Open Road

Car culture in the UAE

What is car culture? The way we interact with cars on a daily basis, the way cars affect our daily life, the way we use cars in our daily routine, the way cars change our life, the place of cars in daily life, the way we use cars to accomplish daily tasks. Mostly, the car has made our life easier and enabled us to go about life quicker and more efficiently.

If we take things back to basics, a car is a tool made for the ease of movement from one place to another, to unable man to get to places he wouldn't normally think of going if it wasn't for the car. But what we the human race have done with that is taken the basic idea of transportation and modified it a little, tweaked it some. Actually, we have changed it a lot. What was simply intended for the ease of movement and to stop relying on the horse and other beasts of burden, has taken on a new and different shape. It has changed form from the original idea to something completely new and unintended by its originators.

The car today is central to our daily life. We don't look at it as just a mere method of transportation. No, it is much more important now. It holds a greater significance. Gone are the days when you would buy the car that fits your class system - middle class, working class, blue collar, white collar (I have never understood this part about class systems. Working class. How so? Everybody has to work, so how come working class? Do they work more than most? And blue collar? What has the part around the neck of a man's shirt have to do with class systems? I don't know! Call me bourgeois, why don't you?) Today, the car has transcended that class system and has grown one of its own, totally unintentionally. Now we look at the car a person is driving to determine his social status. Drive an old beat up Honda Accord and we will automatically slot you in a preconfigured niche, all without really thinking about it, and in an unconscientious manner.

The reason we do that is because somehow we have all agreed on a new system and we have done that without talking about it or reading about it in a book. It just happened. It developed asexually parthenogenetically which is the growth and development of embryo or seed without fertilisation by a male (borrowing from biology for the lack of a better term). In our case, it is the development of this new class system by man.

In the United Arab Emirates, where I come from, car culture is omnipresent and well established, even though the overall age of car culture is very young, considering it stands at 40 some years from infancy to its current stage. To give a feel for this culture, consider this: If you drive the very latest model of a Mercedes Benz S class or BMW 7 series or Audi A8 or an equivalent vehicle, you are just driving a regular car albeit a nice one, but it's nothing really special, not in my country. To be really outstanding and to achieve the highest status among your peers, a Bugatti or a very limited edition hyper car of the latest and newest model is needed.

The UAE is a small country of seven emirates, almost the size of South Carolina, with the majority of people living along the coast. Cars are sold at affordable prices, as there are no taxes (the UAE is a tax free country), and almost everybody has a car (many have more than one car). The road network is excellent with wide, well-paved roads that are well lit, and the infra-structure that supports the automobile is abundant. And if you add relatively inexpensive petrol and diesel prices, you can see why we have a strong car culture in the UAE.

All the major brands in the world are sold in the UAE, and some obscure ones too. As we have everything here, we also have the car manufacturers and their brands as they are sold in the UAE, which makes us spoilt for choice, and makes choosing to buy something a little frustrating.

You can find the latest and greatest, not to mention rarest, new cars on the streets: Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, McLaren. These are all very common on the streets, and some more brands which are a little more exotic. You get to see them all the time, so it becomes normal and nothing special. And when you see somebody taking pictures next to one of these cars, you know that they are a tourist.

This brings me to an important question: If Mercedes, BMW and Audi are normal and ordinary cars, and Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley are everywhere you look, what would one who is looking to be unique and different, get as a nice new car?

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