There aren't a lot of things left from our childhoods in the UAE that we can still reminisce about. I know that sounds sad, but the upside has been the fast growth of our country, which in turn has given us a lot in terms of advanced health care, infrastructure, technology, education and more.
All that is for the good, but there are a few elements of our past that I wish could remain the same. Some things need to be preserved.
One of those things, I think, is the presence in society of small neighbourhood grocery stores, better known as dukan in Arabic, or baqala by their literal name.
Over the past few weeks, The National has reported how Abu Dhabi is mandating the standardisation of all small groceries - a move that is necessary when it comes to hygiene in line with guidelines set by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. The authority is also requiring stores to install sliding doors and CCTV cameras that will help to ensure security, but cameras will take away from the homey feel that these small stores give us.
A similar move was proposed in Dubai a couple of years ago, but many people opposed the idea, saying that the small stores were among the few things that reminded us of an earlier sense of belonging and a neighbourly feel.
Growing up with a baqala around the corner was part of most Emiratis' upbringing. Some of these stores sell items that you just won't find in large supermarkets. And a common habit at the weekend or in the evening, when people are just cruising for the joy of it, is to pull up outside a store and toot the horn - someone always comes out and takes your order, and off you go to eat your goodies by the beach.
In all of those years, I can't recall anyone complaining of food poisoning because of small-grocery products. And this new rule hasn't been extended to the stalls that sell karak tea, the sweetened milk tea that is very popular among Emiratis.
The problem is not the higher standards; it is the expense of modernising the shops. Furthermore, as part of this process the small stores will be forced to compete with the larger modern supermarkets and franchise stores that are springing up on every corner. There is nothing neighbourly about these.
Reading about the plight of some poor shopowners broke my heart. For many of them, it is their sole livelihood and the income supports entire families. It would have been nice if neighbourhoods had been asked about these changes ahead of time, and given the opportunity to support their local markets.
My friends and I have discussed how the situation could be improved without overhauling the system: perhaps fines for hygiene violations? Even with all the changes, you can't guarantee that the storeroom of a shop or a restaurant is sanitary. Just because a building is shiny on the outside doesn't guarantee it is clean on the inside.
I recently moved to a neighbourhood in Dubai that has a big supermarket, but sometimes I still like to call the baqala to have them deliver a bottle of milk. More than likely, if I go to the supermarket, I wind up buying things I don't even need.
When I walk into a baqala, I always know I'll get just the one or two things that I want, and maybe I'll leave a small tip for the shopowner who always delivers with a smile and always knows my name.
Aida Al Busaidy is a social affairs columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show
On Twitter: @AidaAlB