Otto Frederick Rohwedder is not given the place in history he deserves. There is no statue commemorating his achievements, no holiday to mark his struggles and nary a folk song extolling his ingenuity. Yet Otto, the inventor of sliced bread, set the benchmark for innovation. The American-born inventor dedicated 20 years and his entire life savings to creating a machine that could slice bread for commercial use.
The idea of slicing bread wasn’t his. That had been going on for hundreds of years already. Otto’s true genius was to suggest that bread could be sold pre-sliced. Eureka! Sales of jam and electric toasters soared, the standardised sandwich became a possibility and the expression ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ was born.
His spirit, it seems, is alive and well in Dubai. Barely a day goes by without somebody promising to have reinvented (or at least dramatically improved) the wheel. Fellow Time Outers have attempted to spark my interest in drunch (drinks brunch), tunch (teatime brunch) and, on one desperate occasion, punch (picnic brunch). They’re all exactly the same as a brunch – they’re just slicing it up a different way. Otto would be proud.
New hotels, bars, spas and restaurants often get in touch with bold claims of originality. ‘Revolutionary sleep enhancement solutions’ tend to mean a hotel that offers a selection of pillows to guests. A restaurant that advertises itself as the ‘ultimate family destination’ usually means it has a couple of high chairs and some plastic spoons in the dining room.
My favourite announcement of the summer was from a hotel advertising ‘Smurftar’. The decision to combine entertainment from the Smurfs with an iftar is all the evidence you’ll ever need that the pioneering mentality is alive and well.
It’s not just hotels. Every part of Dubai life seems to be an effort to outdo, outperform and outclass what has gone before. One product was recently described to me as being a ‘statement of power and strength for the urban trendsetter’, which would be ‘a reflection of superior mechanical precision’ while boasting ‘unmatched technical complexity that is synonymous with luxury sports cars’. What could it be? A laser gun? A jet pack? A laser-powered jet pack? No, a wristwatch. I am not suggesting this is not an impressive watch. I just think the claims may be far-fetched.
What’s wrong with telling it like it is? The next restaurant to advertise a promotion as ‘not the best in town, but cheap, reasonable quality and close to your house’ will have my custom. Especially if it sells sandwiches.