x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Looking the part in the Emirates is missing the point

The further away local citizens distance themselves from the need to look flashy, but rather get closer to their country's humble origins, the better Emirati society is served.

Having lived in southern California most of my life, I am no stranger to the concept of "bling". Driving a flashy car, wearing designer clothes and sporting expensive jewellery were part of many southern California circles.

But upon my recent return to the UAE, I realised I had not seen anything yet.

The level of material flamboyance in the Emirates, and the pressure to conform to it, especially among Emiratis, makes the Golden State look more like the Copper State.

The most noticeable sign of this opulence is most definitely the luxury cars that line the streets of Abu Dhabi, in far greater numbers than I had ever seen in Beverly Hills.

I rarely see an Emirati driving anything less expensive than a Toyota Land Cruiser, and I've seen more Mercedes, BMWs, Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the first month in the UAE than all my years in the US.

The pressure to drive a luxury car became tangible to me when a family member sought my advice on a new car. Having driven an old reliable Honda Accord in the US, I naturally recommended it as a sensible economical purchase.

Initially, I could not understand the reasoning behind my proposal's instant rejection and the buyer's decision to purchase a Mercedes with a costlier price tag for both insurance and repair.

Once witnessing this family member among Emirati co-workers, all sporting similarly high-end cars, I understood that these cars help foster a sense of belonging.

Furthermore, this lofty vehicle gives the driver access to places cheaper cars would not. Driving my less prestigious vehicle, I was subject to questioning at many a security gate, whereas the gates would instantly part as the Mercedes approached.

Another source of what I thought was unwarranted Emirati spending on image was that of clothes and accessories.

Transitioning to the local garb, I felt, would be a more thrifty option than western wear. After all, there were fewer items and choice of clothes to consider.

During my first Emirati clothes-shopping spree, however, I was instructed the kanduras all had to be tailor made to fit perfectly and I had to purchase more than a few, as they could not be worn two days in a row, and they had to be dry-cleaned regularly.

The sandals are where I was sure I would save money, as they had to be cheaper than shoes.

Wrong again.

They are the most expensive item, some retailing for more than Dh1,000.

Still reeling from the money spent on the above items, an Emirati informed me that if I wanted to look the part, I would have to buy a high-end pen, designer sunglasses and luxury watch.

I instantly drew the line.

This "looking the part", which this person had referred to, is an artificial creation that has nothing to do with the Emirati culture and heritage.

The pressure to conform puts many Emiratis who cannot afford such luxury items into deep debt and increases their burden.

The further away local citizens distance themselves from the need to look flashy, but rather get closer to their country's humble origins, the better Emirati society is served.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US. Contact him at tsubaihi@thenational.ae

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