‘A dinner party without the dinner’ doesn’t sound like a thrilling experience – more disappointing, really, and certainly not conducive to encouraging guests to come again – but that’s how Dubai social group Rendezvous describes its monthly meets. ‘We didn’t want it to be expensive, so we thought dinner might put people off,’ says co-founder Moira Mackintosh. ‘Plus, when you go out to dinner it’s hard to have a discussion. Usually you can only speak to the five people around you and you can’t get up and walk around.We wanted to do something different and everybody goes out to eat in Dubai, don’t they?’ True. Maybe we Dubai gluttons could do with more dinner parties without the dinner. Mackintosh laughs. ‘Yeah, that as well!’
Mackintosh and her friend Matt Swift, both British expats, founded Rendezvous last year in an attempt to make more meaningful friendships in Dubai. The idea is that it’s a place for people to talk about ‘big picture issues’, discussing the things that really matter to learn from and inspire each other. ‘Dubai is termed as this shallow, superficial place isn’t it?’ says Mackintosh. ‘We thought it would be nice if there was a more meaningful event. Just so we can meet people, have the kind of night out we want, and offer something different in Dubai.’
Each meeting has a main topic for discussion, advertised on the website (www.rendezvousdubai.com) so that everyone knows what they’ll be talking about beforehand. It can be anything from how to achieve a work/life balance to inspiring role models. Group members suggest subjects for future events so that everyone gets a chance to talk about what matters most to them. Mackintosh argues that Dubai is the perfect place to host this kind of discussion group, reasoning that expats here are ‘looking for something more out of life, searching for something different’, and as such are the sort of people who will be asking questions about life.
Not only that, but Mackintosh reckons Dubai’s multicultural make-up means group members are more likely to learn from each other. A cross-section of expats has been turning out for Rendezvous, generally aged between late-20s and mid-40s and from countries as diverse as India, South Africa and Britain. ‘It’s amazing how people of different nationalities, different religions and different ages in Dubai can and do get on. They really are interested in learning about each other,’ says Mackintosh. ‘Well, that’s my perception. I used to live in London, which is meant to be a cosmopolitan city, but it wasn’t…’
She trails off. ‘I find here, maybe because by being expats we share a common bond, we’re more keen to learn about each others’ lives.’
A recent topic for discussion was ‘Top 10 reasons to stay in Dubai’, reflecting how the group aims to be positive and inspirational with the dialogue it creates. ‘People are beginning to get a bit negative about Dubai at the moment, everyone’s saying that everybody else is leaving, aren’t they?’ says Mackintosh. ‘So it was really nice for people to be positive again. I love Dubai, but it was great to be reminded of why we’re here and what we like about the place.’ Perhaps there is a danger, though, that inviting people to discuss ‘meaningful’ issues could result in an extended group whingeing session. That doesn’t sound like much fun to us. ‘It’s not coming and talking about your problems,’ Mackintosh makes clear. ‘It’s more about offering inspirational advice. And we keep it light-hearted. It’s meant to be a good night out.’
Rendezvous meets at two venues once a month: one group meets at the Park Hyatt hotel, the other at The Palace hotel. If there’s enough interest, Mackintosh and Swift are looking to start up a third group around Dubai Marina. There is a fee of Dhs50 per meeting, which might raise a few eyebrows. Dhs50 just to sit and chat? ‘It’s not like people walk in and we say, “Come on, pay your money”,’ reasons Mackintosh. ‘We’d be grateful if people contribute because we pay for the website, advertising and organising. But if people don’t want to pay, we’re not saying you can’t come!’
You could say it’s a small price for new friends and good conversation. For Mackintosh, the best part is forging friendships with people who are different to herself. ‘You often find that friends you’ve had for years are similar to you in age and background,’ she says. ‘But when you spend time with a person who is completely different, you can learn some really important life lessons and get inspired by something they might say.’
Rendezvous meets at the Park Hyatt on the first Monday of every month and The Palace on the third Monday of every month, 7.30pm-10pm. See www.rendezvousdubai.com for details.