Sex and the City-State: Abu Dhabi Syndrome

Sex and the City 2 is set mostly in Abu Dhabi, where Carrie and Co. fly for an all-expenses-paid romp and much in the way of Scooby-Doo-like hijinks ensue. It’s all in good fun, if not the most culturally sensitive artifact Hollywood ever turned out. The thing is, I lived for the past two years in Abu Dhabi, working at a newspaper there; when I heard about the movie, I fell deep into a reverie about what the famous franchise would look like were it to accurately reflect my experience and that of my friends.

We’d open with a montage of our four single protagonists leaving their offices, catching cabs, heading to hotel bars and asking other expatriates they meet the same questions again and again: What brings you here? Where did you come from? When? And, of course: How long will you stay? Now and then, these conversations serve as preludes to couplings in Ikea-furnished apartment shares; a series of shots detail morning-after cab rides home, during which our protagonists, already sweating from the morning sun, get a faraway look in their eyes as they reckon with the everyday but suddenly acute fact that they’re far from home.

As the montage music fades, the four are sitting on one of their balconies, beers in hand. One of them-the overarticulate writer, say-is gesticulating wildly as he attempts to articulate a theory of something he calls Abu Dhabi Syndrome. “We can basically survive without sex,” he says, eliciting three rueful smiles. “At least longer than we thought we could. But we’ve discovered-haven’t we?-there’s something else, something maybe harder to go without, something we never even knew we were used to until we moved here. Whatever it is, it must have something to do with the everyday mingling of the genders. Not sex, but a nonspecific sense of romantic and sexual possibility floating somewhere in the ether of public life. But that sense exists only in bland hotel bars, and even there, among the regulars who enjoy such places, too few are single, too many are sleazebags.

“And so,” the writer continues, “we descend into madness. We feel ourselves warping, longing more intensely than ever before to be touched. Men catch themselves mentally undressing women-veiled and otherwise-in malls, even though they’re ‘not that kind of guy.’ Women, horribly outnumbered, are pursued with a sort of manic intensity that could never be mistaken for romance. Abu Dhabi Syndrome has nested in our single souls and, we tell ourselves, only a relationship can chase it away!

“One day you meet someone.” Now another montage, this time of our four protagonists being awkwardly introduced to people at parties in Ikea-furnished apartments. “Yes”-the writer’s speech continues as voice-over-“you somehow meet a single someone who is roughly your age, speaks the same language you speak and hasn’t been smuggled into the country by a Russian pimp. The cure to what ails you is but an arm’s length away-and you grab it! Soon enough you are, of all things, dating. Regular sex abounds, in all its glorious regularity.” Back on the balcony, smiles all around.

“And yet, soon enough, that old familiar malaise creeps back, prompting some discomfiting questions: How, honestly, did I end up with this person? Back home, wherever that is, would we have ever done anything more than exchange pleasantries with each other? Does the answer matter? Is the question even coherent? Probably not; but then why do I keep mulling it? Soon enough, one is indisputably back in the throes of Abu Dhabi Syndrome, which, like an adaptive virus, has risen again to vanquish the very antibodies sent to destroy it.

“As before, the cure is intuitively obvious.” Yet another montage: breakups, awkward but not too painful. “In this sense, we live at summer camp. Everyone’s going home sometime, so why get serious, or even pre-serious? How can you? Breaking up feels like the smart-nay, the responsible-thing to do.”

At least for a few weeks, until you start feeling insane again. At this point in my daydream, I realized how perfect Abu Dhabi’s single expatriate scene is for Sex and the City: The same damn thing happens again and again, episodes pile up, getting less and less interesting, and then one day you’ve had enough.

Sex and the City-State: Abu Dhabi Syndrome