x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Spare me the 'VIP' treatment

The term VIP now bears no resemblance to its original meaning

Perhaps I'm not old enough to have been around then, but there must have once been a time when VIP actually meant VIP. When a "Very Important Person" was exactly that: someone with such immense intelligence or of such stature that their decisions and actions could have wide-reaching consequences and, as such, they should be looked after quite nicely.

At what point these people started singing, selling wedding photos and making rubbish reality television shows, I'm not entirely sure, but the term VIP came to - supposedly - mean "luxury" and was heartily adopted by any company wanting to make such an impression. And, just like poor Che's face or the CND peace symbol, over the years this image has been spread so thinly that it now bears absolutely no resemblance to its original meaning. The term VIP is shoehorned so regularly beside the names of products and services that it now has about as much meaning as "new", "improved" or "customer helpline".

I recall, with a sharp intake of breath, travelling across Thailand, where the general rule of thumb was to avoid any form of transport that had VIP in the title. There, the VIP in VIP Bus (a contradiction in terms, surely) meant "broken air-conditioning" and "semi-conscious driver", where the VIPs in question turned out to be hordes of hideous, fisherman-trousered backpackers loudly strumming guitars.

Here in the UAE, the term is also used rather too liberally. Firstly, it seems like almost anyone has access. The only prerequisite seems to be a bigger wallet. Secondly, it's plastered on things far beyond the usual VIP line-up of comfier seating arrangements and more elaborate buffet options.

Imagine if you can, the VIP Medical Package. For a princely sum, patients can experience the full delights of a medical check-up, but with VIP treatment. The VIP in this case doesn't mean swan sandwiches on entry, panda fur-lined chaise longues or a Natalie Portman look-alike taking samples via a crystal-laden syringe. In fact, you don't even get a seat, as all VIPs are still expected to wait in a badly lit corridor, clutching their paperwork. No, the VIP element to this service is that you get your results back quicker. What luxury!

Naturally, with the term 'VIP' becoming about as ubiquitous as towels, companies have had to up their game to differentiate themselves. So we now have "VVIP", "gold class", "diamond" and various other ridiculous categories deemed to signify some sort of higher status. Soon VIP will be the lowest option available and we'll all be wandering around drinking VIP tea, eating VIP crisps and complaining because our VIP water heater has broken for the fourth time in a month. Hopefully by then I'll have upgraded to the Super Platinum package.