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.

Read more

  1. 17 October 2014

    A Fan's Notes

    It is a muggy evening in mid-June and most football fans in Dublin – most sensible ones at any rate – are watching the second day of the World Cup finals, or more specifically, the defending champions Spain take on Holland. I am not. I am on the DART, winding…

  2. 14 August 2014

    We Are Dublin Out Now

    We Are Dublin is out now in loads of shops across Dublin. You can see the full list of stockists here. Or you can buy online here. More details of the issue below. Issue two is out in November. Dublin's finest new novelist, Rob Doyle, revisits his teenage treks from…

  3. 21 June 2014

    We Are Dublin Out in August

    We are busy at work putting together the first issue of We Are Here’s Dublin edition, a new quarterly about the Irish capital. The launch is on Thursday August 7th at 6pm at the excellent The Library Project in Temple Bar. We look forward to seeing you there…

  4. 27 November 2013

    Issue Three Out Now

    Issue three is now out - you can pre-order the magazine here. It is being distributed in the UK and Europe by Antenne Books, and once I have full list of stockists I will post it here.

  5. 13 November 2013

    The Problem With Travel Writing

    Travel writing has, for the most part, become increasingly irrelevant, at least the writing that is featured in the mainstream travel magazines, and to some degree, in the book industry as well. To understand this, you need to go back to the origins of travel writing - where explorers such…

  6. 6 October 2013

    Esquire's 80th Anniversary Issue

    We got a mention on page 96 of Esquire's 80th Anniversary issue, as a part of a feature about 80 things that define our time. Was pretty cool to be featured alongside Picador's Jonathan Franzen book cover and the ace Hot Rum Cow. It's a great issue aside from the…

  7. 21 August 2013

    A Series of Disappointing Events at Global Village

    Here are just some of the goods you can purchase in Global Village: an Angry Birds duvet set, Inter Milan flip-flops, Yemeni honey, a wig, a Cyclone vacuum cleaner, Hello Kitty underpants, an Anatomically Correct Human Torso, BBQ flavour potato crackers, a John Cena wallet, a ceramic frog, a wooden…

  8. 13 August 2013

    Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Had?

    One of the reasons I have largely stopped going to the movies is the general feeling that I have been conned after I leave the cinema. The trailers look great; but it quickly becomes clear that 90 seconds is a more suitable time frame for Hollywood screenwriters than 90 minutes.…