x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When money is limited so too is a modern outlook

It is hard enough being single without the extra discrimination that comes when people are under financial strain.

Jane Austen said that "single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor". That was written over 200 years ago, and still, single women appear to be "poor" or rather, a risky investment. It seems that it is not enough that we often have social and cultural restrictions, we also have economical issues - and not merely the obvious ones. The other day, I went to "test drive" a luxury car. It was a break from the dreary reality that I will not be able to afford one anytime soon. But at a time when everyone is talking about not having money, I decided to pretend I have some - just for kicks.

The minute I stepped in, the sales person hopped over and asked me if he could "help" me with anything. I said that I was looking to buy a car, a convertible. Even before I completed my sentence, he asked: "How long are you planning to stay in the UAE?" Strange, I thought, I have never ever had anyone ask me that before. I answered: "Does it matter?" "Yes, very much," he responded, "all car dealerships are stricter and are asking more questions because of the financial conditions."

Besides the strange probing, I wasn't allowed to test drive the car I wanted, nor any other car in the showroom. I knew my cousin was shopping around for a car, so I asked him about his experiences. Just as I suspected, not once was he asked how long he was staying here in the country. To make matters worse, he got to test drive every car he fancied. Since most of the showrooms are run by men, I guess they assume that women are bad or "risky" drivers. In my entire driving history, I have had two accidents, and neither was my fault. The first was during a horrible Canadian storm, when a lorry flipped on the motorway and I happened to be behind it. The other happened recently when I got sandwiched between two reckless drivers on Sheikh Zayed Road.

My cousin, on the other hand, probably smashes his car every two or three years and gives a new meaning to the phrase "speed demon". It is hard enough being single without the extra discrimination that comes when people are under financial strain. I understand that people revert to old prejudices when they are stressed, but we are stressed too, so give us a break. Financial stress may usher in a return to more traditional and more restrictive gender roles, and that's not a risk just in the Arab world.

One of my single friends, a high- powered banker in New York, was refinancing her mortgage, and the loan was approved based on merit. Then just one day before the loan was issued to her, the bank called to verify personal information like address, phone and marital status. Within an hour, the loan was withdrawn - even after the loan was initially approved. She called the banker, and threatened to sue as she truly believed she was being discriminated based on her marital status. Miraculously, the loan was reissued within 48 hours.

Interestingly enough, study after study shows that single mothers, divorced women and widows are some of the most vulnerable social groups, and for multiple reasons. Women are more often ignored when we show up at a restaurant without a reservation, and often the waiters forget to pour us water or our drinks as they are too busy attending to the table of businessmen next to us. Such is life, it seems. This financial crisis might just make it worse for us.

*********************** Valentine's Day is coming up this weekend, and I can't tell you how many of my married friends voiced their disapproval with a chorus of "aww" and "haram, you are all alone". Even if a person is fine with being single, this season makes us look longingly at roses and other lame expressions of love. But who said Valentine's Day is just for couples? My single friends, both girls and boys, decided to all go out together on Saturday and celebrate our single-hood, not worrying about the cheesy love songs and cooing couples everywhere. We are all going to enjoy 'full fat' pizza and non-diet sodas, and none of us is going to worry about how we "appear".

The guys promised to hold the doors open for us as we come in and get out of cars. The guys hate waiting for women to catch up with them as they click-clack along in their high heels. So, we promised to dress in comfortable clothes, no glitz or glamour. We will simply enjoy ourselves. Couples are stressing out about where to go, how to impress their date or how to make it a "memorable" Valentine's Day. We couldn't care less. We are just going to relax. My cynical friend sent off an e-mail to our group, clearly directed towards the couples, when she said, "listen, everyday should be Valentines, where people are sincere in their love efforts."

So, "Bah humbug" to Valentine's Day she concluded, a sentiment echoed by many of my single friends. @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae