Last weekend, DH and I (and the children) were invited for lunch at the home of some new-found friends.
Their son is a pal of oldest son (they are classmates), and us parents always have a jolly good chinwag at drop-off and pick-up times.
Anyway, *Mrs Khan, who is neither irritatingly over-functioning like Alpha Mum, nor slavishly superficial like Fashionista Mum, and doesn’t have a secondary agenda like Mumprenuer, seemed like a very good egg. So a lunch date was duly set up and a *location map to their house was received via email.
As it turned out the Khans live in the Ranches – a short hop up the Emirates Road from where we live; so far so good. But when we arrived some 20 minutes later, and were ushered from the wonderfully cool lobby through to the enormous and superbly tasteful living room, I suddenly realized we were not dealing with your usual run-of-the-mill parents from school.
Indeed, if the very exclusive looking pieces of art lining the walls hadn’t given the game away, the panoramic windows looking out onto the vast, manicured landscaped garden, complete with an Olympic-sized pool, certainly did.
Yes – the Khans were clearly über-rich – and of the well-bred kind which only occurs when you’ve had oodles of money in your family forever.
For the entire afternoon, we were waited upon by no less than four members of staff, who moved about silently, removing our empty glasses and replacing them with refilled ones without us even noticing. One was even assigned to exclusively keep an eye on our children so we could relax and enjoy the afternoon with our hosts, who proved to be entertaining and hospitable. What utter bliss!
But – and it’s a big BUT (even bigger than Beth Ditto’s) I could not help worrying about what would happen when the time came for us to reciprocate the weekend lunch date.
We live in a villa too, but it’s on the smaller side of medium. We have a garden, but it’s on the ‘back yard’ side of landscaped. And we also have a pool – but it’s one of those large paddling jobbies that you pick up from Geant for Dhs150. In other words, it’s a plastic bag filled with water that you can sort of float in if you’re not too tall.
We also have a live-in maid. But she’s not graceful silent type, and she never helps us ‘entertain’. Rather, she’s quite the reigning matriarch so we are all rather frightened of incurring her wrath. And as for us asking her to help out on a weekend; well, let’s just say DH and I would have to draw straws on that one.
I voiced my concern on the way home – and discovered DH felt exactly the same way. I was surprised because we have always been very ‘take us as you find us’ people. We are not, and never have been competitive or pretentious when it comes to other people’s wealth (there’s just no point because we’re always skint).
We think nothing of driving around in old cars (except when they go wrong), and we like to think of ourselves as friendly folk with a shabby chic approach to life. But as soon as we arrived back at our abode, and looked around our cluttered, careworn home, we both felt, for the first time ever, just distinctly shabby.
‘Nevermind,’ said DH, ever the optimist, ‘We can get Agatha (our maid) to help out when they come over [service with a scowl], and if we have a big tidy up, it won’t be so bad.’
‘Yes,’ I conceded, with much more conviction than I felt, ‘and if we get the ice lolly stains out of the sitting room curtains (courtesy of the toddler) and turn over the sofa cushions so that the worn-through bits don’t show, it will look so much better.’
The next day however, our feelings took a complete u-turn. And it wasn’t because my ancient aunt Mable finally died and left us all her money. It was actually because we spent the day at Atlantis – Dubai’s super hotel and resort for the very first – and hopefully the last time.
By 2pm, as we staggered through the crowds and relentless heat at Aquaventure, we’d both experienced what can only be described as a ‘chav-tastic epiphany’. Surrounded as we were, by hoards of squishy, unattractive bodies, most of which spoke with harsh, Eastern Block accents, our own imperfections began to recede.
Our clothes, though decidedly high street (and hyper market in some cases) were at least appropriate – not far too young, or far too small for us, or made from Burberry plaid. We were not covered in tattoos, (shown off in t-back vests) or chain smoking either.
Furthermore, we didn’t order polystyrene tray loads of fries and slob on a lounger, baking our shiny faces while simultaneously stuffing ourselves with greasy fingers and slurping over-priced fizzy lager.
Instead, as the children attempted to find their own patch of water amidst the teaming weekend crowds, we both agreed wholeheartedly, that we wished we’d gone to *Dreamland Aqua Park again instead.
And while it’s only fair to say Atlantis is in a class of its own, on a scale of 1-10, (10 being Berkley Square in Knightsbridge and 1 being a self-catering bedsit in Benidorm) the resort, for all its nouveau riche grandeur and pomp, probably scores about three in terms of refinement – and that’s pushing it.
But suddenly, we were glad to be just us again. Money, as they say, cannot buy you class; breeding will always out and a sow’s ear will never be a silk purse, no matter how many Swarovski crystals and designer labels adorn it.
So, in a couple of weeks time, our new found friends will be coming to lunch, and though I will wash the sitting room curtains, put out some fresh flowers and attempt to clear up the mountainous piles of shoes from our hallway in their honour, I will not ask Agatha to do any over time.
Mostly this is because I’m scared of her. But it’s also because we shouldn’t try to compete. As the crowds at Atlantis showed us – when we try to take on airs and graces (by wearing Burberry in their case) we simply end up looking silly.
True, we’re not top drawer or wealthy, and I can safely say we never will be. But at least we can be comfortable in our not-so-affluent skins, and accept that being middle class in the Middle East, ain’t so awful after all.
* Names have been changed.
*It is customary to email a location map to anyone who needs to visit your house in Dubai, because official maps still haven’t quite to grips with the city’s mushrooming suburban areas.
* Dreamland Aqua Park is a large and well run water park in the neighbouring emirate of Umm al Qwain. Although it opened more than 10 years ago, it maintains its position as one of the favourite summer hang outs for families in the UAE. An unpretentious venue, it does exactly what it says on the tin.