‘Are you alright?’ the concerned enquiry quivers over the phone line, courtesy of a friend back home in Blighty. Sure, why wouldn’t I be? ‘It’s all over the papers about Dubai…’
No doubt many of you have participated in a similar conversation. Having read press reports that decree the apocalypse has descended on Dubai, our well-meaning buddies are obviously picturing us all begging for bread in the deserted streets, a harsh wind whipping the debris of the fallen city as packs of rabid camels close in for the kill. Sweet that they should worry so for our wellbeing, I suppose. It’s almost a shame to have to tell them that I’m actually supping champagne at the opening of the latest glittery new bar, and that I’m fighting a losing battle to turn away a seemingly endless supply of wagyu and foie gras.
Now I’m not denying that Dubai is having financial difficulties, just like the majority of the world right now. Plenty of us are trying to be a bit more savvy and save. But when the British press in particular keeps harping on about the imminent collapse of ‘cash-strapped Dubai’, I find myself confused. You see, I’m pretty sure that when I went to Reflets par Gagnaire the other day, the place was packed with people dropping a thousand dirhams per head. I’m yet to get that elusive table outside at the Rivington Grill, because there’s always a waiting list, even mid-week. A colleague went to the Burj al Arab recently – not the most reasonably priced establishment – and it was full of patrons paying hundreds of dirhams for a piece of fish.
Grossly decadent or not, the point is that there are plenty of people still spending money here. You need only to consider the typical price of a meal in a Dubai restaurant to realise that lack of demand isn’t exactly forcing prices down. It’s hardly the dire state of affairs shouted gleefully from the front of UK newspapers day in, day out.
The problem, I suspect, is Dubai’s lack of respect for that age-old Brit tradition: self-deprecation. Take this line from the now-infamous Sunday Times article purporting to present the extent of Dubai’s debt: ‘The city state that grew too fast was finally facing its comeuppance.’ Dubai likes fireworks, it likes ‘biggest in the worlds’, it likes shameless gimmicks and, most of all, it likes to shout about it. This does not sit well with the Brits. The Brits think Dubai is a show-off. The Brits want everyone to think Dubai is being taught a very British lesson.
Funny really, when you consider how many Brits have left the chilly isles to settle here. Sorry chaps, but the party’s not over just yet.