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A Slice of Middle-Eastern Shopping Culture

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Different. Yet the same. That’s my feeling from a visit to Dubai last week. I was struck by the similarities in shopping culture to what we see here in the U.S. or in western Europe. Dubai is a melting pot of cultures, an ill-planned mash-up of East meets West. From the immense scale of the Burj Khalifa (once the Burj Dubai), the tallest man-made structure in the world; through the Souks of Spice, Textile, and Gold; on to the mega-mega malls (one mega somehow doesn’t do them justice), such as the Mall of the Emirates (with its indoor ski slope) and The Dubai Mall, the similarities of shopping behaviors are what stood out to me. Groups of young people watching each other and being seen at the mall, families out buying their weekly groceries, and young couples window shopping for jewelry and home goods, all felt very familiar.

Increasingly around the world, we are seeing the slow but gradual homogenization of shopping cultures. Different cultures intertwined with the same basic needs for weekly essentials and desire to express their human individuality, even in what we might view as a highly restrictive society like that in Dubai.

And yet there are always small and subtle differences that make a place unique, for example, local boutiques and independent outlets that allow a thriving creative community to find its audience. These are the things that create the essence of a city and bring uniqueness to the culture of shopping. Will it always be thus, or will the march of global brands eventually win out? Or will each city, each unique place, find its own equilibrium, a balance that is right for the composition of shoppers that exist within it? I hope so, as it’s the thrill of the new, the undiscovered, that unique find that helps to maintain the energy and excitement in global shopping.

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