Think Britain's obsessed with money? Try Dubai

There's a long way to go before we approach this level of raw, red-blooded capitalism

Share

While I was away, Jan Morris, the celebrated travel writer, said that she felt Britain had become a nasty, materialistically driven, country, where politicians are venal, the police are corrupt and where money is king. She should try going to Dubai. I have just returned after a trip to this economic powerhouse of the Emirates, and I have to say that, whatever Ms Morris may feel about her homeland, Britain has a long way to go before we can even approach Dubai's mean level of raw, red-blooded capitalism.

There is no mistaking where Dubai's priorities lie, and they don't feel abashed about it, either. In his book outlining a vision for his people, the ruling monarch, Sheikh Mohammed, talks largely about building a country which becomes a genuine economic force in the world. There is not so much about creating the instruments of an open, free society. It is, to the British visitor, a rather baffling place, inspiring awe with its grand ambition, and yet leaving one enervated by its superficiality, and the overweening quest for money and status.

The cityscape is spectacular, like Manhattan on steroids, or a version of Gotham created by someone who grew up playing Sim City. On the seven-lane freeway heading into downtown, through a canyon formed from skyscrapers, you can imagine yourself in a remake of Blade Runner. But, most of all, you wonder what goes on 75 floors above ground. The answer, more often than not, is the pursuit of money.

Daily life is hardly replete with cultural references. Billboards are there for the hard sell. I was particularly struck by a poster that is emblazoned on the side of several extremely tall buildings in Dubai. It depicts a man in a suit with a rather desperate “trust me” expression. He is called Mr Kalyan and he pledges that “the history of jewellery retail in UAE will be rewritten”. Blimey. A bold claim, I thought. Dubai itself doesn't have much of a history. I can imagine, however, that jewellery retail has played a significant part in it.

Every one of the world's major brands has a presence in Dubai's cavernous malls. (Is it true, by the way, that the heating, lighting and music in malls all over the world is calculated to engender depression, leaving shoppers to believe the only way to cheer themselves up is to buy stuff? Surely not.) Many of London's top dining venues have a presence in Dubai, and virtually every restaurant chain has an outlet there. Very few pay respect to local tastes and culture, importing their own versions of Western gastronomy. I was particularly interested to see a branch of TGI Fridays. Surely, if they wanted to ingratiate themselves with the indigenous clientele, it should be called Thank Allah It's Thursday. (The weekend begins on Friday.)

It is all too easy to look down on Dubai's obsession with money, the chrome Bentleys and the bling and the billionaires. Jan Morris believes that  modern Britain is heading down the same track. It depresses her greatly. “I used to feel so proud,” she said. “The public seem to think only of spending money.” She should visit somewhere where that really is the case.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician / Helpdesk - 2nd / 3rd Line

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Application Developer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in the centre of Glasgow,...

Recruitment Genius: Production Engineering Manager

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Joinery Shop Foreman

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Joinery Shop Foreman is required to join a p...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For the sake of the millions of girls who miss vital schooling during their periods, we must dismantle the 'menstrual taboo'

Emily Wilson Smith
 

Rick Santorum’s presidential bid isn’t funny, it’s terrifying

Sirena Bergman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada