The only time Dubai appears in the news these days is either about some wallet- whopping hotel that has just launched SOLID GOLD iPads (for reals) or some British chick getting thrown in jail for a hot’n’heavy session in a taxi. Neither tale tempted me to fly to the sandpit shrine to oil wealth.
That was until a good friend moved there last year, and after putting off a visit for a full 12 months – too broke, too busy, too pale – a group of us booked on to a red-eye flight to the Arabian super-city to experience Dubai’s supposedly supercharged expat life. In a culture so at odds with itself – alcohol is both banned yet aggressive drinking is encouraged – I was informed by my PR-ing friend that Dubai life is mainly “drunken” and Thursday nights are “all about after-work drinks”. Great, I cried! I love the Square Mile’s Abacus bar at the end of the week, so I knew I’d fit right in.
And so, after burning our milky Essex skin for two days in front of some Sheikh’s residence, the Dubai Night Out (DNO) finally approached. After some vicious pre-gaming on my mate’s balcony involving three bottles of thick airport-bought pink wine, we head to Barasti bar – “an award- winning vibrant beach venue”. I’m assured it’ll be stuffed to the gills with expats on the lash (and intelligent young women like us, naturally) as we troll through the sand. It’s like a zoo inside Barasti – but the best zoo ever where all the animals are let out of their cages and rampage drunkenly into other enclosures. Curiously sober men form magnetic forcefields around drunk girls, all writhing about quasi-sexily in the sand and tripping over flattened sunbeds and discarded bottles. I’ve long given up trying to get hammered on weak imported beers or score any modicum of attention doing a glassy-eyed slut drop, and find a sweaty teenager to chat to instead.
Aforementioned sweaty teenager is a medical student from Iran who lives on The Palm, to which he gestures loftily over his shoulder. The student and I have one of those meaningless, deep conversations that you can only have when you’ve had too many jars and you’re slumped across a sticky day-bed. We move from the Arab Spring to the environmental cost of capitalism to the cultural hegemony of Dubai society. Bad times: I’ve sacked off the DNO for a lengthy conversation about the Iranian arms programme, while squinting over at Atlantis (that super-pimped up five-star hotel), twinkling in the background.
You could say that I concluded the DNO by petting a stray cat and peeling friends off the arms of anonymous men, but that would only be half of the story. We were still feeling the after effects of it a good 24 hours afterwards, when we found ourselves face-to-face with the Emirati fuzz. But rather than being done for heavy petting in Barasti (which obviously NEVER happened), we were reporting an iPhone that had mysteriously gone missing in the bar.
Number of stereotypes exploded: zero. Number of drinks consumed in what is basically a really, really hot Birmingham: countless.