build on it. So, I think a lot of people do, but I personally don’t know of anyone who has yet. We would like to have a property here, just to keep as as an investment, one day.
MATT: Also, it’s an odd place to imagine yourself full time. I think it’s a great place to come and play, and I say that with all due respect to Oman, play as in come and enjoy your time. But again, it’s very different. It’s an odd place to feel that you’d be for the rest of your life. Some people I’m sure would, but we kind of discussed that, we go; we’re very happy here, but do you see yourself here forever? Not really. So then, you wouldn’t then necessarily make that investment, kind of, in a big home. Maybe you’d, kind of buy and move on.
CARLIE: So Matt, what aspects make you both think that Oman is amazing for now, but possibly not a forever place?
MATT: So, two things. One, is us, because we still have so many other places we want to see and play in. So, that’s not so much Oman’s responsibility, that’s just what we want to do. You know, we want to go to Botswana and hang there for a little while, back to Iceland, whatever. So, that’s us. And then, the other thing is that, it’s still a relatively new country.
It’s only 50 years old- that’s not true. In as far as it being westernized. So, Sultan Qaboo, who died two years ago, essentially, I mean I’m kind of shortening history, but dragged Oman out of tribalism, it was really into this kind of modern era. So, from that perspective, it’s still very new, so therefore, still kind of backwards. So, where the rest of the world is moving quickly, you’d think if you want to really grow a business or a platform, for me or the stuff, you can’t be settled here, as such. That’s what I feel. Do you think?
CARLIE: Do you think you’d possibly be somewhere like Dubai or Qatar, which is a bit more…?
MATT: Yeah. I personally don’t like Dubai at all. I don’t like it, it’s too big, too kind of, uprisy. And I haven’t been to Qatar, to comment. So, it’s difficult to kind of grow here, but it’s great to relax here, I would say. Would you agree with that?
SHERI: Yep. It’s quite, a in a lot of ways, an easy lifestyle. You know, the weather helps as well, I think, except in the summer. The summer is not fun to be in. Don’t come in the summer.
CARLIE: No, well I remember my first time I visited Dubai and I went on a tour, and they showed us the air-conditioned bus stops. And we’re like, for anyone using public transport like, you need to be in these, essentially, big glass fridges in summer or you will just collapse in the heat. I’m guessing then that, especially in summer, cars are how you get around everywhere?
SHERI: Yeah, definitely.
SHERI: I mean, it’s bearable. Definitely bearable, and you just stay inside. You won’t go for a walk until late or at night. Even at night though, it can be 45 degrees at 11 o’clock at night, you know? So, it doesn’t ever, kind of cool down, Bbut at least you’re out of the sun. It’s very hot.
MATT: But there’s something nice about that, though. Because certainly, I’m guessing in France, I would imagine, but certainly in the UK, everything is contrived and controlled by humans, right? The landscape and the weather is not a real thing, so you’re always slightly disassociated to life, like natural life. Here, there’s a very real risk that if you get it wrong, you die. Now, that’s extreme, right? But knowing that, kind of, outside is in control of your life, is kind of cool.
MATT: Because, imagine if you lived in, I don’t know, in some kind of ice tundra, you have to take that into account. And that does connect you to your environment. And that’s another thing I love here, the Omanis are very much in tune with their, in some respects, their nature. You know, you’ll see them, they will drive to the beach and sit out and have picnics. Where kind of, in England, we don’t really. We do it once and you forget, whereas you see them at the Wadis and the oasis and all that sort of stuff. And so, they use it and they appreciate it. And I love that side of it.
CARLIE: And is there anything in particular you miss about life in the UK?
CARLIE: We’ve talked about how property prices are just crazy and petrol is so cheap, and so clearly that’s not something you missed.
MATT: At the moment, and that’s why we kind of half look at each other like that, it’s because we don’t. We often say that; do you miss home at all? And we’re like, no. Now, maybe we will in another year, but at the moment there isn’t anything, kind of, we miss. We do generally live by that, wherever you lay your hat is your home kind of stuff, we’re sort of like that as people anyway. But at the moment, I don’t. Do you?
SHERI: No. No, I don’t.
CARLIE: That’s awesome.
SHERI: And you obviously message your friends and your family and things.
MATT: I’m just joking.
CARLIE: Or do you?
MATT: Or do I?
SHERI: (inaudible) I’m slightly different to Matt is that, I’ve got family all over the world. So, now my mom’s here, my dad’s in South Africa. And I have a brother, although I haven’t seen him for many years, in Australia, actually. So, sometimes I feel like I, not belong anywhere, but I don’t necessarily have a set home. And then, because Matt kind of lives the way that I kind of live, we’ve not got this pull anywhere, as such. We like to discover new places and we like to have a bit of an adventure, don’t we?
MATT: Yeah. We’re displaced nomads. We’re unwanted all over the world, so we’ll just kind of hang out wherever we are.
SHERI: If anything, I probably have more of a pull towards Africa than I do anywhere else.
MATT: Yeah, that’s the next stop. But that would be another podcast. But yeah, that’s next.
CARLIE: Yeah. Well, it sounds so exciting, you clearly have plans. And it sounds like such an enviable life, this kind of nomadic life, where as you say, wherever you are, wherever you hang your hat is home. And you’re so relaxed, and settled, and leaning into that kind of lifestyle for yourselves.
MATT: Yeah. That phrase, leaning in, I like that. And I think that is important, I would say that to everyone, because it is a choice. And this is not polishing our halos in any shape or fashion, if anyone’s listening who wants to do it, you do have to lean in, just as you say. That’s a great phrase. Firstly, you have to just go for it, and then you do have to lean in. Because it can be uncomfortable at times if you overthink that. But if you just wake up and go, it’s another day somewhere else, and lean in- I do like that a lot- then it makes it very enjoyable, I would say.
SHERI: I was speaking to somebody who I work with, who was saying that the other day. Because people do struggle here. And a lot of times it’s the single people that come out, that don’t have anybody here. And I can imagine that it must be very difficult, sometimes, to be here on your own. I feel very lucky to have my mom here, and to obviously have Matt with me. And we bought our jack russell, Smudge, with us. And that that’s one of the other things. Wherever we go in the world, we always have to check if it’s easy to take her, because she will have to come with us everywhere.
CARLIE: Yeah. Absolutely.
SHERI: Coming on your own would be very tricky. And this friend of mine was saying, you’re just so lucky that you have somebody with you to go home to every night, every day and have somebody there. She says it’s very tricky sometimes to just go home and there’s nobody to (inaudible)
MATT: Although, that’s debatable, if you consider me lucky to come home to at the end of the day. I’m not sure.
SHERI: (inaudible) to swap.
CARLIE: With such a strong foreigner community in Oman, are there support networks? Are there clubs and groups that people, particularly people moving their solo, can join to get that sense of community and make friends?
SHERI: Yeah, there are loads of groups here. Loads and loads of groups. There’s a massive South African community here.
CARLIE: Oh, that’s awesome.
SHERI: Yeah, lots of South African groups. I tend to stay away from some of those groups, not all the time, sometimes, great. But not all the time.
MATT: That’s important though, I think.
MATT: Because the whole point of moving elsewhere, isn’t just to move from one bubble to another. Of course you want support networks, right? But you don’t just want to, I don’t you know, you don’t want to be a Londoner in Oman or wherever you choose to go, you want to break out and have those new experiences. So yeah, you’re right. Be selective on how you use support groups.
It’s a little bit like the writing community for the authors. Once you go down that rabbit hole, you’ll be so busy dealing with everyone trying to support you, you’ll never actually write a book. And the same, with support networks, you just gotta, yes, lean on them a little bit, but then just get out and enjoy Oman or France or Australia or wherever you’re choosing to go.
CARLIE: I have two final questions. One is; how easy is it to make friends and socialize, I suppose with the locals in Oman?
SHERI: So, the Omanis are extremely friendly and welcoming. So, you will be invited at the drop of a hat to their homes. In particular, our landlord Mr. Ali, he lives in the attached villa to us. So, we’re right next door to our our landlord, who says we are his family.
CARLIE: Oh, that’s great.
SHERI: (inaudible) we are family. Very kind, very hospitable, very welcoming.
MATT: That’s kind of the key areas of Omani, and I would say, Middle Eastern culture. I can only comment on Oman, the hospitality, and the friendship, and the kinship is massive. I love that here.
MATT: I mean, you’ve done jiu jitsu and I’ve been in clubs all around the world, right? And in jiu jitsu, you’re welcomed everywhere.
CARLIE: Yeah. It’s a strong sense of family in jui jitsu.
MATT: It’s strong. But here, even more so, if you could imagine that, even more so. It’s wonderful.
SHERI: And it almost is instantaneous, isn’t it?
SHERI: They almost are your friend from the minute you meet them. It also obviously is how you treat them back.
MATT: Of course.
SHERI: So, we’ve made quite a few, sort of, close friendships since being here. It’s been kind of effortless, really, to do. So, yeah.
CARLIE: Well, that’s really nice. Because I know, sometimes, that can be the hardest part about being in a new place. And as you said Matt, trying to break out of that expat bubble and actually make friends with locals and break through into that kind of club, you know?
MATT: It’s nice. As I say, you know there are some cultures that are so foreign, and that’s usually because it includes the language. Now, when you go to japan, the language is so different you mostly haven’t seen of it and it’s the same here in the Middle East. But that’s another thing I’ve found, that if you make an effort or even if you don’t make an effort- I do make an effort to speak Arabic. Like, to speak arabic, to use the three words I know badly-
CARLIE: Over and over again.
MATT: Yeah. But they do really make an effort to help you, to teach you. They’re very, very welcoming and never make you feel like you’ve done something sinful for trying to speak their language. You know what I mean? And I still have those haunting memories of being in Paris. You know, you try to speak school boy french and then some guy’s speaking to you in english and saying, would you want a beef sandwich?
CARLIE: Damn it.
MATT: They don’t do that here. And they’re very keen to help you.
SHERI: And we’ve had such nice experiences. Just two examples; one day we were just driving around visiting, I think we were here on holiday, we weren’t living here yet but just to give you an example of how they are, and Matt needed to go to the to the bathroom so we stopped and he quickly ran through to see if there was a public toilet or whatever, and he ran past a family eating food, they were having their lunch, and he said, are there toilets here? And they pointed to the toilet, he came back and they said come come and join us for food.
CARLIE: Oh, wow.
SHERI: I was in the car with my mom, waiting for him. And it took ages (inaudible) got lost. Anyway, he came, almost running back saying, sorry I was invited to stop to have food with this family.
CARLIE: I just had a three-course meal.
SHERI: And you’ll be walking on the beach and people will be barbecuing. They do like their barbecues on the beach here, and that’s all they’re allowed to do. And you’ll walk past and you will just say, that smells delicious, and they’ll say, come, come please, or they’ll start handing you plates of food and water. We were randomly given some ice cold water the other day because we were walking on the beach with a dog. And another time we went for a trip, about a two-hour drive, to one of the- it’s called Wadi Bani Khalid, it’s beautifu,l also one of these oasis places- and we met this local boy.
I think he had one eye, he was blind in one eye and he didn’t speak any English but he invited us to go into his village. And we were invited into the house and we had arabic coffee and dates. You know, no English, but there was no (inaudible) his little old grandmother or mother was there, and you sit on the floor. They’re very peaceful people.
CARLIE: That’s amazing.
SHERI: Yeah. Really, really good. So, we do love that about here.
CARLIE: On the subject of, sort of, food, it’s something I probably should have asked earlier. But, I’m curious about alcohol, and are there restrictions? I went to Qatar late last year and was told, not that it was my priority, but we could drink alcohol in the hotels. In the hotel bars it was allowed, nowhere else. Is it a similar sort of rule in Oman? Is alcohol available and do you have to be careful about where you choose to consume it?
SHERI: Yeah. So, they’re also in the hotels, no problem, except during Ramadan. So, during Ramadan time you won’t be able to have any alcohol, I think up until a certain time of day. But I can’t remember the rules now. There are bottle stores here you don’t know that they are bottle stores and you have to have a license. So, expats are allowed to apply for a license that then you have a certain amount to spend each month at these shops. (inaudible)
CARLIE: Oh, wow. So Omanis can’t drink?
SHERI: They’re not supposed to, but they do. They do a lot.
CARLIE: Insider secret.
SHERI: And then you’ve got these expat villages. So, there’s one right near to my school actually, we sometimes go there after school because it’s literally a two minute drive away, called the Dolphin Club. And they sell alcohol there. That’s where you see a lot of Omanis drinking alcohol. They do like their beer there. So, there are various places. In some restaurants like the Pavo Real, the Mexican restaurant we like to go to, crazy place- they sell alcohol. But not everywhere.
CARLIE: And you wouldn’t necessarily take a beer down to the beach, for example?
MATT: No, you definitely can’t do public stuff.
SHERI: Yeah, you get caught. That’s a big problem.
MATT: I don’t drink at all. Of course people drink, I’m not an anti-drinker by the way, I just don’t drink. My point is, it’s really interesting being in a culture that isn’t a drinking culture. Yes, of course you can drink and people do drink, but it’s, on the whole, not a drinking culture as we know in the UK and certainly through Europe. So, there are certain times in England where you choose where you go out because you know there will be drunken-based fights, right? That isn’t the case here. And it’s actually that lowered level of aggression, sometimes have to remind yourself how much of a luxury that is.
CARLIE: And how much alcohol can influence that kind of behavior in society, right?
MATT: And music. We were talking about this, because you don’t hear thumping pop music or various music, right? So music, as we know, is very important for changing how you think, or influencing how you think, and so is alcohol or any other kind of intoxicants. And by not having those, it’s amazing how peaceful a place can be. It’s like… wow. And you don’t realize how big an effect they have until you step out of a land that doesn’t have them as the default. Of course they have them. You know, we’re not in Saudi. So they are there, but they’re not the first priority as they are, I would say, in the UK. And it’s really lovely, actually. It’s a bit like being in a bubble.
CARLIE: Yeah. And for someone like yourself Matt, that doesn’t drink, it must be so refreshing too, that social interactions and, I guess, a sense of belonging in a social setting, doesn’t revolve around whether you’ve got a beer in your hand.
MATT: And so, at the club the other day, one of the guys, his wife had a new daughter. So, instead of sitting around after having a beer and kind of lewd jokes about pregnancy and all that sort of stuff, we sat around what’s called Helwa- oh, it’s delicious. It’s like a date paste with nuts in. I can’t remember the details, but it’s delicious- so, we had that with coffee. And then the chat was just lovely. It was just a really nice time and it wasn’t disrupted by people getting a bit drunk and a bit about hand. Yeah, it was nice. I liked that.
SHERI: They have a lot of coffee shops here. They call them coffee shops.
CARLIE: Not in the Amsterdam coffee shop style?
CARLIE: Actual coffee.
MATT: Yeah, actual coffee.
SHERI: And you’ll often see, mainly the men, the men like to sit outside in these coffee shops. But yeah, it’s a very different culture here, gathering wise.
CARLIE: Matt and Sheri, finally I just would like to know what your top pieces of advice would be to others that might be coming to Oman for the first time?
SHERI: Number one would probably be, be open-minded.
MATT: Yeah, I was going to steal what your mom says.
SHERI: Oh, yes.
MATT: Shez’s mum says to all the new teachers, cause she’s teacher, she says; to survive here you have to be, certainly open-minded, and resilient. And actually, to use what you said about leaning into the experience, don’t push against it. Lean into it and then it’ll work for you, I think. Would you agree?
SHERI: Yeah. And if you’re gonna work here, I don’t know what other jobs are like, I’ve only been teaching here, but if you’re gonna work here, take make sure you take time for yourself and try and get out and explore a little bit.
SHERI: There’s so much to explore. Not every weekend, but just try and explore because that’s when you will suddenly appreciate it. You will appreciate living here more when you go, wow I can just go two hours down the road to a desert camp and have the most amazing weekend away.
MATT: Yeah, that’s a good point.
SHERI: Or you know, the sea. We could go snorkeling today, and in the next hour be snorkeling and swimming with turtles, you know?
CARLIE: That’s amazing. That’s something I really hadn’t put together with Oman, beautiful tropical swimming experiences.
SHERI: That’s what we would say.
CARLIE: Well Matt and Sheri, thank you so much for coming on the Expat Focus podcast and sharing your experiences of life as expats in Oman. I really appreciate it.
MATT: Thank you for having us.
SHERI: Yeah, thank you for inviting us. It’s been lovely. Thank you very much Carlie.
CARLIE: That’s it for this episode. For more insights like this, don’t forget to subscribe to the Expat Focus monthly newsletter. You can sign up at expatfocus.com and explore our other podcasts interviews on youtube, or however you like to listen. We love to hear from our listeners, so let us know what you think or what countries you’d like to hear more about. We are Expat Focus on social media. I’ll catch you next time.