When I first started UAE Uncut (under its original Google friendly guise of Living in the UAE) I envisaged posting one missive a week. I like to pretend that I am a bona fide writer cum columnist and the notion that I could churn out a thousand or so words each week made me believe that I could one day make a living out of it. Of course, if I had stuck to my guns and kept to my initial target I would only be on 48 blog posts, and that is unacceptable. Instead, I sit here today typing out blog number 123, a number that many a self-involved poser would love oh so much to have as a car registration plate.
So, in honour of this numerical anomaly I wish to talk today about numbers and their role in modern UAE pop-culture. Let’s begin with my first experience of such vanity exchange. One of the first things I ever had to do when I arrived on the sandy shores of the Emirates was to get a phone. Such a thing was easy for someone who cares so little about them. After selecting my handset I popped over to Etisalat and asked to buy a SIM card. The shop turned into a game show studio as a blonde-haired siren in a cocktail dress waltzed onto the stage brandishing ten sparkling envelopes. The host, a greasy haired spiv called Amir who was wearing a glittery blazer, asked me to take my pick of the available numbers printed on each of the envelopes. A drum roll ensued as the spot light followed my hand to the envelope of choice.
Clearly unhappy with my selection, the Family Fortune failure tone sounded and Amir sniggered at me. It would appear that of all the possible phone numbers I could have selected I had picked a bad one. Apparently 101 2847 is about as neat and as trendy as using words such as “neat” and “trendy” in genuine social surroundings. Amir, presumably a person with as much personality depth as Kim Kardashian, asked if I would like to pick another number. Why, I asked, would I want to do that? I don’t care what digits appear in my number. It doesn’t matter. No one actually dials or even sees a phone number these days; they are all saved in your iPhone so you don’t have to waste time pressing digits.
As it turns out, those who lack in the phallic-inches and self esteem department actually spend a lot of time fussing over such things. How empty and pointless must your life be that you will actually put yourself on a waiting list, and then pay, for a phone number like 111 9999? What possible benefits can this have?
Perplexed by such things, I hit the mall and interrupted people’s days by asking them if they had ever gone gooey at the knees or had suffered a hot flush after being shown someone’s numerically consistent phone number. Out of the 234 imaginary people that I didn’t really ask in Al Ain Mall, not one of them said that they were even remotely impressed. They were all, I like to think, as unmoved as me. I would genuinely like to hear from people who have gone to the trouble of acquiring a “good” phone number and hear what they have to say in their defence.
It’s not just phone numbers, either. Car license plates are also a must-have fashion accessory that serves as much use as an appendix. In the UAE, a license plate typically has five numbers that are issued numerically to each car that comes off the freighter. Of course, between 10000 and 99999 there will be plenty of so-called “boring” numbers, like 27198 and 46139. These are given to us commoners and let’s the rest of the UAE know that we are meaningless drones who lead boring lives and sit as high up the social ladder as a cabbage. The special numbers, like 10000, 77777 and 12345 etc are put on the market and sold for a price of such magnitude that even the Sultan of Brunei would need time to mull it over before writing out a cheque.
But there’s more; you can, for an even higher cost, purchase a license plate that only has four numbers, or three, or two and if you’re mega rich, I’m talking about Roman Abramovich being a window cleaner by comparison, you can have just one solitary number. There are, however, only ten available, including “0”.
Be honest, what do you think when you see someone driving around with a “special” number plate? Do you get out at the traffic lights and ask for an autograph? Do you nod your head sagely and say “What a guy” or do you just think of the worst word in the English language and mutter it quietly under your breath so that you can’t be lip read by accident?
Being a contented member of the general public I can vouch that I have never, ever heard anyone of intelligence openly praise anyone else on their choice of phone number or license plate number. It is a façade of insecurity as far as I am concerned, a status symbol to disguise a dark truth. These are troubled times with seemingly every country in the world on the precipice of total financial ruin. When the dollar implodes and the USA eventually tumbles down the fiscal cliff the only important numbers that will be worth looking at will be the ones in your bank account, in red, behind the minus sign.
Of course, I don’t mind the number-lovers, in fact I owe them. If they were modest and normal, like you and I, then I wouldn’t have much to write about and this would only be blog post 49.