twice the difference

Dubai Shopping Festival is under way. This, as far as I’m aware, seems to be the only instance of a society having its main yearly festival explicitly devoted to commerce, rather than at least paying lip service to something else, like religion. The future?

To celebrate, Carrefour, a hypermarket in the City Centre mall, has come up with a nice example of extreme consumerism: FIND IT CHEAPER & GET TWICE THE DIFFERENCE! In normal times, the place is an unruly tangle of shoppers playing dodgem with giant trolleys on weekend afternoons and evenings, but now the scrum starts as early as eleven in the morning. When I was a kid, crowd comparison used to benchmark upwards to Oxford Street on the last Saturday before Christmas, but now London seems rural, almost bovine, in comparison; the only place I’ve been where normal movement is so impaired is the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Or parts of Calcutta.

It has its advantages, though, if you travel light and raid: two years ago I picked up a printer and scanner, and last year a colour TV and DVD player. This year’s prize should be a digital video camera, to record the arrival of the baby girl next month.

The downside to all this, which I hear in a slow rumble from those who’ve been here a long time, is that for all the shopping and other business opportunities, the heart has gone out of Dubai. I had dinner the other night with a middle-aged Syrian whose family moved here when he was six, and who has lived here on and off (though also near Toronto) since then. In those days, he said, Dubai was two villages, one on either side of the creek, and everybody got along and helped each other. Then it grew, and it was exciting for a while; but now, in the last two or three years, nobody calls unless they want to do business with you.

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