9 things people living outside Dubai get wrong about Dubai
Setting the record straight…
“Oh you live in Dubai?” Is a phrase most expats will be used to hearing on journeys back to their home country. It’s usually a warning siren before a conversational projectile of ill-informed stereotyping is mortar shelled directly into your ear canal. Something like “how many Ferraris have you got then?” or “is it true you’re not allowed to wear flip-flops in the supermarket?” These are opinions formed from a collage of half-remembered tabloid headlines and reality TV shows, that deliberately laser-focus on a microscopically small segment of Dubai society. It’s not without its faults, nowhere is, but there are few states so transparently and aggressively seeking to work on them. And whilst it’s tempting to keep the truth of Dubai’s many treasures as our little secret, of far more import is the duty to honour the integrity of this city we call home.
These are just some of the things people living outside Dubai get wrong about Dubai
It never rains
It does rain, it absolutely demonstrably does rain in Dubai, especially in the coastal areas (as is the case for the city of Dubai). Not only does it rain here – in other neighbouring parts of the UAE, it actually snows. And whilst we’re on the subject of rain, it’s probably worth noting that in order to deliver-iver-iver on that anticipation for precipitation, the UAE often flexes its meteorological muscles by actually MAKING IT RAIN. Not in a hip-hop video, hand gesture for flagrantly parting with disposable income kind of way, in an actual, cloud seeding, previously the preserve of demi-deities and superheroes, controlling the weather, way. In fact according to an article in Gulf News, reporting on the International Rain Enhancement Forum — “the UAE performs about 1,000 hours of cloud seeding on average each year”. Of course, you need clouds in which to seed, but the silver lining is — the research conducted alongside all of this is a huge boost to the global bank of climate data.
Dubai is a country
We might be living in a more interconnected world now, and indeed one where almost the full accumulated sphere of human wisdom can be accessed via a few taps of a smartphone, but for some at least, it really doesn’t seem to have translated in an increased likelihood of picking up that blue pie in Trivial Pursuit. If you’re one of these self-declared nonchalant atlas-dodgers, please be aware that Dubai is an emirate within the country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And we appreciate this may be confusing, but it is also a city within the UAE. It is, one, it is the other, it is both, but it is not a country.
Dubai can be expensive. So can Paris, Mumbai, Sydney or pretty much any modern cosmopolitan city you care to think of. It’s not necessarily expensive though. You can spend a day on one of the many, immaculate public beaches for absolutely free, you can pick up a Dhs6 shawarma for lunch, or any number of Dhs15 birianis; catch the spectacular fountain shows at The Pointe or the Burj Khalifa – gratis; you can get big change back from Dhs50 for entrance to Global Village, Miracle Gardens, or Dubai Garden Glow; you can rent Careem bikes and meander the miles of picturesque cycle pathways; hike the highlands; live it up at the ladies’ nights; trawl the souks; meditate in the museums; take abra rides; chat over chaat in Karama; there’s diversity in the rental market; public transport; there’s an abundance of happy hours and voucher apps for soiree-ing on a shoestring; and petrol, compared to almost everywhere else in the world, is scandalously cheap.
There’s no green
Ok this is correct. You’ve got us. Apart from the miles of palm tree-lined boulevards, the acres of open public park space throughout the city, the irrigated gardens, Green Planet — the rainforest in a giant glass box, island idylls, the mangroves, the wetlands of Ras Al Khor, the Safari Park, Expo City, alfresco markets, the Al Qudra lakes district, verdant pub gardens, tournament-tier golf courses, pond parks, dog parks, community compounds and the ghaf forests of Mushrif, you’re absolutely right, there’s no greenery in Dubai.
There’s no culture
If you’re looking for a new clutch bag, and you spend the entirety of your search in the microwave section of Jumbo Electronics, you’re unlikely to secure the swag. It’s the same for those labouring under the misconception that Dubai has no culture. You’re just not looking in the right places. We understand that it might seem like the city erupted overnight, its recent growth is almost unparalleled — but its bones are old. Really old. The UAE has excavated archeological sites that date back to the neolithic period, and the rich tapestry of craft and custom, of storytelling and innovation that evolved in the intervening millennia between then and now can easily be seen in the preserved traditions and artifacts of that journey. You can interact with fascinating examples of this, as well as talk with charismatic experts on Emirati culture at places like Dubai’s Al Fahidi district or the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). Add to that Dubai’s thriving art scene — there’s the gallery district of Alserkal Avenue; the annual arts festival; street art of Karama, City Walk and La Mer; there’s an opera house; a Golden Visa programme to make incubating promising international talent easier; the local music ecosystem spans the gamut of underground to homegrown pop stars; and there are museums of the past, museums of the future and museums of selfies (shhh, that’s arguably culture). If you have the impression that Dubai has no culture, it’s probably because that’s what you want to believe, which, ironically, is a singularly uncultured way to view this part of the world.
It’s super strict
We see you international media with your facile characterisation of Dubai both as an archaic super strict state with an unnavigable series of rules and regulations and as the contradictory land of unbridled hedonism — a playground for Love Island contestants and Instagram pouters. Which is a dizzying level of cognitive dissonance even for the tabloid cardinals of clickbait. The truth, as is often the case, is found somewhere between these two poles. Tolerance — has always been an explicitly central part of the UAE mission, and recently there have been sweeping legal reforms (specifically for the non-muslim community and tourists) unprecedented in the region relating to subjects such as divorce, cohabitation, possession of narcotics and children being born outside of wedlock. Religious freedoms are protected, with worship spaces permitted for all major religions; women are given their own private spaces on public transport; and the laws that are in place to protect citizens, residents and visitors — see it consistently ranked as one of the safest places on earth.
Everybody is rich
A fun fact for those of you living outside Dubai — the banks here send us a text message every time we use our debit or credit cards, with the transactional amount (and the updated balance) we’ve just dropped on whatever whim has charmed its way into our wallet. The accumulated live-feed can make for somber reading after a night on the town or in those dark hours leading up to payday. And it’s all down to those frilly causative trappings behind Dubai’s dizzyingly high quality of life — the Michelin Star restaurants, the beach clubs, the theme parks and VR hubs, the cafes, safaris and (what feels like) an almost 1:1 ratio of malls to residents. You can save money here, we’ve heard rumours that indeed many people do, but it’s also a great place to spend. Life is for the living after all.
It’s always hot
Look we realise ‘hot’ is a subjective term. A January day of 15ºC might seem like an apocalypse-heralding heatwave to a resident of the UK’s Stoke-on-Trent, but we can borderline guarantee you that if the same temperature sweeps across Jumeirah, you’re just as likely to see fur coats and husky sleds as you are to see singlets and hot pants. And for a more objective response to the ‘it’s always hot’ claim — winter temperatures in the desert, and the mountainous climes of Dubai (check out our guide to Hatta, for what you can get up to in these areas) do drop down into single digits. Even in the height of summer you can still find snow and let-it-go lols on the indoor slopes of Ski Dubai. And then there’s our office, which because of an ongoing 40 year air-con cold war, frequently matches those climatic record lows.
It just buys stuff, it doesn’t make anything
Nope. Just nope. Dubai is at the razor’s edge of almost every future tech division Chat GPT would care to list. It’s a heavyweight in the spheres of artificial intelligence, food security, health, land reclamation, climate science, blockchain and metaverse development, space travel (Hope Probe, 2050 Mission to Mars and two Emirati astronauts and counting), it was a pivotal player in the control and subdual of the global pandemic, it has pioneered vertical farming practices, renewable energy projects and autonomous transport programmes. And it’s not just the materials, it’s the minds guiding the achievements and dreaming big that are the resource most worth celebrating. Dubai doesn’t just make stuff, it’s making the future, right here, right now.