Dishing it all up on plates

The one addition that leaves me scratching my head is the exclusive license plate and the supposedly special numbers stencilled onto them.

l'm a big fan of choices. I love a wondrous variety when I am shopping for food, contemplating my latest dinner menu. That affection grows when I'm shopping for gadgets. Who here doesn't want the latest in technology right at their fingertips when out looking for the next big thing to burn your salary on? Out and about in the UAE, women have their designer bags, shoes and what-not. The gents (as well as plenty of ladies, come to think of it) have their cars.

The motoring eye candy is out in force on UAE roads - and fancy cars are made even fancier with some serious upgrades. There are gold rims, decked-out paint jobs, fantabulous interiors and darker than legal tints. But the one addition that leaves me scratching my head is the exclusive license plate and the supposedly special numbers stencilled onto them. The "better" the number, the higher the price and undoubtedly the higher the attention gained.

Make no mistake, it is a show-off extravaganza, a fashion parade of sparkling metal plates. Let us not ignore the fact that Abu Dhabi holds the world record for the six most expensive plates ever auctioned. Who can forget last year's No 1 plate going for an astounding US$14.5 million (Dh53.26m). The event was widely publicised with major newspapers around the world reporting the story. If attention-grabbing was the name of the game, the proud and slightly poorer owner of said plate certainly got his money's worth. But this isn't really news for us any more. What truly boggles my mind is the endless varieties of plates out there.

There's the obsession with the number of numbers. You've got the six numbers - the ones most of us have on our cars - then are five digits, four digits and, if you start getting really upmarket and have a bit more cash to splash, you move into three numbers, two and nifty one-digit plates. To add to the chaos is the multitude of colours - red and white, blue and white, black and white, green and white, yellow and white, all white, all blue, all black, all green, all red, all yellow ...

Confused yet? And some have extra numbers, for good measure. I have a headache just thinking about it. What does it all mean? Back where I come from, boring old Europe, you have a simple blue stripe to the left with the country letter then the numbers that ID your vehicle. Now this is valid for more than 47 countries. In the city that is Abu Dhabi, I have broken down at least seven different licence plate types running around.

It becomes impossible to decipher what and who is in the car next to you. I often get nervous whenever a snazzy license plate pulls up next to me. It's like I freeze and begin to pray I don't mess up. What if get twitchy, freak out and I drive into someone important? Will someone who can afford a low-digit plate hit me? Hey, they can probably afford a new car better than I can so maybe they'll be less careful.

It's a metal rainbow on the roads - at least it makes for a decorative drive. But just try logging onto any of the sites to find out how many fines you have. The list of plate types is huge. You get lost in translation and, for the most part, you always get it wrong. Then you have private, public, commercial vehicles ... my head is spinning again. And now I've forgotten what my own number plate is. psantos@thenational.ae

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