Keener than a blade, the critical gaze

By Deepthi Nair

Ever so often, we come across unconscious biases in our daily conversations. Living in Dubai, the most common one I come across is when people ask me where I live. Not that I live in the ghetto, or even if I do, wonder how it matters to anyone else. I have often found that the mention of our place of residence during a social gathering elicits responses such as: “Aren’t you planning to upgrade to a more upmarket neighbourhood?”

I can vouch that such biases unintentionally trickle into everyone’s minds. At my former workplace, I would often come across people assuming a condescending tone at the very mention of life in other emirates. What is this false sense of entitlement some people harbour, I have wondered.

People in most cases ascribe where they reside to their social status. For instance, living in New Dubai communities such as Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residence or Downtown Dubai, by default suggests that you’re living the high life. I have also found it amusing how certain communities have earned unofficial tags: say, how Karama is ‘family-focused,’ Bur Dubai is a ‘hub for Indian expats,’ Deira is ‘Pinoy-friendly’ or how ‘Western expats love Mirdif’. Does it mean these communities do not welcome other nationalities? For a city that is a melting pot of varied cultures, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Although some people find it offensive to disclose what house rents they pay, this question is asked with abandon, I have noticed. I am also guilty of this indiscretion on numerous instances. What follows is a quick mental calculation of how the person in question can afford the property. Conclusions are drawn about their earnings, disposable income and quality of life, among other factors.

Then, of course, you have the perceptions about living in villas and apartments. While villas are considered the prerogative of the crème de la crème of society, the working class are more likely to slave it out in cookie-cutter apartments, we like to think. But, stories abound of expats who slog it out in bed spaces in the city only to build their dream houses back home. I have a distant uncle who works as a security guard in a hotel near the Deira Creek. For the most part of his expat life, he has curled up on a small bench during night in the attic of an adjacent building. Only recently has he been shifted to staff accommodation quarters. I have always marvelled at how much he sacrificed only to build a palatial house in his village in India.

This could be the quintessential story of several blue-collar workers in the city. And for all of us with a myopic mindset looking to make hasty judgements, what needs to be kept in mind is that priorities differ from person to person.

Coming back to biases, people also judge us on our social lives. This extends to who we hang out with, where we socialise, where we dine, where we travel — the list is endless. You’re known by the company you keep. This couldn’t be more true in today’s world that is obsessed with social media.

You’re supposed to have had a swell weekend if you’ve been out for brunch, a barbecue or a rollercoaster drive through the desert dunes. But inviting friends home for a quiet dinner or Netflix binge watching can be equally good for the soul. But you’ve got to keep up appearances, don’t you?

Leisure travel has gone through the roof with the proliferation of social media channels. People make travel plans at the drop of a hat. Put up your travel pictures on social media and rest assured, you will be judged. Even your travel destination comes under the scanner. The farther you travel, the fancier the holiday, it is commonly believed. How can a holiday be gauged by the air miles you cover?

Travelling also creates a perception that you have a lot of disposable income waiting to be splurged. Those who judge us fail to realise that a holiday is often the result of months of frugal expenses and cost cutting.

With Dubai being the city of glamorous cars, what you drive is also open to judgement. The swankier the car, the higher the prestige. On a lighter note, I have been driving a Toyota four-wheel drive for the past nine years and I couldn’t be happier. But of late, I have been coming under pressure from all quarters to trade it in for a swankier, better brand. It’ll just be a matter of months before I succumb to all the pressure.

Driving down the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road, it is a common sight to see massive vehicles tailgating and intimidating smaller cars. On multiple occasions, during taxi rides, I have heard drivers quip about how lesser brands need to make way for more upmarket ones on the road. Amusing observation, I must admit. It just reinforces how biases get perpetuated.

Prejudices also extend to the sport one plays. While a majority of expats are exhilarated with street cricket or soccer, a few believe pursuits such as golf are sports preferred by the elite. I have even heard that corporate deals are cracked while teeing off on a fairway and many sign up for golf lessons hoping to network better. Whatever happened to playing sports just for the heck of it?

So, like it or not, we are under the microscope everyday — it’s just the perspective that differs.

Deepthi covers property. Loves to be in the thick of all that’s fun in Dubai

deepthi@khaleejtimes.com

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