24 Feb Middle East Blog: Supercar Mallrats
What aspects of life, if any, does Qatar and the greater Gulf region of the Middle East share with the western culture we’re all so used to? The Arabian cultural differences have permeated history. But how different are we really?
In the past couple of decades countries like the United Arab Emirates and more recently Qatar have simply exploded in growth. To many who’ve been to these areas or even seen pictures, much of this growth looks distinctly western. We could probe a slightly more complex discussion by asking; Is it “western” or is it simply the ever increasing ability for people to see what the rest of the world is doing and attempting to build on it or better it?
Banished to the outreaches of Doha’s northern suburbs, the Landmark shopping mall boasts several international brands and focuses mainly on clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics; along with the Carrefour grocery store. Walking into the Landmark mall it’s surprising how much I can recognize as something familiar. The people that surround me have taken on lifestyles and priorities that look very different from their ancestors of just a couple generations ago, however they retain a distinctly Arabian culture and uniqueness that has been with them for thousands of years.
The mall, for the most part, is rather unimpressive. It hosts a few of the known international brands including Milano, Esprit, Mango, Benetton, and others. For a sparse assortment of electronic goods, there is Bang and Olufsen, and Carrefour carries what you would expect from a grocer. Entertainment features in the Landmark are also relatively anti-climactic. “Circus land” is an amusement and entertainment park for the kiddos. There’s a three screen movieplex, and Haagen-Daaz ice cream shoppe. The food court consist of well-known fast food brands, such as KFC and McDonald’s. Thursday has been earmarked as family day, hence single men are not allowed. This also happened to be the day we decided to visit; four unaccompanied twenty-something western males.
In America many of us have the luxury of choosing between whatever mall will suit our taste at any given moment. Need formal attire on the cutting edge of fashion? You probably have a mall that sells that. Want clothes that look casual but are also current and vogue? You can more than likely drive to a mall for that as well. The Landmark was done with the latest technology, and most grand manor possible. But this was almost 10 years ago. The mall can currently be best described as “scrubbing it” over here.
Now despite all the money and wealth I describe in my other postings, Qatar is still a third world country. The national infrastructure is still waiting to be developed. However the money that is put into Qatar’s projects is done with all the intentions of pomp and grandeur. Many facilities are completely over the top. They seem to be built with the idea that the next one will propel them onto the world stage. After all Qatar has an upcoming Olympic bid in 2022, which, I am calling here first, they will likely get.
Why am I taking so much time to reflect on this particular mall? In any western country it would be the equivalent of the mall you drive by on the way to the good mall.
Simply because on this Thursday afternoon, family day, as I was entering the mall, 2 million dollars of exotic machinery drove past me in less than 30 seconds, and that was just the beginning.
I don’t understand it, but I realise I just don’t have to. This place has the largest concentration of elite automobiles in a non sanctioned environment I have ever seen. Why here, at this mall? Why, if you have such an expensive car and want to show off, would you not go to one of the brand new hypermalls that exist in Doha and show off there? Keep in mind that one of these Ubermalls is built on an artificial island, while yet another has a freaking river running through the center! Maybe it’s people just looking to waste some time during the day, or maybe this is now a familiar environment since it is one of the oldest malls in the area. These explanations do not, however, offer an answer that is grasped easily by the mind of a westerner. While I respect our differences, this is one of the cultural aspects I may never be able to comprehend.