When I first heard about Harrods, I thought it would be like walking into a wonderland or a palace from the glamorous words people used to describe the department store. When I finally walked into the Harrods in London a few days ago, I was stunned by the view – not of its glamour, but the fact that it looked like any other shop in the UAE.
What added to that feeling was that it was filled with Arabs. This made me wonder why the store was so popular among my fellow Gulf residents? Why is it the main destination in London? What makes Harrods so famous? My curiosity led me to investigate when I got back to the UAE. I set out to the new Galleria Mall on Al Maryah Island where exclusive and new collections can now be found. The purpose of my visit was to get opinions from Emiratis. To find out if they would still go all the way to London to buy brands that were now available in the UAE.
I talked to women in their 20s. One told me that she would visit Harrods in June because it is the sale season where the prices for brands are reduced and you get the tax refund. The sales in the UAE luxury shops do not happen very often. Also, Harrods in London has the latest collections, and the UAE is always behind.
Who wants to buy an outdated bag, the woman asked. And at the end of our short conversation, she issued her verdict on shopping in the UAE: "Impossible. I go to Harrods to buy brands".
Another woman told me that new brands sell out quickly in the UAE and the shops don't upgrade often. At Harrods, all the latest products are in stock. I am sure many luxury lovers have noticed this is not the case in the UAE.
I came across a group of five Emirati women, and was set to question them. When I approached them, they were receptive. One thing I like about Emirati women is that they are friendly, cooperative and helpful (most of the time) towards their compatriots. I dearly missed this community sisterhood bond when I was on vacation.
I asked the women why so many of them insisted on carrying only branded items. One said it is a big thing to carry an exclusive bag; it attracted "friends" and status. Some might disagree, but she is right. I know a lot of women who are experts in differentiating between the original and counterfeit brands, so it has become a competition among them to see who can draw the most attention.
The truth is, no matter how fashionable and expensive one looks from the outside, at the end of the day, if the person is rotten on the inside, then what good is she? There is nothing wrong with dressing up and looking good, but we should not get stuck on outer appearances.
Another woman in the group said that not all Emiratis buy brands with the intention to show off. She said she likes name-brand products because they last longer and look nicer. "I only buy a branded handbag and purse once every five or six years," she said. Sometimes people receive such luxury items as gifts from friends and family.
One lady argued that it would be unfair to say that Emiratis and other Gulfies visit London only to shop in Harrods. I absolutely agree with her. When I was in England, the weather was wonderful, the sky looked stunning, it rained frequently and best of all, we enjoyed walking down the streets everyday.
I thought I would mention the tax refund process at Heathrow Airport as a caveat. Our flight was at 10.30 pm and we were told to arrive in the airport five hours ahead to get our money back. The process was extremely slow that many people were forced to abandon the process to catch their flights.
One question left my family and others confused: Why were there only a few people working at the tax refund section when the queue reached down the street? After five hours of waiting, we were relieved to get out of the crowd and rejoice over getting our money back.
With that in mind, The Galleria Mall will likely save many Emirati women's time (and let's not forget Emirati men), if not their lives!