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Because it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It pretends to be one of the metropolitan cities where ambition and higher forms of fulfillment can be achieved, while it is not. See, Dubai is like a high school kid trying to hang out with working adults, it copies them but lacks the experience and similar goals and lifestyles to actually be one of them. The fact that it is a dictatorship-style city with tons of rules makes it impossible for dreamers, artists, and geniuses to contribute to anything.
They try to apply western city lifestyles and give it a religious spin in a neighboring region full of unrest and expect that to work. They scam people with seemingly big paychecks and even bigger prices, and therefore they lack the genuine soul and charm that the other cities have. They copy the wrong things. No dictatorship will ever achieve as much as a free country.
Dubai is a city of Great Potential,
I wrote this answer a long time ago and seen some strong dissent in the comments so I will clarify one thing. Dubai is a city of great potential, and I will always have a soft spot for it, as the standard of living was by any means great. I do not oppose it’s a success (in fact, I cheer it on) I was stating that the city has a big problem with identity, culture, arts, and innovation… the things that matter and give a place it’s the unique vibe. Most of the culture is highly exclusive to the locals, and in terms of arts, innovation, and history, Dubai was only a small fishing town less than 50 years ago so it’s very understandable. Its development was purely economic and wasn’t particularly touched by dramatic historic events or movements (and how could it in so little time?); and the fear-based pacifier (through harsh laws and fines) they place on people strongly discourages artists (I would know, I was part of the underground music scene there.) I’m confident that with time, the globalized youth will take hold and figure it out, as classically framed by John Mayer.
When I was a lot younger
When I was a lot younger 6–7 years back I lived in Abu Dhabi so I went to Dubai almost every other two weeks. I also 10 months ago went there for a layover for 4 days so I think I have a good experience. I just feel it is horribly overrated. So let’s imagine you are sitting in the plane anxiously waiting to land. The pilot announces that the plane is descending and about to land. “Finally!” you thought. As the plane gets lower and lower you start to approach Dubai and on the final approach, your eyes are captivated and amazed at the amount of cool tall buildings there are in the middle of the desert.
You land and try and navigate yourself through Dubai airport. Damn it’s massive. You start to ponder upon yourself that how could someone make such an amazing city in the middle of the desert. You just get more and more deluded. As you get your rental car you start seeing laborers everywhere in blue uniform on the roads. You even drive past a rich local arguing and degrading a laborer. You seem surprised but you turn a blind eye to it. You just can’t help but admire the roads, the so-called greenery, and buildings mounting over you. You even start to envy the person ahead speeding in the latest Ferrari.
Hotel in Palm Jumeirah
You reach your hotel in Palm Jumeirah. Wow! It’s a five-star hotel right by the sea! You even get people parking your car for you and everything! You throw yourself in your bed in the hotel room and are just more submersed into this illusion. For the next two days, life is a lottery being won. You swim on the beach for hours and hours. Perhaps you pulled an attractive Russian model on the beach. Maybe you bought the most expensive branded bag ever from Dubai Mall. Or you were drinking your ass off dancing in a nightclub (make sure you don’t touch anyone’s hip to be arrested.)
Two days later the alcohol’s hangover starts to make you feel soberer. Everything suddenly gets more and more boring. Hell, you start getting agitated. You walk on the busy Jumeirah road and you just see douchebags beeping their horn-like there is no tomorrow and acting so entitled. The noise of the night clubs starts to irritate your eyes. On one end you see the ultra-rich tourists and locals and on the other end, you see the blue-collar workers standing in the intense heat. You wonder to yourself, “how’s life for them?”
Mall of Emirates
The Mall of Emirates starts to bore the hell out of you. It seems that everybody is so robotic with only one mission to bust their bank accounts and fill their hands with the most expensive and known brands ever that even when they wash their hands, the brand’s names are still there.You actually start to talk to other locals and tourists there. The only topic coming from their mouths is the expensive items they purchased. Or maybe their cars, jewelry and etc. You think to yourself that there is more to life than just items. You then start to get a glimpse at how soulless the people there are. Status is everything over there.
You just walk mildly annoyed and then when you ask a local for directions, he is happy to give you them since you are probably a rich westerner. But then you realize he shouts and scolds a lower class Bangladeshi couple for no reason. You think to yourself how fake everyone is. You sit at sunset pondering on how you are going to spend the remaining two weeks in Dubai in sheer boredom and depression. You start to want to get out. This was probably slightly exaggerated but I tried to list the realistic things and emotions you. may experience in Dubai.
The whole of the UAE is not like this.
I will be completely honest with you. There are many amazing spots to visit in UAE and I can recommend some. In order to see true culture, you must go to Bur Dubai (Old Dubai). If you want city life without too much commercialization then Abu Dhabi is the place to go. If you want a desert night out to go for a desert safari (maybe marry a belly dancer and do what I failed to do.) If you want to just relax in peace then row your boat in Hatta Dam. It is a very beautiful and scenic place. If you love hiking then you must trek Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. If you are dying to ride a jet ski then you can in Sharjah. If you want to take a day trip out of the country then I suggest going to Fujairah and a boat tour across the Musandam Peninsula in Oman. Slightly outside Dubai if you want to see a melting pot of cultures then pay a visit to Global Village. If you love to see mosque architecture then see Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi.
My point is Dubai is seriously overrated. People seem to believe that the UAE is Dubai and Dubai is UAE. There are many other places in the UAE to visit apart from Dubai city. If you are an old soul like me then you must see the culture elsewhere. You can only really enjoy Jumeirah and Dubai for so long before getting bored and frustrated. I mean how can you have fun in a place which just had a captivating mask on but behind is something a lot different.
I have no idea if I would live in the UAE again.
After living in UAE and visiting Saudi Arabia for an extended period of time I kind of resent how the locals treat us Pakistanis. I admit I had it easy as I came from an educated family with a British passport however that only really helps in jobs and education. No one on the street really cares about your passport. If you look Pakistani then you are and the toxic Khaleej Arab mentality really pisses me off. UAE isn’t that bad (Emiratis are way politer than Saudis) in this however they could use some work.
Also if you want to live in UAE with the intention of living a lavish lifestyle then congratulations. You have successfully been trapped and bewitched. That’s only what people want you to see. In reality, many people live in poverty and most people are just middle class living in rented apartments outside the city. If you want to see the sheer amount of poverty then take a visit to the laborer camps and areas and then you will find out. I remember Musaffah was a big labor lower class area in Abu Dhabi.
Honestly, to travel though, there are many other places in the world. I would love to visit Turkey (not the resorts), Oman, Balkan states, Jordan and maybe even Palestine if it was safe. I don’t see how Dubai is a tourist destination number one.