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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Art of Showing Off

as-salaam aleikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Narrated 'Amr bin 'Auf Al-Ansari:
...Allah's Apostle said, "Rejoice and hope for what will please you! By Allah, I am not afraid of your poverty but I am afraid that you will lead a life of luxury as past nations did, whereupon you will compete with each other for it, as they competed for it, and it will destroy you as it destroyed them."

excerpt from: Sahih Bukhari, Book 53 Hadith #385

One of the negative things the immense wealth brought into this culture--a new culture of showing off. To show off money you have, and money you pretend to have. It is a competition amongst many Emiratis.

I first saw a glimpse of it when I first moved to UAE. I was over at one of the in-laws' homes and one sister-in-law took me to her room to show me her make-up collection, She took me to her basket of make-up products and instead of just letting me rummage through to look at the products, she just started pointing to each and every one and what came out of her mouth was pretty much just like this:

"This is Christian Dior, this one is Chanel, Chanel, Christian Dior, Guerlain, Christian Dior, Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior, Christian Dior..."

where I finally had to interrupt her and say "Wow, you are obsessed with Christian Dior, aren't you?"

When my friends and I show each other our make-up, we do mention the brands but that is so they can know it just in case they would also like to buy the stuff. More importantly, we show each other the products themselves by opening them so we can see the colors. All she wanted me to see was that her products were name brands!!

I have seen more with my own eyes. Jealousy when one woman gets a designer handbag (oh and it must be a handbag that is hard to get) and the look of shock and envy in her eyes questioning her, "Where did you get that and where?" --Then all of a sudden the jealous one shows up with 2 or 3 new designer handbags (hard to find ones also) to get the upper hand.

I have seen unmarried local girls still living with their families who spend every single penny of their salaries every month, all on things that make them look like they can regularly afford the big brands-- designer clothing, handbags, watches, make-up, shoes etc... I am not talking about a few pieces to mix and match--I am talking trying to look like they have lots of money by having many designer pieces. So many pieces their salaries no longer are enough to pay for all they want. So they take loans. Ohhh before the world economic crash, loans were so easy to get. Loans to go on shopping sprees, loans to take vacations, etc....

They must keep replenishing their designer abayas from known designer shops or else everyone at work will know they have been wearing the same old abayas for weeks/months on end. And they can't think to just wear plain black abayas with cute shaylas instead to save money, and then wear a designer abaya on special events for work. Oh no, all the other girls are busy showing off their designer abayas too so they must compete with them!

Then if they should get a phone call from a bank offering them a credit card--who are they to refuse such a temptation? Then they go off on shopping sprees again and max their card limit in just a few months. Hmmm? How to pay this off and still be able to shop? Easy!! Get another credit card and just pay off the minimum monthly balance with that new card!! Then go shopping on that card as well. Keep paying the minimum balance and tell themselves they will pay more with next month's salary, because this month "I MUST get that new Gucci."

Then there are the local guys who have to save face by taking loans and credit cards to afford designer watches, Na'al (the sandals they wear with Kandoras), pens, designer caps, and of course, what else? Their more-than-they-can afford cars and homes! Paying off their loans/credit cards at the minimum balance level each month all the while bragging to others they paid for everything with cash. Many local guys can compete with a woman with their knowledge of fashion brands and the number of fashion designers they know about.

There is someone I know whose huband's nephew, on an 8,000AED salary, was able to secure a 250,000AED loan. Later on, his salary rose to 18,000AED and he was able to secure even larger loans. Now he owes 700,000AED. What was the money spent on? An expensive car, expensive vacations, and on his wife who cannot stop spending money. On top of that he has borrowed money from a family member, and as soon as his monthly salary is finished (part on bills, part on more frivolous things) he calls that family member for small amounts of money here and there.

A sister's husband has a friend in Abu Dhabi who knows three local women who occupy high positions in companies. They are all getting phone calls everyday over unpaid loans. These women are all divorced so they don't have husbands to help pay their debts.

At first I was all surprised that people with high salaries would also be like this, but I had a discussion about this with sis Alice and she told me something that I should have realized---if a poor person is taking out tens of thousands in loans, a richer person is taking hundreds of thousands to millions in loans.

You can also see this attitude when you go shopping. Wearing niqab, a person working in a store won't realise at first I am not a local unless they look at my eyes-- and the first things that come out of their mouths is usually something like, "Hello madame, this is the newest collection." or "This is an exclusive collection" etc... I know some of y'all have had this said to you while shopping. You know that the ones who want to show off are immediately attracted to these words. Everyone wants to be the first to own whatever new collection comes out.

Another family member had her driver go sit outside a mobile phone shop hours after it opened so he can immediately buy her this one latest phone so she would be the first amongst her friends/family to own it. This woman is in her fifties!!

Now, of course, if your family has the money and can afford the things, there is nothing wrong buying nice things-- Islamically-- so long as the money is halal, and you give in zakaat and charity. But it becomes an evil thing if all of the buying is for the purpose to brag about how rich you are.

There are many families who are well off who own many nice things but they are not in your face about what they own.

So what is going on here? Where is this coming from? There is definitely a social pressure. People started wanting what others have, and then before you knew it, everyone wanted what someone richer than they had. And then everyone started validating each other based on what they have and talking negatively about what people don't have. Then parents spoil children, and you have the spoiled ones who brag, the others want that too, and everyone, adults and young teens are all obsessing about material things.

Look at all the pre-economic crash projects that were coming up. 99.999999% of them were advertised as luxury this, and luxury that all of the time. This is especially with Dubai. Dubai caters to the wealthy with all of their new projects, so much advertising is geared toward the wealthy, and everyone is growing up watching all of this, talking about it, obsessing about it.

One conversation with one Emirati woman I had:

her: "My mobile broke so I asked my brother for one. He refused and asked what I do with all of my money. I asked him to just give me 3,000AED so I can get a phone and he refused again. I know its his wife who tells him not to give me any money."

me:"ummmm, I doubt it has anything to do with his wife. I think your brother is wondering where your money goes each month. Why is it that you can't afford a mobile phone if you have no financial responsibilities at your house? Aren't you saving any of your money?"

her: "Don't you know, Dubai is SO expensive!! Sometimes I have to buy breakfast, go to lunch, go out with my friends, and pay for my mobile phone bills!"

me.. silence with mouth dropped open.

it is scary to think she might not be the only one who thinks like this!!


  1. if you are a govt employee and Emarati, you are AUTOMATICALLY eligible for a credit lie of 40 TIMES your salary.

    And so if you make 15K you can have 600K on tap. NOT KIDDING. It will be in your account in ONE day.

    The 3rd issue is lack of communal responsibility. My dad doesnt expect any of us (2 working sons) to pay for anything, no rent, no food, water bills, nothing. and most Emaratis in this situation are as lucky.

    So when you are not treated to feel responsible, you start to not be. So what if she blows her 15K salary on the 2nd day of the month? She will still have the family car and driver to get to work, still have meals made for her, and still have 4 brothers and 2 older sisters to mooch off of.

    Those 3 reasons are what causes what you've seen. I am actually in the middle of writing TWO posts that go into this topic from a banker's perspective.

    As for your high up friends in the govt. I had a client with a 180,000 dirham a month govt salary... He has been sued TWICE for not paying his loans.

    What the HELL do you do with 180K? I know. I see his accounts, but I cant say.

    So even the rich CAN get into trouble, if they arent focused.

    Im glad my only vices are my car (which ok, I have spent 150K into to make it fast) and my guitars. Hell, a full 1/3 of my salary goes to a savings scheme and my only debt is ONE car loan with less than 150K left on it.

    No real middle class
    No central credit service
    No feeling of responsibility.

    I was interviewed for a newspaper article (Along with an operations manager from ADCB) on the insane credit card debt many young people have here about a year ago, And I listed those same 3 issues as the causes. Nothing has changed.

    VERY good post!

  2. if a poor person is taking out tens of thousands in loans, a richer person is taking hundreds of thousands to millions in loans.

    True, very true, but the rich usually put those large loans into BUSINESSES or houses that they rent, and thus make it back and more.

    At one time my father was in debt for... 12 million... Now his businesses and villas and 1/4 of a hotel pay this off, 3/4 to pay off the debt, and one 1/4 to him, and his salary from the govt isnt touched, and in a few years all of it will be paid off, and then ALL that money is in his pocket. He PUT that money to work. I know many clients who did this and were smart and will have very good futures because of it.

    I just had to point that out. Rich people are rich because they put money to work, and have that business spirit where their main goal is to become... even more rich. Hell, if you have 10 million just sitting in a bank account, JUST the interest you make with no effort is a 25K monthly salary. Seriously. 50 million? 150K salary a month! This is why the rich stay that way.

    But yes, in general, and as a manager at a bank, I see this ALL THE TIME. The kid with no degree in the military who takes out an 800K loan on his 18K salary. The girl who buys EVERY designer product ever and a brand new X6 BMW (335K) and then calls me up and asks if she can have an overdraft till next month's salary!

    It happens! Even a relative of mine, 16K a month... 325K range rover, 30K watch... And this is a guy!

    The guys feel pressured to show off, The UAE doesnt yet have a stable and large MIDDLE CLASS. It has rich Emaratis, and poor emaratis.

    Those who are poor, you will see driving a camry, and going to school after work to better himself mashallah. He is also married with 4 kids, and makes ends meet.

    The rich are, as I stated above, rich.

    The issue is with those who arent rich but, since there isnt really a middle class, see the next class (rich) and decide oh, I need to be there.

    And instead of taking out a few 100 thousand to start a business to help secire a future, he buys a 400K car, because thats what he SEES the rich have. Not knowing the background of it.

    A bit of background info on the girls watches and bags... ALOT of them are fake. Im serious. Sure, alot of them are real, but Ive noticed that 1/2 of a girls stuff is fake.

    Its all aboout LOOKING rich. The PRODUCT isnt an end, its a means, but they arent sure a means to what.

    When I was in Thailand, I saw fake designer pens for dirt cheap, my dad was like, You like pens! Here! Get some!

    I like GOOD WELL MADE pens. I collect them, jhave for... 15 years. Because Im a poet and write alot. Im like they arent real, they feel cheap, unbalanced.

    WHO CARES?! No one will know its fake!

    I will, and if it was fake but the same FEEL as the real one, fine, but it's not.

    The fact is until Emaratis have a real middle class, this will continue.

    As a banker though, we have another issue. We have NO way of tracking a person's debt. In the US you have SS numbers. That sucker will tell ANYONE how mch you owe, to who, and what your credit worthiness is.

    Here we dont have anything close. The main factor is, do you work in the govt or not? If its govt, then they ask, where are you from.

  3. Oh yes ultra[blue] MOST of the rich ones take out loans to further their businesses which will end up making them successful in the end.

    But there is that few... I personally know one company whose family is wealthy, but they are not admitting they are so far in debt with their business--your father's debt would be a dream to them to have. I don't know how they are going to get out of it-- unless they stay at home and stop micro-managing their really good people they have left... too many have already quit.

    But they won't do that because they want to keep the front up that everything is ok with the company. They are ignoring that they they should cancel some of their projects and shut down some operations. If they do so, everyone will know the company is in trouble. So they keep going further into debt.

    I can't go into any more details for now -- even though I doubt anyone of interest would find this, but in the event they did, I could get a quite a bit of people in trouble.

    About your fake pen incident with your father.... PLEASE do not buy fakes. First off, it is a crime to copy and sell someone else's copyrighted things for profit. You are supporting criminals by purchasing their items. Second, if people can tell or find out its fake, you just look even more cheap than if you were to use a regular 1 Dirham ballpoint pen. That goes for anything designer as well. Purses, shoes, etc....

    Mashallah you know not to go overboard and splurge on things you can afford. Its ok to splurge on things if you have the means to pay for it.

    Another thing about showing off... I recall one day when one of my SILs told me,
    "I really like Burberry"
    I asked "Then why don't you buy from them?"
    "ohh because the locals don't buy that brand"

    So that was her reason to not buy from a brand she liked.

    If I like something, I don't care if anyone else is going to think its a good enough brand or not.

    But I guess some people won't buy something they can't get other people to feel envious over. Ridiculous!

  4. Dont worry, I didnt buy the fake pen, because as I said, I collect them, so every pen I have is real. I write ALOT and so my pens have to be balanced and weigh just right in my hand.

    I actually dont use any of my expensive ones in front of people. I use them while writing at home. The Mont Blancs, the ST Duponts... All at home in a proper LOCKED pen case. lol. So the whole someone finding out it's fake never even crossed my mind. No one sees them.

    However, I DO buy fake Wii games... Ad download music... and bought a ton of fake software in bangkok... and DVDs... and I download movies...

    I'm a firm believer that if it's been created, and it's worth something, it should be protected (with anti piracy software or something)

    If I could get away with stealing a car, I'd own my 65 GTO already.

    Your SIL is a prime example of why Im not marrying her or anyone else from here. She is the average Emarati woman. Sadly. I'm sure most Emaratis dont buy ESP guitars, but hey, I lubs what I lubs.

    FF is very conscious of money, and so its VERY good but also annoying because when its her birthday for example and I ask the girls around me what I should get her... SOMETHING BRANDED!

    She doesnt like that sort of stuff... Oh? Why not?!?!

    I dunno, she's wired slightly (SLIGHTLY) better than the rest of you.

    LOL, I thank you for the compliment but the reason why I dont have a Porsche outside is because the one I want wasnt OUT yet! lol. So in about 6-12 months there will be one outside, Inshallah.

    Ouff! Micro managing is the sign of the worried and unsure. I never understood why some people HIRE and pay MONEY to people just to annoy them and not let them Do what you are PAYING THEM to do in the 1st place.

    Yes, best to keep names out of the innerwebs. Thats why I didnt name these amazing clients of mine. lol.

  5. Oh another thing that shows her attitude:

    my SIL has looks down on my purses... especially the ones that are made out of seatbelts!!

    When she first saw the first one she was all

    "ohhh what is that?"

    "my seatbelt bag!"


    "look its made out of seatbelts, isn't it cute?"



    First of all, its because they aren't expensive enough to show off, and second, well... I guess because I guess seatbelts are nothing special!!

    But I don't care what she thinks because it only matters that I like it.

    Most of my friends and I aren't all interested in wearing things people can recognize from a mile away and know how much we spent on it.

    hmmm maybe you need to ask women like my friends and I for gift ideas for FF :) But you'd have to have the means and to be ok to order from overseas because sometimes we do order our stuff online.

  6. Seat belts? How do you even begin to make a bag out of seat belts?!

    Well, anyways, if you ever need spare seat belts I will gladly give me mine, I am a firm believer that seat belts KILL and we are better off without them.

    LOL. I'm addicted to eBay and random performance parts sites. I receive at least one box every 2 weeks via Aramex shop and ship from the US. Hell, my car's rims, tires, and new motor came via them! Where do you think my comic books come from?!?!?!

    No, I've figured out what ALL women like... Sparkly things (preferably diamonds)

    BTW, How many SILs and such do you have? The number will directly affect your ability to function I think.

  7. salam
    it's kinda scared...
    this situation happen at my country too..
    women love to spend the money to buy branded goods.

    but i am not...
    i'm comfortable with my ordinary life...
    spending my money on foods..
    it's worth :) nyumm.. nyumm...

  8. annfriendly
    LOL I like to spend money on food too--and yes, its worth it!! :)

    ultra[blue]--- LOL I don't make the purses!!

    oh no another ebay addict!! My husband is one too! Shop and Ship too!! My husband orders car parts/accessories from the US too! Its crazy how including shipping costs, it is cheaper to buy many things from the US compared to the inflated prices over here.

    I am more of a recovering ebay addict now :)

    I have 3 SILs but our tastes in things clash so they don't really affect my ability to function LOL :)

  9. A very interesting conversation. ;) Like twizzle said, we don't buy things to show off, If I like something, example: a purse, at wal-mart, I'll get it. I don't care. But, that said, quality is better to have. Just like your pens. I have no more to say, I just really enjoyed the convo.

  10. Texan in UAE,
    yep, and you can get a purse from Wal-mart that will last for years vs sometimes fake handbags will fall apart a lot quicker. Though people can find really good quality fakes out there nowadays.

    "No, I've figured out what ALL women like... Sparkly things (preferably diamonds)"

    its not all women :) I am not all that into jewelry and especially not diamonds, but my issues with diamonds are the whole blood diamond thing.

    don't get me wrong, if something catches my eye, I do buy it... but its not all that often. :)

  11. That was an awesome series of messages, I really enjoyed it. I have been living in the UAE for the last 2 years, and I have found the current ways of the Emirati culture so difficult to understand as an Australian.

    I have always been into brand names, everything i wear is mid range designer, not top shelf items that we all see every day. The highest i will go is Lacoste and Diesel. But regardless, the lack of responsibility in a lot of "Locals" is clearly evident. This did however, open my eyes and give me some insight of the overindulgence purely because shopping, fashion and posing are quite popular here. In Australia we need gambling help lines to stop people from wasting their money due to being addicted to gambling.

    I have lived for 2 years surrounded by people living in ways I could barely fathom. Did I once go in debt? No. Have I tried to imitate what I see, somewhat to the best of my level headed ability, and quickly realised i can't. I have travelled every opportunity I have had and returned to australia twice. I rent my own Yaris for an inflated price of 1700dhs a month :S and trust me I FEEL LIKE an idiot every time i drive in the UAE in this car. Why? Because there is SO much pressure here on material flaunting of goods. it would have been smarter in hindsight to buy, but that's another can of worms, and i didn't know if i'd stay beyond 12 mths.

    ciao ;)

  12. Thank you Michael for stopping by and commenting. :)

    Yes, the pressure is definitely there to conform to a certain standard. And that standard is high.

    And of course there are a lot of expats who fall into the obsession as well. Its hard not to get caught up sometimes when it is all around you.

    I hope you find the perfect opportunity to get out of renting your car!!

    hey!! this is me making a total stereotype:

    An Australian guy who is confident in a white t-shirt and jeans looks way better than the fool who dresses in designer gear from head to toe!!

    ok... except for the flip-flops. that is so not right. LOL

    he he he I lived in Australia for a year and couldn't get over all the flip-flops and bare feet walking all around LOL

  13. Honestly it just seems like going to the mall is the most common thing to do here, which is going to create this sort of scenario. I think if you can stick within your own limits and be proud of the person you are, then you can see beyond this.

    I don't see the point of Emirati women buying their children Burberry kids clothing. Comeon, what's the point? And the children I see, aren't just wearing a T, its the whole deal.

    I don't think I own any plain white T's, but you are right. Some people don't need to wear any designer names, although i believe designer jeans are a must because they sit much better. My friend who spent some time here from Brisbane picked up some modelling work for Diesel, he wore no brand names, and always looked fashionable.

    As for the flip-flops aka thongs :) i must say I wear haviana's.. in aus as you know EVERY person wears them. However, you'll never catch me barefoot, thats just not on literally.

    where did u live for 12 mths? did u enjoy it, what do u think of it there?

    As for the car, we'll see am happy to rent til June then it is 2 months holidays time for me, and at this stage i will be returning to aus.

    (sorry to hijack this thread a little) mike.

  14. ha ha ha I didn't mean people cannot get ANYTHING that is a brand... just some people look ridiculous in their flashy, head to toe designer outfits. One blogger once mentioned meeting an Emirati guy wearing all D&G, from his hat, shirt, belt, jeans, shoes, all the way to his cell phone!!

    I lived in Gold Coast, Australia for a year and it was a beautiful place, though it was annoying that most places closed at 5pm except Thursdays when they would stay open till 8pm but that is still early LOL!!

    The people are very friendly and it was so fun there :)

    In August, it seems like the whole of UAE vacations there because there were Emiratis EVERYWHERE we went LOL

  15. Assalam alaikum Twizzle!

    A wonderful topic and great comments- which I loved reading a lot!!

    Locals and expats living here dress in brands more than I've seen anywhere else. I've never seen LV, Gucci, Dior, Fendi, Coach bags so often!!!!

    Fakes- a whole different issue. They are very widespread here- every time I see a LV- i wonder if it's a fake. Thus brands generally lost a lot of appeal to me.

    The most popular branded goods (fakes) are those with a famous logo all over them- those which are easy to recognize and identify. A bag/cap/ shoes/car sit covers like that- are an evidence of bad taste IMHO, it's for simpletons. A bag like that is not to be proud of. When there are hundreds of other girls with same bags- it'd be below my dignity to walk around with the same stupid LV bag.

    Maybe that's because in the "West" - individuality is valued, while in this culture collectivism prevails. So people try to be in tune with the rest of the "herd". And local girls with LV bags feel like they belong and thus everything is right :)

    I agree about the pressure! When dh tells me how irrational some men and women are when taking loans and spending money- while agreeing with him at the same time I try to justify them. If in this society people are respected for what they HAVE, then individuals submit to this pressure in order to be accepted, respected.

    At the dame time I dislike arrogant people who look down at those who don't HAVE expensive cars, clothes, houses.

    One of my BIL says it does not matter for him if his riding a donkey or a car. He has a normal car, while he can afford to buy with cash any expensive car- he simply does not need it.

    It often happens that employees of lower level have much more expensive cars than their managers, or simple soldiers from the military take huge loans just to buy a cool car!

    Some of my husbnad's friends complain that their working wives don't contribute to the family with their salaries and for any needs demand money from their husbnads (like one of them put an ultimatum- you must get me a new car by next week). While Islamically woman is not obliged to support her family financially, Yet it's common sense to spend some of it for the household... I agree with Ultra blue that when people are not treated to feel responsible and they start to not be.

  16. haha this post is seriously one of the most itneresting post i've come across. I actually READ posts on this thread, which is unusual for me as I usually never spend too much time doing that.

    But just to clarify, let's not assume that ALL women are in love with material things or big and shiny diamond rings. Sure, we might be tempted by it, but if I were to choose between an expensive engagement ring or a trip around the world, i'd choose the latter.

  17. oohh Alice, sorry I never responded!!

    there is nothing wrong with being able to afford nice things if you can, so long as there is no arrogance with it--also as long as they are giving in charity and pay zakat.

    and I agree with you... the bags with the logos all over--its a walking advertisement! and when there are too many fakes, like you said, you start looking and wondering an LV bag someone is carrying is even real or not. And the arrogance can come in the form of feeling better than others and looking down on those who have less.

    In fact, one friend had an authentic LV and we went to New York once and saw where they sold fakes. The fake version of her purse? it was pretty much exactly alike. the quality was really good as well. And she even said, "Now whenever I see anyone carrying LV things my first thought is going to be 'its a fake!'" and so she lost interest in the brand after that.

    and yes, the pressure is there and that is why my SIL won't buy Burberry because even though she likes it, if its not popular with the local girls, its nothing she can get "respect" for.


    thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I know this particular one is an extra long post :P

    yes, not ALL women are all materialistic, but unfortunately, this society puts pressure on people to become this way. Some fall for it, and some don't :)

  18. Interesting...

    I always knew that the Emarati culture was somewhat of a showoff, and worried that Omanis are starting to be the same. But I thought this showing off season is over, that people are changing and actually focusing on more important aspects of life... I guess I was wrong! People are STILL the same!

    This feature is quite significant in the GCC, and with all the instability soon to come (Iran and what have you) we've GOT to start changing.. This is NO WAY of sustaining the population!!!

    Allah yhdeena...

  19. oh stimulus sorry for the delay... I forgot to come back to this post :P

    when its a habit to spend beyond one's means, its sometimes hard to break. loans are probably harder to get now... but if you already have those credit cards the temptation is always going to be there.

    I don't think it will, but inshallah it never gets as widwspread in Oman as it has in UAE.