The legend of the Jumeirah Jane is as thick a thread in Dubai’s dusty tapestry as silly skyscrapers and bad traffic. For years, any mother who’s been in our fair city for longer than a week will have heard of, and probably lived in awe of, this infamous creature (if you truly have your head in the clouds see below for the JJ low-down). But times have changed: Dubai is no longer a quiet backwater where a few lucky expats can make a fast buck before heading back home to brag about their ludicrously gargantuan bank balances. Although it remains a location where few would settle for good, it’s certainly seen as a more viable place to spend a good few years, and with the global economy being as dire as it is now, Dubai’s popularity is only continuing to grow.
As an unfortunate result, the cost of living has exploded almost as exponentially as the population. So, it was only a matter of time before rival parenting subcultures with differing income levels and value systems sprung up. Here’s Time Out Kids’ guide to the key social groups of 2009:
Meet Jumeirah Jane, the queen bee in the mothering hive. If you haven’t heard of her, you clearly haven’t been on the circuit for very long.
Although she’s not tempted out of her maximum security luxury compound by any old rif-raf event, she’s at all the glitziest dos – in fact, her attendance at an opening and, if she does deign to go, how late she arrives, can be viewed as a highly accurate barometer for how long the restaurant/bar/shop/salon/spa in question is likely to survive, because everyone who’s anyone in Dubai will follow in her wake.
Decked out from head to Jimmy Choo-clad toe in designer garb, she wouldn’t dream of being seen in high street brands – even her wallpaper is Ralph Lauren. Jane first arrived in Dubai six years ago and, as far as she’s concerned, there is simply nowhere better on earth: where else can she shop all day, every day, but also top up her tan by the private Olympic-sized pool whenever she feels like it?
On first impressions, you may think Jane is oblivious to everything that’s going on around her – well, she does spend a lot of time talking about herself. However, you couldn’t be more wrong: underneath her superficial outward appearance, she’s actually a very cunning, sharp-witted woman. She’s well aware of that horrifically happy-clappy Ranches Rebecca, not to mention the ghastly Bur Dubai Brenda in her ill-fitting high street drudgery and that silly Mirdif Mary with her hippy bangles – she just chooses to ignore them, thank you very much.
So, does she have a job? Does she heck – why else would she have married a man like Jeffrey, whose generous pay packet more than compensates for the fact that his belly could rival Johnny Vegas’s in the wobble stakes? Besides, her life’s full enough as it is, without wasting nine long hours in an office every day (although now she comes to think of it, she did spot a great Donna Karan pencil skirt the other day and she has always thought she’d look pretty hot doing the sexy secretary look – especially since Jeff bought her last year’s Christmas present – a pair of double Ds…) No no, she has way too much on her plate: telling her social circle where to go and what to eat is a hefty responsibility that she couldn’t simply abandon. Furthermore, her hair doesn’t stay this chic on its own you know, and her stylist would be no more capable of fitting her in in the evenings than her personal yoga instructor. Oh, and then there’s little Jasper, her son – she loves him dearly, and she must be there at the end of the phone in case the maid has a problem with him.
Speaking of the maid – well, she’s an absolute pain. She seems to think it’s OK to have a night off every week, and it’s just so difficult to understand what she’s saying. Yes, that’s top of Jane’s ‘to do’ list – find someone with a better attitude and aptitude.
Though Jane loves to dine out, she’s careful never to consume a morsel over the calorie limit imposed by her Victoria Beckham-inspired diet plan, so she always calls ahead to ensure the restaurant knows she’s coming (no further explanation is required – her name speaks a thousand, acerbic words). If she does slip up and over-indulge, say by letting a rogue chunk of avocado pass her lips or pigging out on a particularly large serving of steamed broccoli, it’s OK – she’s got her surgeon’s mobile number saved on her diamond-encrusted phone’s speed dial list. Anyway, she must dash – she’s got a three o’clock mani-pedi and then a personal shopper appointment at Tiffany’s…
Bur Dubai Brenda
If you want to meet Brenda, you’ll have to join the queue – she’s possibly the busiest, most stressed-out woman in Dubai. Not only does she hold down a full-time job, but she also has a kid, and – unlike every other family in the UAE – no maid. She refuses to feel sorry for herself, though: she worked hard to get to where she is in her career and there’s no way she’s going to let that go; plus she’s fully aware that if she were back in her home country, a maid wouldn’t even be an option – so why should living here be any different? Except that it is kind of different, if only because everyone else has one. When her friends talk about popping out for a drink in the evening, she wonders how she could ever find the childcare to be able to join them.
In her university friends’ jealous emails quizzing her on her glamorous Dubai life, she feels sickened with left wing guilt, and replies saying that, to be honest, she’s desperate to move away from this hypocritical hole as soon as possible. She cannot stand the thought of her son turning into an expat brat, and so a strictly disciplined regime is in place. Or at least, that’s what she’d do if she had time.
On the odd occasion she finds a spare second to go shopping, she’ll take Ben with her, bribing him with the promise of a McDonald’s for tea if he promises not to whinge the whole way round the mall. Naturally, this doesn’t work, but she takes him there anyway just to shut him up, and then proceeds to feel guilty for the rest of the day, both about stuffing him full of junk food and forgoing her principles.
To Brenda, shopping is like a holiday – a great idea in theory, but actually pretty stressful and depressing in reality. As she listlessly thumbs through the racks of mumsy skirts in M&S, she longs for the days when she could skip into Topshop and snap up a size 8 miniskirt without a care in the world. Because Brenda hasn’t always been this person: she used to be a real party animal. On the odd occasion that she manages to wangle a babysitter and go out, she really lets her hair down, pretending for just one night that she’s still the old Brenda. Of course, the fact that the following morning’s pounding headache is accompanied by Ben banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan serves as an all-too-stark reminder that times have changed and there’s no going back.
Brenda’s marriage, too, has seen better days. Although she and Bobby love each other dearly, the hectic Dubai lifestyle has done nothing for their relationship. She finds herself resenting his carefree attitude to domestic life on a daily basis, while he can’t help but secretly think she’s let herself go, compared to that gorgeous Jane woman his show-off boss Jeff is married to. Brenda, meanwhile, cannot stand Jane, who represents everything she hopes she will never become (although she can’t help but harbour a tiny, secret desire to be her for a day – just to see what it’d be like having all that time on her hands…).
Mirdif Mary is one of those women who everyone loves but can’t quite get their head around. The noughties’ answer to a hippy, she embraces all things eco-friendly. Her modest villa uses solar power and she grows as many herbs and veggies as she can – she tries not to think too much about the environmental irresponsibility of watering the plants so often, living in the middle of a desert – but no matter; she does her best. Besides, if Mike wasn’t here to help the government find ways to be greener and preserve the natural environment, all that knowledge he gained on his year-long geological trip to Fiji during university would be wasted – and Mary hates waste.
Since giving birth to the twins (in a paddling pool, at home, with no drugs – natch), she has cut her voluntary work at the animal shelter back to two mornings a week because, though she’d never admit this to Mike (who she married in a pagan ceremony on the top of a Scottish mountain), she does have a weakness for the goss that she gleans from the weekly coffee mornings she attends.
One of Mary’s few indulgences is having a maid, Maricel, although she doesn’t live in. Mary tries to ensure that Maricel just sticks to housework – the thought of another woman bringing up her brood is just too much to bear. She consoles herself with the thought that at least she’s taught Maricel to use only organic cleaning solutions (a quick splash of lemon juice or, in extreme cases, vinegar, really does work a charm), and the knowledge that if someone else is doing the chores, she’s got more time to bond with her children.
As well as being an organic Martha Stewart, Mary prides herself on being something of an expert on the UAE’s hidden green spots. A blissful day for her would be chilling out in Al Mamzar Park, lying on an old tartan rug while the kids run wild on the grass and beach, with the luxury of being able to head home for some nourishing homemade cabbage soup at the end of the afternoon.
She likes to bring her children up (she has two boys, Marcus and Mackenzie, and a girl, Marie) in as bohemian a way as possible. Rules are kept to a minimum – really, if you’re setting a good example, they shouldn’t need to have restrictions imposed on them – and she doesn’t bother with things like cutting their hair. Although, come to think of it, Brenda did think Marcus was a girl at Ben’s birthday party last week, but she did seem pretty stressed. Actually, she really must tell Brenda about these fantastic herbal teas she’s found in a tiny shop in Bur Dubai, they do wonders for one’s nerves…
Oh look, there she goes! Ranches Rebecca can be seen at 6am most mornings, jogging around the Ranches with her bright yellow, three-wheeled Phil and Ted Sport buggy, before heading home to merrily gobble up the healthy breakfast of fruit, plain yoghurt and muesli, with a freshly-made smoothie for the little one, that her live-in maid has prepared.
The thought of a child getting in the way of maintaining her healthy lifestyle has never even crossed Rebecca’s mind – in fact, she’s overjoyed that little Ralphie has come into her life. Because of him, her body clock has now adjusted to getting up at 5.30am, before the sun’s too hot to exercise in, and being able to take him running with her gives her an even better workout. Besides, ensuring that he’s eating the right stuff is an added incentive to keep up her own fabulously healthy diet.
Before Ralph, Rebecca was a busy career woman, running her own online retail business from home and meeting Richard, her hubby, in the gym each evening, after he’d finished his day’s work as an HR consultant. Nowadays, she has let her business slide because she has realised there are more important things in life: she wouldn’t have missed the sheer joy of seeing Ralphie take his first tottering step for the world.
Every Thursday without fail, Rebecca and Richard go on a romantic dinner date together – this does a wonderful job of keeping the spark alive in their loving relationship. They don’t bother schlepping over the city to one of the five star hotels though – as keen horse riders, they’re members of the polo club next door, so they just nip round there. They’ll happily while away entire weekends on the beach, camping there if they can’t be bothered to drive home at the end of the day (it’s become something of a family tradition to always keep a tent, Calor gas stove and sleeping bags in the boot of their 4x4 – they feel that this kind of spontaneity helps keep them young). In fact, Rebecca feels rather proud that Ralph had his first ‘sleeping under the stars’ experience at the tender age of four months.
As she’s a young mum and she only moved to the Ranches once she’d fallen pregnant, Rebecca has chums all over Dubai. On the odd occasion that she meets up with them, usually at the Lime Tree Café, Rebecca’s keenly aware of Jane’s snooty assumption that a Ranches life isn’t worth living, and this is one of the few things that annoy her about Dubai. After all, since the new road system was put into place, it’s perfectly easy to zip over to Jumeirah; it’s just that she doesn’t choose to do it that often. Why would she bother, when everything that she needs (including a JESS school which, if she didn’t live here, she wouldn’t have a prayer of getting Ralphie into) is within a five-minute jog of her villa?
All that agro is quickly forgotten with a quick bike ride though: feeling the warm air rush against your dewy complexion while zipping around the Ranches’ blissfully flat surfaces and taking in the pretty landscaping really helps put things in perspective, after all.