Arriving in the downturn

When I left London in November 2008, Britain was in recession and The City had already adopted the spirit of depression. It was grim. Magazines were running stories on ‘tasty ways to use leftovers’. My cosy freelance arrangements were looking shaky, each every one of them. So I bailed. I had the chance to work in Dubai and I grabbed it. I thought to myself that exuberant Dubai would have to be able to ride this out. And I wasn’t mistaken when I arrived. The pre-Christmas silly season was indeed mad. Expats were splashing their cash around in bars, restaurants and shopping malls like there was no tomorrow.

But three months on,  tomorrow has arrived. Times have changed.

“It is a crazy time to be in Dubai, things are so different economically now compared to when I arrived, it’s hard to believe it’s only been 6 months! It’s all doom and gloom now!”, a twenty-something Western expat told me.

Even the most regular socialites have been postponing nights out until after payday. People are declining invitations to go away for the weekend because household expenses have been racking up. Four people in my immediate social circle have been made redundant in the past couple of months and three times that number in my extended entourage. Note that I’m only referring to expats here because it is illegal to make an Emirati redundant, or to fire them for economic reasons.

Or there’s the horrible Russian-roulette scenario one girl I know had to go through. She works at a large hospitality group.

“I just had a very awful situation at work (basically we were all on the chopping block) which thankfully turned out OK. It seems I am one of the lucky ones to have survived and still kept my job, however we are now seriously understaffed.”

The crunch certainly hit later here, but will hit hit as hard and will it last as long? People certainly talk about the bottom inevitably falling out of the false market. (And talk is really all you can do, seeing as the media is not allowed to report ‘Dubai’ and ‘recession’ in the same sentence. )

The Business Breakfast show on a local radio station, Dubai Eye, recently ran a poll on whether expats thought they were better off in Dubai.

They asked whether people thought their prospects in the financial crisis were better in the Gulf than in their home country and 63 per cent agreed.

I think I’ll stay put for just a little while longer.

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