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A Trip to The Dubai Mall

UAE

On a recent trip to Dubai I took a bit of time off to visit The Dubai Mall, which happens to be the largest shopping centre in the world. The place is so big, I could have spent an entire week strolling its pristine, white lacquered, interconnected walkways.

For me and other fellow Europeans the idea of spending a Saturday afternoon at the mall, sounds about as exciting as spending time with the in-laws, whereas in Dubai it’s quite the opposite. People here love going to the mall. At this stage, I should point out that Dubai shopping precincts are a much more engaging proposition than our scruffy, crumbling shopping centres in Europe.

While in a cafe at The Dubai Mall, I eavesdropped on a conversation of early 30 year olds, who were sharing their Dubai childhood memories. They were nostalgic of the time when they used to hang out in malls as teenagers; the perfect place to waste time and flirt with the boys…

And here’s where things get interesting. The mall is part of everyday life and a substitue for just about everything in Dubai. From late April to the beginning of November, it’s too hot to spend time outside, so what do people do? They go to the mall. Although its cultural scene is growing, you can still count the number of museums in Dubai on the fingers of one hand. So what do people do instead? You get my point…

The mall has even become a cultural destination in itself. It’s not unusual to see people wondering around the larger malls with an SLR camera around their neck, ready to take pictures of their relatives at one of the precinct’s grand fountain, cool shop fronts or giant aquarium.

Despite being (by far) the most open minded city in the GCC region, Dubai remains fairly conservative when it comes to family values and male/female relationships. Teenagers aren’t exactly expected to hang out in the street holding hands. But the mall, because of its size, cafes, cinema and shops provides a sheltering environment, which enables discret flirtatious behaviour. I should point out that bluetooth devices come-in handy for flirting purposes at this stage. A quick, innocent bluetooth message to a local girl is sometimes the only way of initiating a conversation or simply having a bit of flirtatious fun for some teenagers in Dubai.

For local Emiratis, the mall is a way of life. It’s a holistic destination for the entire family. Where else than at The Dubai Mall can a family shop till they drop, watch the latest American blockbuster, go ice skating, send the kids to do a bit of role-playing (at KidZania), enjoy an indoor roller coaster ride and play video games (at SEGA World), see sharks and giant Manta rays up close (at the Dubai Aquarium)?

Whether you approve or not of this new way of ‘mall living’, it is here to stay in Dubai, and the recent XXL shopping precinct developments in other emerging markets such as China and Brazil further cement this trend.

Images: cover: puthoOr photOgraphy via photopin cc, 1,2,3,4,5: Alex Cortey