Sunday, January 11, 2009


In the Gulf, cars are an easy way of working out how much money someone has, or makes. If you’re wealthy you'll drive a Mercedes Benz, ('Benz' as they are known as here), or BMW. Recently Lexus, Maserati and Hummer have made inroads, but the vast majority of people with tangible assessts will have a German car.

Sometimes all that wealth becomes unimaginable and Mercedes/ Hummer/ BMW sandwiches, whilst stopped at traffic lights, happen all the time. Parking lots tend to be better than any car showroom.

As Arabs inhabit a complex culture {see blog archive: 10/o3} cars have hidden meanings and here’s a ~tounge in cheek~ list of the meanings behind some of the most popular cars in the Gulf:

what you give the housemaid

GMC Suburban
pronounced [sue-ba-ban] in the Gulf. Owners have lots of people in their family, or travel in groups

Lexus 400
Neuveau riche and always has a personalised number plate {see future blog archive: }

Land Cruisers & 4 wheel drives
Everyone in the UAE owns a Land Cruiser and they feature heavily in UAE music videos

Toyota Tercel
real lack of money

Buying a New Car
I’ve been told that when someone buys a new car they celebrate by dancing around the car three times. However, I’ve never seen this with my own eyes and wonder if it's a, 'real urban legend'. However cars are important here and several work colleagues have invited me out for celebration lunches with the arrival of a new car into their lives.

Unique to the Gulf
Several things are unique to the Gulf car-wise:

1. Women driving cars with their faces and eyes covered {see blog archive: o9/o1}. It is illegal to drive wearing something which stops your vision, but it still happens. Over the years I’ve seen various things happen at roundabouts you wouldn’t really expect. I remember a long time ago watching someone reverse around an entire roundabout and thought I’d never see anything to top that.

It took many years, but recently I sat mesmerised as I watched a woman wearing a complete face covering approach a roundabout, stop her car, lift up her face covering so she could see if anything was coming, put it down again and then proceed to drive round the roundabout.

2. Volvo stretch limos.

3. In Kuwait there is a penchant for painting your car an unusual colour, e.g. orange, vibrant purple and iridescent anything.

4. Teen [TEA-een] Mud
Orange mud is sprayed, from a high pressure spray gun by a garage, over the front gill and headlight area of the car to protect the paintwork from sandstorms. This is done specifically for long distance driving. It's also washed off by a garage, once the journey has been completed.

In most Gulf countries (Bahrain being the exception) the distances between cities is great (e.g. crossing Saudi from east to west, Dhahran - Jeddah, takes at least 14 hours) and the roads connecting the cities are usually built for speed. This works well, but it also means there’s a lot of space in which the sand can blow. Imagine what a car would look like after 3-4 hours of sandblasting.

Urban Legends
In Dubai it is impossible to join a certain social group if you didn’t own Benz and aquaintences have been known to take out car loans, just to have a social life.
When I stated my dislike of the practice the person concerned agreed,
“I hate it too, but I get really lonely here without friends.”
I asked what sort of friends he thought they might be, in light of the fact he must have a certain type of car to have these friends and he replied,
“You’re right, they’re not my friends, but again, I get very lonely here, and maybe someone else in the group feels the same way as me?”

One of my former bosses had four cars and would specify which car was to be used for a specific person, or use. In general he'd use the BM for his mother and the landcrusers for taking the children to school. Or rather the drivers would.

1 comment:

aaliyah said...

I dont normally comment because im q lazy....but just thought id say I find your blog interesting and I like the range of subjects you blog about. Its eclectic but fun to read :)

And its strange how much a car can say about a person...