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23 June 2013

How To Write About Dubai...

Always use the word iconic in the opening paragraph. Other words to mention are ‘gold,’ ‘silver,’ ‘shifting sands,’ ‘timeless,’ ‘credit crunch,’ ‘richer neighbour Abu Dhabi’ and ‘gleaming airport.’ In fact it is imperative to start any feature about Dubai by mentioning the airport. Some writers never leave the airport yet still manage to produce well-rounded articles.

Remember to write about your initial culture shock: it is important to mention your own feelings as many times as possible; your admiration for the ‘gleaming white thobes,’ the ‘regal, smartphone clutching locals,’ the ‘abaya-covered women with bright red lips and Gucci handbags.’

The juxtaposition between old and new, tradition and modernity, should be the main theme of the piece. Do not worry that this is a tired cliché. Nuance is to be avoided at all costs.

The cover of your book must include a picture of man wearing national dress. It does not matter if the man is not actually Emirati, but he must look Emirati. He should either be smiling benignly or shaking hands with a western man dressed in a suit. Other items that may be included are a falcon, a dhow, a skyscraper or a palm tree.

These images work better when juxtaposed – so for example, a skyscraper looming over a dhow, or a man (wearing national dress) talking on a mobile phone while walking past a palm tree. Be careful not to overdo it. A man wearing national dress while shaking hands with a western man holding a falcon while both sit in a dhow sailing past a palm tree will only leave your text open to ridicule.

Dubai has no history. Before 1971, all Emiratis either dived for pearls or wandered around the desert with a camel. Occasionally a western man came with a camera and took pictures of men pearl diving or wandering past with a camel. Sometimes they took pictures of men pushing a dhow out to sea. Before cameras were invented there was nothing. Just sand, bandits and palm frond huts. In the seventies, the only people who visited were oil workers from America, political advisors from England and Indians who sold spices.

Of course today everyone in Dubai that is not Emirati, or white, is being exploited.

Be sure to use phrases such as ‘indentured labour,’ ‘21st-century slaves’ and, if you want to be even more evocative, ‘foundations built on the bones of the Third World.’ This is not over the top, simply a statement of fact. Do not worry if you have no experience of writing about labour laws, worker’s rights or the construction industry. Every writer who comes to Dubai is an expert on all three subjects.

Be sure to let the reader know that Emiratis in the past were noble but tough. Emirati men above the age of fifty still are. Emirati men in their twenties are lazy, drive too fast and only eat junk food. Emirati men in their thirties and forties all have diabetes, drive too fast (but not as fast as the twenty-somethings) and are either extremely rich or extremely lazy, or sometimes, both.

Taboo subjects: Emirati entrepreneurs (all locals are in the family business), friendships between Emiratis and westerners, art and culture, and other emirates (Abu Dhabi can only be mentioned in the context of its bailout of Dubai).

Throughout the article alternate between a Haven’t-They-Done-Well tone and a They-Have-Gone-Too-Far tone. Be sure to mention the ski slope in the desert and the seven-star Burj Al Arab. These two constructions can be used to illustrate the Emiratis’ ingenuity and also, if required, their grasping greed and stupidity. You should also mention that Dubai is a place where capitalism has ‘run amok’.

Western characters should include the permanently drunk Brit, the subservient, slightly devious Indian, the subservient, smiling Filipino, the swaggering, greasy Lebanese, the busty, quite-possibly-a-prostitute-Moroccan, the arrogant, most-definitely-a-prositute-Russian, the American who works for an irrelevant think-tank and, of course, the badly-dressed Chinese tourist.

All interviews with British characters should take place in a pub; preferably after they have had six to ten pints of beer. Make sure to refer to their oversize bellies and their red faces. Every British expatriate either becomes extremely rich or ends up sleeping in their rental car in an airport car park.

All interviews with Indians should begin with a few sentences on the poor state of their clothes and their emaciated frames. Mention their rudimentary living conditions and ask them about the number of bootleg bottles of moonshine they consume. Take a patronising, worried tone, with an undercurrent of western guilt.

All Filipinos either work as maids, nannies or waitresses. Be sure to mention their ‘sing-song’ voices and the amount of money they send home each month. Every Filipino has been beaten by their Emirati employer. Ask them to show you their bruises. They won’t mind.

Finally, end your piece with a dire warning about the future. Be sure to be as apocalyptic as possible in your predictions. Your reader expects no less.

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