As you may recall, back in November I went to the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix at Yas Marina; an event that flows as smoothly as its full aforementioned name. Forget the fact that I am an oil-blooded petrol head who has not missed a single Formula 1 Grand Prix in 16 years, my blog focussed more on what the people watching on television would have seen.
If you can think back that far, I passed note that the way people dress and behave at the event leaves those watching at home scratching their heads and asking their wives “but I thought you weren’t allowed to do that over there.” It is understandable, then, that discussions about the UAE and its cultural practices invariably lead to much fist thumping and “I told you so” chatter at the typical British bar. What are the rules? Are you allowed to roam the streets naked or not?
Of course, any country which is centre stage for a world-wide televised event will make an effort to dress itself up and give the impression that it is something else. Take for example the London Olympics last year. My staff at work were watching the opening ceremony and soon bombarded me with questions about the grand old city. They were all in awe of the magnificent spectacle and for the first time had actually seen what London looked like.
Being the dream-smashing realist that I am, they were soon reduced to tears when I told them that London was nothing like what they saw on the box. No, fireworks don’t go off every night; it’s not all clean gutters and freshly painted road markings. There are places like Streatham, Crystal Palace and Hackney. London is as dirty and as grimey as any other city in the world. Stratford, I said, which is where the main Olympic complex was, was the seventh circle of Hell only eight years ago. Under-developed, laden with abandoned warehouses and full to overflowing with narcotics paraphernalia and dead gangsters.
Then there were the people. My men saw all the pretty girls wearing athletics costumes, all the strapping young men in shell-suits and the old athletic legends lighting torches and driving speedboats. When the camera’s zoomed in on the crowds in the grandstand, only the prettiest and most chisel-jawed would suffice. Where were all the obese people? Where were the toothless paupers? These people exist and are as much a part of Britain as the Queen. No, my staff were convinced that this is what London is all the time; beauty, glamour and fireworks.
So, those of you back home, I have a question: what do you think the UAE is like? Well, to answer the question I want you to type “The Only Way Is Essex Cast Members In Dubai” into Google and tell me what comes up. Done it? Right. The most recent case of false advertising was only last week. Some air-headed, inflatable Z-lister called Amy Childs was staying at a hotel in Dubai. The same one, it turns out, that I got engaged in. There she is poolside, drink in hand, with her fake-tanned, drawn-on-muscled Ken-doll non-husband of a man. As luck would have it, a professional photographer happened to be passing by so of course a quick photo-shoot was commissioned.
There was Miss. Childs, wearing two pieces of strategically placed string to cover her modesty whilst Ken kissed various parts of her on the sun-lounger. Then, in an effort to dupe us as to her intellect, Miss. Childs was snapped reading a book by the pool bar. The keen-eyed may have noticed that the book was actually upside down. But luckily she was still able to “Spot” the dog. So, in the national UK press we were provided with a full-page spread of an unmarried couple drinking, kissing and canoodling and demonstrating no respect for the local laws.
This happens a lot. Footballers, Reality TV people (I refuse to say “stars”), pop stars, Lewis Hamilton’s…it seems that Dubai is a place where the wealthy can come and strip off and do as they please. How nice it must be to be above the law.
Conversely, last month an Irish welder and a British recruitment officer were sentenced to three months in prison for allegedly having sex in the back of a Dubai taxi. The story has been “well” documented in the British media and indeed over here too. But there are serious flaws with the case. I’ve written about this before also, but a Police-approved medical expert confirmed that there was no sign of intercourse having taken place. Furthermore, the taxi driver was a charlatan and has changed his story thrice, and not once has it matched the details given by the arresting officer who attended the scene.
No, according to the defence, the taxi driver detoured in an effort to make more money. The Irish welder, smart to his antics, spoke up and told the driver that he wouldn’t be paying the extra money. Because the expats had however been consuming alcohol they were an easy target. His false testimony, together with the mismatched story from the officer has landed a potentially innocent couple in prison. They are charged with consuming alcohol, public indecency and sex outside of marriage. They are currently appealing and I hope, for their sake and the reputation of the UAE, that true justice is served.
This, then, a case of words against words with no video or photographic proof either way is in direct contrast to the tabloid-documented display of Miss. Amy Childs and her terracotta, pencil outlined Ken-doll. In The Daily Mail, the story of the arrested couple and the Childs “photo-shoot” appeared three pages apart, so really, what do you make of the UAE?
Some people won’t come here because they are afraid of having their collars felt for eating a Twix on the Metro, but others can’t wait to get on the next flight over because they think they’ll bump into Kim Kardashian getting frisky on the beach. That’s why people argue about what this place is really like, no one knows for sure, not even the people that live here.
So, in conclusion, the UAE is kind of what you make it. You can do whatever you like so long as you pretend to be wealthy, pretend to have no talent and hire a photographer to follow you around all week. You will, apart from a few brain-dead zealots looking for autographs because they’ve mistaken you for the guy who voices The Bachelor, be left alone. If, however, you want to be a normal person who earns a modest wage and can’t afford an entourage or 20 gallons of orange body paint then you should really watch your back and always be sure to carry extra money for the cheating taxi driver.
Surviving is purely a game of percentages…