wknd. asks a few Dubai residents how much does where they live matter
Dubai-based investment banker Danish Chotani has a sure-shot way of selecting who he wants to be friends with when he and his wife Azzal meet new people. When he is asked where he lives, which, according to him, is usually the fifth or sixth question, he replies he lives in Sharjah. “But... your wife said you live somewhere around Marina?” the grill continues. He coolly counters, “She is lying. We live in Sharjah.”
What unfolds next is one of two possible scenarios. Scenario A: the new contacts mumble something like “it was good meeting you” and move as far away as they can. Scenario B: they continue talking — genuinely. No prizes for guessing who makes the cut in the friendship stakes.
“It embarrasses me and sometimes even amuses me what my husband does,” says Azzal Chotani, “but it does filter out our company. If people don’t want to be our friends just because they think we live in (what they perceive to be) the wrong side of town, we are actually saved the bother of socialising with some idiots.”
In Dubai, you are what you eat, what you wear and also where you live, says socialite Jawahar Chhoda who often rubs shoulders with the who’s who of Dubai. A resident of Bur Dubai since 1974, he has friends in all parts of Dubai, from Deira to Emirates Hills; the latter, he claims, is currently the most sought-after locality in Dubai. “Those who live in Emirates Hills look down upon those from the Palm, who look down upon Jumeirah, who look down upon Marina, who look down upon Mirdif, who look down upon Bur Dubai, who look down upon Karama, who look down upon Satwa, who look down upon Sharjah… and on and on. So there is a whole hierarchy where people are evaluated on the basis of their address.”
Mad construction and expansion, fuelled by tax-free living and easy credit has given rise to the Dubai Dreams for many in the expat community — an over-the-top, luxurious lifestyle that wouldn’t otherwise be possible in their own countries.
When Mark Letterman moved from New York to Dubai two years ago, he heard people say that the Marina and JBR community were the places to be in. So he didn’t even consider any other place. “I would probably not have been able to afford a similar place back home in New York City where the rents are ridiculously high. My home in JBR is always the party pad as it is close to the beach and The Walk.” In other words, his address is his ticket to social popularity. “I know it sounds a little superficial but anyone who would tell you otherwise would be lying.”
Marina is the best place to be in if you are young, single and in town for a short time, Chhoda says, but it is the address in the Emirates Hills or the Palm, if you are looking for a ticket to the big league. “Earlier it was Jumeirah, but now the whole focus, especially in the expatriate community, has shifted to spots like Emirates Hills,” he confirms, before talking about a telling anecdote. “There’s somebody from Emirates Hills whom I invited for a party at my place in Bur Dubai, but she didn’t turn up. Not once but thrice. When I called and asked her why, she said, ‘Oh it’s such an effort to come to Bur Dubai!’ I thought it was rather rude.”
For many of us, our address is just a detail, a series of numbers and letters, a place to crawl into after braving a hard day at work. And for many others it is a thing of not just joy, but pride and, sometimes, even ego. It is their ticket to the big league, a proclamation that they have arrived. And it certainly makes you desirable company at social events.
Atinirmal Pagani can attest. After living in Bur Dubai for over 20 years, he moved to Emirates Hills as he always wanted to own his own villa where his whole family could live under one roof. “It’s like trying to live in one of the pockets of LA versus trying to live in Beverly Hills,” he says, adding, “There is an obvious judgement that comes with the address. People think this guy must be financially sorted out. People do look at you differently — but it is more of the superficial Dubai that ranks you.”
At a particular event recently, Atinirmal was introduced to a gentleman... “As soon as he heard my address, I was his new best friend. He ordered more drinks and continued to chat me up for the next two hours,” he recollects. Personally, though, he points out that judging people by their address is pointless and shallow.
As someone who has lived on both sides of the divide — old and new Dubai — what does he think of the living styles in both the areas? “Both have their own, distinctive personalities. In the Hills, I have luxury, space and comfort but I do miss the entire bazaar feel of living in Bur Dubai and the human interaction, which is lacking in my current neighbourhood.”
There is not just a judgement of your financial status but also cultural and regional connotations attached to addresses, hence the terms Jumeirah Jane (read: European), Karama Kumari (South Asian) and Satwa Sally (Philipina). But that is perhaps also because, as individuals, we tend to flock together with those who are like us in more ways than one.
An exception to the rule is Dutchman Hink Huisman, who lives on the outskirts of Satwa, “but closer to Jumeirah 1”, on Al Mina Road. “If you asked someone who lives in Springs or even Deira if they would be surprised that a Westerner is living in Satwa, they’d probably say yes,” says Hink, adding, “They will probably think I have a bad job or I’m either too poor or too stingy. I can understand why people would do that but they are the same sort of people who wouldn’t say it directly to your face anyway.”
Hink, who moved to his present address eight years ago, loves the liveliness and soul of the place — people going about their business on the sidewalks, the restaurants and the sheer convenience. He loves the organised chaos. “I wouldn’t want to live in any other area as it would be made of metal and concrete blocks. That was my criteria: wanting to live in a real city.”
Ever so often he finds people perplexed by his choice of residence. “There are plenty of people, be they from the gora [yes, he knows the term South Asians use to describe Westerners when they want to talk about them without the goras knowing!] community or the South Asian one, who would judge. Let’s face it, we don’t have the Jumeirah Janes expression for nothing!” But such people, Hink says, are not his cuppa tea. “If they had a few bright cells in their brains, they’d know it is all too ridiculous. I would just laugh at them.”
Naweed Siddiqui, who moved to Dubai from Pakistan in 1990, agrees, although she says that this kind of judgement isn’t just a Dubai thing. “You find it in all cities across the globe. Be it London or Lahore, Delhi or Dubai. The difference is that while there is a stark difference in the living conditions between downmarket and upscale localities in most other cities, it is not the case in Dubai. It is a choice between good, better and best.”
It makes sense. While certain parts in New Dubai may be flashier and costlier like Manhattan, old Dubai is certainly no Bronx.