Over lunch, my guide Abdul — a 25-year-old who grew up splitting his time between Toronto and Dubai — filled me in on modern day life in this opulent coastal city-state. Below are some of the more surprising things I learned:
1. Dubai residents love Italian food — and they cook it well. Despite having delicious local cuisine of their own, people in Dubai love foreign food, and particularly Italian. “Very few locals cook the traditional food,” Abdul said. “People like to cook a lot of pasta.” He added, wide-eyed: “We have some of the best Italian restaurants here, too.” He’s even been to Italy, and said the food didn’t live up to what he’s tasted at home.
2. Couples here technically have two weddings and both are, well, gigantic. “The man’s wedding might have 500, 800 guests,” a recently engaged Abdul explained, “but the woman’s, it’s a minimum of one thousand people.” My jaw dropped. Having recently attended my sister’s wedding where the guest list approached 250, it was near impossible for me to imagine thousands. (Weddings in Dubai are so large they’re often held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center, which has more than 1 million square feet of event space). Why invite the whole neighborhood? See number three.
3. Everyone knows everyone. With a population of just more than 2 million, “Dubai is such a small city,” Abdul explained. “And we have very big families.” The UAE as a whole has less than 8 million residents, making them a tight-knit group. This contributes to the large wedding party and is also how most brides and grooms meet. “It’s usually set up through family. Since everyone knows everyone they can match you well.”
4. “Dune bashing” is a regular pastime that young Dubai residents engage in. It’s intriguing and slightly terrifying. “We go into the desert with jeeps and drive up and down the dunes,” Abdul said, gesticulating with his hand to signal a bumpy ride. They prefer to do this in the winter months because summer is too hot to be in the desert all day. It’s so popular they even offer the activitiy to visiting groups. It remains to be seen whether or not I will be roped into bashing any dunes…
5. Being a meeting planner is a stressful gig in Dubai, too. Because Abdul’s large family has had a lot of large weddings, his mother has organized more than a few super-sized soirees in her day. “She’s so good, friends and family always ask for her help when planning their weddings,” Abdul said. “I suggested she start a business.” But she thinks one wedding a year is enough. Recently, she organized Abdul’s older brother’s wedding, and, he says, “it was a very stressful time for her.”