When I first heard about Dubai it was from someone who had never been. They were quick to judge it as a fake materialistic city built on nothing, full of dropout expats.
When I first visited Dubai nothing was further from the truth.
It is the most delicious cocktail of ancient and modernity, filled with every creed and colour, situated in the belly button of the world. To me the reverse was true. It was a stand out city, that exuded vitality and hope, a far cry from the crisis infused gloom hanging over the West
The land of UAE belongs to the bedouins so underpinning their culture is a sense of freedom and deep optimism. Someone once described how they do business. When the bedouins come across a sand dune in the desert they don't rush to see what is the other side they wait for the sand to blow away. They listen, they observe, they believe in honour, loyalty and exchange of services. The Sheikh is reputed to be incredibly humble, often seen without guard in regular restaurants.
It is in this land of wanderers that over 120 nationalities have settled, making it the most culturally diverse place in the world. You only have to stand at customs to see the sea of faces all coming for new opportunities, to live better lives. Life is just more interesting when you are working alongside a bunch of Lebanese, Indians, Ossies and Europeans and it permeates into art, music, fashion and food. For breakfast you can have an English fry up breakfast, have a Lebanese kofta for lunch, New York cupcakes for tea and Japanese tepanyaki for dinner. At the Dubai mall Japanese designers rub shoulders with Arabian, Brit rock chic blends with Parisien couture.
And the life is truly great. Yes there is sun and sea on your doorstep but the Emirati way is one of ease, comfort and enjoyment. For instance the busshelters roads and metro are as clean as a whistle and gorgeously air conditioned. The service is beyond impeccable, light years away from the Parisien waiter who slaps your bitter coffee down with a grimace or growling New York taxi driver.
The beaches are immaculate, yes yes the hotel ones obviously but also there is an abundance of greenery and space for all. Free or next to nothing parks like the Jumeirah beach one where for a euro you can enjoy beach beds, a leafy green park and a wide open beach for everyone to enjoy.
And it flows through to business and industry. One of the world's leading brands that has defied the stodgey competitors is now in pole position ready to benefit the world. Of course Emirates whose service from economy to first makes you feel special.
UAE are now bidding for 2020 and their expo plans are mind blowing. A whole area devoted to sustainability all house by a beautifully sculpted solar roof. It would be the most culturally diverse expo to have ever been created. You can be sure that the experience here as a visitor will be so much slicker, efficient and futuristic than any other city competing for it.
Fundamentally I have always felt a misfit, being half Greek half English with an Athenian father who grew up in the Middle East and a Norfolk mother who was a nurse in the Sudan. In the UK I constantly missed the Mediterranean passion. In France the negativity and traditionalism got me down. In Australia I just felt too far away.
Dubai allows you to be you. And controversially especially if you are a woman. I'm not the only woman to think that. I feel safer here in Dubai than I do in London or Paris. There is a healthy respect that means you are just left alone, so long as you in turn respect the local values and customs. Also in Europe there is often an underlying chauvinism, that means that men can do it better, hence the paucity of women boardmembers at big Western companies. Here from my experience and that of my entrepreneure friend women in business are admired. I can hear all the cynics ready to wade in but I cannot refute the evidence I have from the last few weeks working here. It has been a breath of fresh air. Not to mention the openness and creativity that comes from a city that is exploding and growing at lightening speed. In ten years it has achieved what New York did in a 150.
For those who still sit on the fence I encourage you to check out the city. Feel the rush of high octane business district, the calm of the Palm, the mysticism of the desert and the majesty of the Burj. This city is rocking its way into the 00s and beyond.
Bring on the Olympics here, I say.Suggest a correction