September 6, 2013 7:23 pm

The excesses of Dubai and why using mats on tables is ‘horrible’

Never in the history of human endeavours have so few in so short a time built such an ostentatious Lego-set of western decadence

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

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What do you think about the ghastly excess of Dubai? Oh wait ... one never criticises Dubious Dubai because one has business interests there ... and the Emir will have all of these, including oneself, banished if there are any negative comments about the place.

You might be right about Dubai being excessive. For a start, there seems to be a vast breed of western peddlers who boast of their “extremely good connections with the Dubai ruling family”. These agents might well be auditioning for James Bond in their fancy suits and ties, but looking half ridiculous in the infernal heat of the desert. Each of them always carries a deal or two in their pockets and tells you how the Dubains would fund all the investments for any project you like. But it’s often a mirage for impecunious entrepreneurs.

Then there is the city itself. Dubai’s (monotonous) skyline invokes Manhattan, its (plasticised) beaches the Seychelles, and its (endless) shopping malls Las Vegas. But, in its imitation of luxury, never in the history of human endeavours have so few in so short a time managed to build such an ostentatious mega-Lego-set of western decadence, gone slightly wrong. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its own multiple stellar accolade, painted in gold paint that attempts to pass off as gold leaf, is a nugget of golden kitsch. I can never help bursting into laughter whenever I stay there out of sheer bemusement and incredulity over the eyesight of its designer, who might well be a medical phenomenon at Moorfields, that pantheon of ophthalmologists.

I am, however, glad you mention the “Emir”, which is a proper regal title, although rarely used nowadays. Ignoramuses only refer to rich Arabs as “Sheikh This” or “Sheikh That”, and forsake the endearing title of “Emir”, without realising that the ruler of Dubai is properly the Emir of Dubai, which sounds so much grander than “His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum”. I remember the Emir of Kano, a pukka African title that went back a couple of centuries, visiting Hong Kong when it was still a British colony. I wanted to check on protocol and got hold of someone called Pottinger with a clipped accent, a rarity these days in the British diplomatic service. I asked if he was aware of the arrival of the Emir in Hong Kong. He said he knew all about it, and that his file had duly noted that I would be looking after him. I then asked him what I should call the Emir. “Sir, I suppose,” Pottinger advised, and then added, “but not too often.”

. . .

I was rather taken aback to hear you describe as a “wine snob” the author of a rather anodyne description of a 1935 port. As an avid fan of wine and the wine industry I can assure you that, while a lot of gibberish is indeed said by snobbish types, “fresh” and “alive” are well recognised and very specific terms.

If you, as I have, watched the film It’s Alive (the 2008 remake which went straight to DVD), I doubt that you would consider using the word “alive” to describe any vino, let alone a decent port. As for “fresh”, I was often, when much younger, accused by umpteen girls for being so, and it is far too good a derogatory term to be used in its opposite. Yet you are so right about all the blabber that consumes wine-speak. My Oscar for gibberish is “having a really wonderful bouquet”. This somehow always reminds me of “a bouquet of barbed wire”, which was the name of a soap opera on English telly when I was at university. Imagine rolling that round your mouth.

. . .

What is your position on using place mats and coasters to protect tables from the marks made by plates and glasses? They are usually made of ersatz leather or cork. I think they are horrible and result in more food and liquid being spilled than if they hadn’t been used at all.

Unless the surface is an original Chippendale or better, it is too precious, and therefore bourgeois, to use mats and coasters. It is, however, marginally less bad than asking people to take off their shoes for the carpet or the floor at home, and as bad as decanting Blue Nun.

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Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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