Would you buy someone’s beach towel for Dh1,800?

By Nivriti Butalia

Flicking through the Dubizzle app, I saw two surprised-looking horses intertwined in a Yin-Yang pose on an Hermès beach towel that was being sold for Dh1,800. I let that soak in: 1,800 bucks for a towel. Among the things going for it: 100 per cent cotton and those big-eyed horses.

For over two weeks, I have been basically stalking this towel to see if anyone’s bought it. It was posted on January 25, 2018. And you know how no one says ‘second hand’, anymore, right? It’s all “pre-loved”. And whatever other pre-loved things I’d buy (furniture, white goods), I wouldn’t buy pre-loved towels. I’m happy with my assortment of gamcchas (non towely-towels that dry quickly), thank you. But I keep wanting to know whether the Dh1,800 one is off the market. Who might this person be who would have sprung that kind of cash for a towel that even though is advertised as flawless and unused, who really knows?

Out of curiosity, I looked up the price of towels. Ikea’s most expensive one is Dh79. Home Centre has one ‘supreme bath towel’ for Dh99, but 30 per cent off, so now it’s for Dh69. It got me thinking of the towels people obsess over and indeed, the kind of people who obsess over towels (can identify a wee bit). I looked up fancy towels, Ralph Lauren and The White Company and whatnot. And however exquisite the Egyptian cotton they were spun from, none were the price of the horse heads beach towel.

But this isn’t about branding and designer houses and the price of fancy. It’s about marvelling at what online shopping sites throw up, and the addictiveness of checking out the things people own and want or need to get rid of. Some of it is “so Dubai”.

What are the back stories that make people want to sell a Wayne Rooney-signed boot for Dh750 apart from the insipid but perfectly honourable cause of decluttering? And why now is someone peddling a first edition of Heidi Grows Up, that the seller has touted as a “1938 American classic signed” (Classic? Really? A sequel by not Johanna Spyri, author of the actual Heidi?) for Dh50,000, with a note accompanying the price tag: “meet in Downtown only. Price negotiable”? Or a Cartier wedding ring in its original box for Dh8,500, and am I the only one that feels a twinge of sadness for the imagined circumstance of the person who put it up? Also, what is up with all these dentist chairs being sold? Do non-dentists buy dentist chairs, like, for the house? Imagine watching Netflix on that thing.

Stephen Bailey, the designer and author of Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things told the Financial Times, “I’m not a particularly materialistic person — far from it — but to an extent, who we really are is to do with what we wear, where we live, what we drive, what we eat.”

Someone posted a green Hermès Birkin for Dh65,000 and one made of alligator skin, in burgundy, also Hermès, for Dh120,000. A Versace ashtray is going for Dh500 (I don’t understand that either). There are lots of ‘luxury goods’, necklaces and so on, jewellery spelt ‘jewalrary’ — even the Search Engine Optimisation will cock a snook. I don’t play games on my mobile. But this business of trawling sites, I find addictive. “God,” I’ll say out aloud in the car to my husband behind the wheel, “someone’s selling a birdcage for Dh200…” He’ll say “Hmmm”, I’ll say, “…and a gramophone for Dh500”, both objects of abstract interest to me, but don’t want them lying around.

The fibbing that goes on here is a riot. I saw an ad for a pair of metal handcuffs. ‘Old hands cuff’ (sic) as the phrasing went, “sells for Dh150”. The seller has put in a line: “Dont waste ur time and mine by offers please” (sic). Best is: “used once or twice”.

This is not to undermine the usefulness of online shopping, and shopping second hand, sorry, ‘pre-loved’. I’ve bought dozens of things on websites: sofas and chairs and ‘white goods’ (minus warranty), and managed to flog my mango wood coffee table online.

Someone I know recently bought a drum set pre-loved for a quarter of the price. Works perfectly fine, just that the box it came in was shabby. The fun is in discovering this idiosyncratic stuff. I was sad that someone was parting with their collection of stamps. “If you want to come see first, no problem,” the ad said. I wanted, for a moment, to buy it. But practicality is a killjoy. What would I do with it after flipping through the collection once?

I especially love that people flog unwanted gifts. Which should make us think twice before presenting rubbish flower vases or a ten pack of cigarettes to nonsmokers. There is a special muggy place in the afterlife for such gifters. But thank god these websites comes to the rescue of such receivers. I’ve bought unwanted gifts and sit quite happily on them. I’m just not sure about laying on someone else’s beach towel.

Nivriti spotted a ‘pre-loved’ chameleon being sold on a website the other day


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