While the wife’s away…

When you think about it, it’s a strange thing, that situation whereby expat wives and children disappear off home each summer. And, while I imagine that it happens to some extent in all expat postings, it’s particularly pronounced in the UAE, where there’s both a high number of expats and a particularly inhospitable climate.

In fact, it’s got to be one of the weirdest things about expat life in the UAE – can you imagine your wife disappearing off with the children for a quarter of the year, every year, back home?

The decision of whether or not to leave is never easy an easy one. It’s hard for small children to live an indoor life for three months, and a trip home is always a good chance for them to spend time with their grandparents – but most husbands can’t swing more than a couple of weeks off work.  

In fact, whatever you choose to do, the coffee-shop gossips will have something to say about it: If you leave for a long stretch, you’re either too confident (“What man wouldn’t cheat given the chance?”) or too disinterested (“Why would you want to leave him for so long?”). But, if you choose to stay – and, honestly, there’s a lot more to do in Dubai in the summer now than there ever used to be – you’re “paranoid” and “have marital issues”.

Much is said every year about what the abandoned men get up to once their wives leave. Aside from the “lost souls, shopping for groceries with a blank look on their faces”, Dubai summer bachelor stories are legendary:  Foam parties, prostitutes, cabin crew, girlfriends, bachelor pads, “extra services” from the housemaid – you name it, we’ve heard it all.

These days, though, I don’t think this behaviour – specific to the summer – is as widespread as it used to be. Aside from that tricky little thing called work, there’s more fear these days that the authorities will catch up with any “sexpat” misbehaviour – and no-one wants to be tomorrow’s tabloid headline.

But what rarely gets talked about – except on drunken nights out in Mahiki or anonymously on expat forums – is the other side of the story: What the wives get up to when they’re also suddenly “single” for three months.

And, the more I talk to people, the more I realise the wives have their secrets, too. Reunions with sexy ex-workmates, wine-bar flirtations, Facebook hook-ups, stolen kisses with ex-boyfriends and – a phrase I heard for the first time last summer – a “harmless bit of summer crumpet”.

So what causes an expat wife – with a very nice life, thank you very much – to risk it all by running into the arms of a man back home? Freedom, boredom, nostalgia, familiarity? Or the suspicion that her husband is doing the same in Dubai? I’ve heard of many who ignore their husband’s philandering because they don’t want to lose their luxury lifestyles.

“She knows he cheats,” wrote one woman on a Dubai chat forum, “but she gets her villa, her four-wheel-drive, her Botox and her infinity pool – so she turns a blind eye.” Maybe she should have added, “and she gets her summer crumpet, too.”

Annabel Kantaria is a journalist who moved to Dubai long before most people knew where it was. She doesn’t ride a camel to work; has never seen a gold-plated golf buggy and only rarely has pink champagne for breakfast. Follow her on Twitter: @BellaKay