Culture-less Shock in Dubai

The emirate of Dubai is a relatively new state, a city which sprung directly from the surrounding desert in little more than a single generation. It has become synonymous with ‘over the top’ luxury. Making most of its dollars from tourism, the economy is built on providing visitors with the biggest, the best, the highest and the most luxurious.

The modern souks of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates  on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-5

Souks and restaurants

The completion of the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest existing man-made structure in the world provides the perfect example. The space age glass needle reaches high into the clear sky, it seems to embody everything that the emirate stands for and adequately symbolises the state.

The Burj Khalifa tallest building in the world in the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photographyIain Mallory-300-4

Burj Khalifa; symbol of Dubai

Commerce is another large part of the Dubai plan and attracting global corporations is equally as important as attracting tourists. Although there have been issues with the economy many large conglomerates have offices and even headquarters here.

The modern souks of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-15

Impressive skyline and dancing water

Every major hotel group also seems to have a presence here, each attempting to out do the others with grander, more extravagant designs. Reaching for the heavens has long been an ambition of architects but in Dubai grandiose is the other dimension. There does not appear to be any limit on the outlandish and building designers are given free reign to be as creative as they wish.

The modern skyline of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-22

Not the average souk

In every detail of the city there is the intention to impress, from the large shopping malls, numerous high-rise buildings, spotless esplanade and the famous dancing fountains. The choreographed display of erupting water which lasts several minutes is impressive enough during the daytime, all lit up at night it must appear quite amazing.

However strolling around Downtown Dubai I could not help but feel it is artificial, too sterile and lacking in soul or character. It all appears very pretty but lacks it own culture, it is a ‘borrowed’ culture, a very westernised culture. Dubai could be almost any modern city in North America, Australia or Europe.

The modern indoor souk of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-21

Designer souk

There are several shopping malls and they have all the modern stores that can be expected in every retail centre in most of the world’s great cities. There are Bloomingdales, Debenhams and even Tim Horton’s the only visible giveaway you are in a United Arab Emirates member state is that hijab and burqa are in greater evidence. A wide variety of international restaurants and chic coffee shops offer plenty of choice but a similar range could be found in Vancouver or Melbourne.

Every visitor is a celebrity here, spending money is the pay-off, celebrities are usually big spenders. This is what Dubai is about, the city which invented the shopping festival, providing a reason to travel to the emirate to spend some hard earned cash.

Following a sign to a local souk, which is my normally my favourite form of retail therapy I was quite dismayed to find the sanitised version on offer here. It is indoor and little more than another shopping mall, whilst fairly quiet the individual ‘stalls’ are like designer outlets. Art galleries, decorative rugs, jewellery and high end traditional robes are available products though bartering doesn’t seem on the agenda.  I usually enjoy spending several hours browsing in a souk, taking dozens of photographs however the only excuse for lingering in the Dubai version was the free WiFi.

The pool cleaning of the fountain pools of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-12

Keeping the emirate spotless

The emirate is perceived by many as being materialistic, even obscenely so however it’s unlikely few will be offended by the VIP treatment or resent the luxurious surroundings. Dubai may not offer the authentic culture we expect from other Arab states, it’s culture may seem false but possibly luxury retail is a culture all of its own. It may not be to everybody’s taste, it may appear a little soulless but many other travellers will enjoy being treated like royalty in space age surroundings.

The pool cleaning of the fountain pools of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography Iain Mallory-300-18_edited-1

The fountain skyline

I only had a day to spend in Dubai, so maybe my opinions are slightly unfair and a further visit spending a more time exploring the emirate is required to provide a more balanced view. Perhaps you can help provide that balance, have you visited Dubai, what were your perceptions, do you feel it has culture and most importantly did you enjoy it?

The exploding fountains of the emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

The exploding fountains

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Comments 9

  1. Katie Foster

    Too bad you only saw one side of Dubai. I am an American expat freelance travel writer living in Dubai and I would have loved to show the “heart and soul” of Dubai. The dusty old souks, the amazing fish market, camel races – the true beauty of Dubai “Under the Veil.” Check out my blog – Arabian Tales and Other Amazing Adventures – and look under “Things to do in Dubai” and see what you missed! Come back again and I will give you a free tour!

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      Author
      Iain

      Thanks Katie, I do intend to return and give the emirate another chance, i had a feeling there was more to it than there was time to experience in the flying visit. We also did a desert safari but it was commercial and felt quite false, I’ll let you know when I return for a longer visit and get to visit those old souks.

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        Author
        Iain

        Hi Isolabella, it’s doubtful that Dubai is a budget destination, accommodation is likely to be expensive but food and drinks can be found at a reasonable price.

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      Author
      Iain

      I think it is probably worth a visit Gerard, I am keen to return and really explore so I see if there is more to discover and maybe provide a more balanced view.

  2. Rox

    This post has slightly irritated me. I must say, I am biased towards Dubai as it has been my home for over 20 years and I do appreciate that there are a few negative points against the UAE and Dubai in particular.

    What I get upset about most is how many people say Dubai is ‘soul-less’ and how they go on about there being no culture. Dubai is less than 50 years old and therefore can’t have an established culture that is being carried on. We, both visitors and residents, are part of the ‘Dubai culture’. And despite being a new country, Dubai has grown in leaps and bounds, suggesting that the culture is that of hard work, motivation and the will to succeed.

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