Monday, July 26, 2010

1980 Ankara, 1985 Bydgoszcz, 2010 Dubai

I grew up in a time and place that it was very rude to boast about what we have and to emphasize our differences. It was the pre-eighties era, where consumerism hadn't yet hit Turkey. (Any of you grew up in Turkey remember the Yerli Malları Haftası?) Eighties onward, the foreign influence was strong and we fell in love with anything exported; be it cheese or cars. Showing off, which was once rude, lost importance and slowly became an object of just “tsk tsk”. Somehow towards the early nineties, it became very uncool not to own a pair of Levi's 501 and Timberland shoes. We thought those items gave us an identity, whereas in reality those 501's were stripping us from our unique identities. I must add that were not the most flattering cut for our wider thighs and smaller butts. Yet we were desperate to be a part of the clan that owned the American jeans and the shoes. We started to think that owning the stuff produced in another part of the world would give us their lifestyle.

Then I was lucky to spend a few weeks in Poland, while it was still considered as a part of the Iron Curtain countries. I was young, yet could still remember the effort my Polish peers showed in order to look different. Teenage sense of fashion coupled with communist resources didn't really result in  what one might now call “Vintage” items. I remember that at the end of my visit, I gave all my plastic earrings and fluorescent-colored accessories to my friends and they couldn't have been happier.

Now I am in Dubai. The strong and closed culture plus the influence of religion prohibits showing off. In its original form, this is a very considerate tradition to avoid showing off if you are rich and feeling embarrassed if you are poor. All men are supposed to wear the same starched and sparkling white dishdashas and the women should be wearing the black abayas. If you are a guy and you're supposed to wear a loose fit white dishdasha, there's very little left to express yourself with. Hence men around here invest insane amounts for their wristwatches, mobile phones and cars. They are the ultimate and most visible expressions of your status and how much you have. Women are luckier! in terms of being able to differentiate themselves. Shops have started selling custom-made Swarovski-studded heard scarves, ladies wear bright green Christian Louboutins under slightly-shorter-than-it-should-be abayas, I won't even mention the handbags and gold plated mobiles. What was one of the most striking stories for me was women calling artists to their homes to have a 100 $ make-up and then going to the mall covered in niqab (the face veil, which only leaves the eyes open).
photo from
photo from

I am not criticizing anyone, nor do I think this is hilarious unlike most foreigners here do. Quite the contrary, I find this very very heartbreaking. Covered head to toe and being allowed almost no contact with others, anyone would get desperate to attract attention to their individuality and uniqueness. I am not sure if all of the locals * around here buy very expensive cars, hand-made Italian bags or Tom Ford tailor-made disdashas just to show how rich they are. Maybe some do, but I am sure there's a good bunch who just want to express themselves – and those luxury items turn out to be only immediate means available. Imagine 81% of a city's population is composed of expatriates who have little or no knowledge of the local customs hence go around in loud groups, wear skimpy clothes and have no issues openly hitting on the opposite sex. Then in your own city, you are minority, being exposed to a very sudden flux of foreigners who tend to do everything differently and often against the culture. How much would it be possible to ignore the influence and to protect your customs? What else would you do to discover your identity?

I don't have an answer. A lot of factors seem to be intertwined; sense of identity, feeling unique, being able to “own”... And all hitting up in the last 20 years or so. I know quite a number of locals who feel stuck between the tradition and the contemporary, I can only hope that they find their own paths, whatever that may be

* Locals as I used above don't refer to Emiratis only, it's intended to refer to all GCC nationals (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman) 
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  1. Hehe I remember there were times when I all I could care about was my dkny handbag and lululemon outfit ;p But now as time passed I'm happy with my shorts and ripped tshirt. That kind of life seems mileeeess away from where I am right now. Missing you babe, hoping to see you back in Ubud anytime soon.

    Love, Wid xoxo

  2. Wid baby, your ripped t-shirts were awesome. If I had those, I would have stopped caring about dnky and lululemon too ;)
    Love love love