1. You’ll probably only meet one ‘local’ person
Emiratis tend to keep to themselves, away from the main tourist drag, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll get chatting on the beach – indeed, most tourists only encounter one Emirati on their holidays: when they get their passport stamped at the airport.
Border control is staffed almost entirely by Emiratis (indeed, most bureaucratic roles are reserved for “nationals”), but this isn’t the ideal place to strike up a conversation about local life. If you do have burning questions, keep them for a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Museum of Cultural Understanding – a brilliant initiative that connects holidaymakers with Emirati people for cooking lessons, traditional dinners and heritage tours.
Emirati nationals are far outnumbered by expats in Dubai, to the tune of almost six to one. The majority of the population is Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Asian and Western.
2. It’s not as tall as you think
At last count, Dubai has 1,344 completed skyscrapers – that’s small fry compared with Hong Kong (6,606) and New York (6,180), according to construction data from emporis.com. The city is indeed home to the world’s tallest tower (Burj Khalifa – more of which later), which peaks at 828 metres.
In 2006, a quarter of the world’s cranes were working on Dubai building sites, but those days are over – after the 2008 financial crisis, the crazy construction rate has slowed.
You might think that the ludicrously big Dubai Fountains are the tallest in the world, but they’re not – that accolade goes to King Fahd’s Fountain, in Saudi Arabia. Dubai can’t even lay claim to the world’s tallest residential skyscraper: its Princess Tower (413 metres, in Dubai Marina) was surpassed in 2014 by New York’s 432 Park Avenue (426 metres).
3. Its police cars are epic
With so many supercars on Dubai’s roads, its law enforcers couldn’t just pootle around in Fords like the British constabulary. To keep up with the crims, they turn to Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys – of course.
They added a McLaren to their fleet in December 2013, and a Bugatti Veyron in 2014. Powered by a 691 horsepower mid-mounted V12 engine, the force’s Lamborghini Aventador can go from zero-to-60 in less than 3 seconds, and has a top speed of 217 miles per hour. Its BMW i8 makes mincemeat out of fleeing villains, going zero-to-60 in 4.2 seconds.
On a less luxurious note, Dubai police has its own band of bagpipers who perform at state events. If you ask nicely, they might play you Scotland the Brave.
4. It owes a lot to Abu Dhabi
Burj Khalifa, the world’s biggest skyscraper, looms high above the rooftops of Dubai – but it wouldn’t have been completed without the financial help of Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s neighbouring emirate.
Until just before it opened in 2010, the tower was actually called Burj Dubai (literally “Dubai Tower”), but it was renamed in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai, which had been deep in the throes of a financial crisis, had just been bailed out by Sheikh Khalifa to the tune of £6.13bn – so it showed its gratitude in typically lavish style.
5. It should have had a Steven Gerrard Tower
For all of the architectural follies that have been built in Dubai (man-made islands, record-breaking towers, et al), there are countless other outlandish designs that haven’t made it past the drawing board.
International Chess City (a cluster of 32 black and white skyscrapers, designed to look like chess pieces) was proposed, but didn’t make the cut. The Steven Gerrard Tower met a similar fate. Dynamic Tower, whose floors were designed to spin (yikes), was never built either.
6. The locals are rich, but occasionally forgetful
In case you were in any doubt that Dubai’s residents are minted, take a look at its lost-and-found statistics. In 2015, a passenger left AED146,000 (£35,000) in cash in a Dubai Airport toilet cubicle (it was returned to her) – and in the first four months of 2016 a whopping AED42,171 (£9,000) cash was left in the airport’s lost property.
According to Dubai Police, two diamond rings worth AED150,000 (£33,400) were also handed in to the airport authorities. And in October 2016, a taxi driver handed in a gold ingot that had been left in his cab. It was worth AED3.5million (£780,000), and was later reunited with its owner.
7. There are far more men than women
Of Dubai’s 2.5 million-strong population, 1.7 million are male – that’s almost 70 per cent. Females account for just over 30 per cent of Dubai’s population, according to official census statistics. The higher proportion of men is attributed to the fact that most of the city’s expats are males, who have left their families behind in their home countries.
Dubai residents are a sprightly bunch, too. 58 per cent of the population is aged 25 to 44, with the majority of people aged 30 to 34. Clearly, the cut-and-thrust expat lifestyle is best suited to youngsters: just 15 per cent of the population is aged 45 or over.
8. Its Crown Prince is an action man
The son of Dubai’s ruler, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum – or Fazza, to his friends – is the handsome, media-friendly poster boy of the royal family. He’s widely respected by both the expat and national community, and counts skydiving, falconry, fishing and diving among his hobbies. He also publishes poetry in the region’s traditional Nabati style, which dates back to the 16th century.
His Instagram feed isn’t the bling fest you might expect from an Emirati royal. Ok, so he clearly enjoys flying helicopters, hanging out in private jets and hanging out with Damian Lewis at Royal Ascot, but he also loves playing tennis, cuddling ponies and petting babies. Naaw. He’s even taken the London Underground with his dad.
9. It was built on pearl diving
Before tourism, Dubai made its money with oil. But before oil? Fishing, farming and pearl diving were the emirate’s main trades. In the early 20th century there were 300 pearl diving dhows (traditional sailing boats) based in Dubai Creek, with over 7,000 sailors on board.
The men would be at sea from mid-May to early September, diving for up to 14 hours every day while the women looked after their families. The average dive would be ten metres deep: divers would reach the seabed with the aid of a noseclip and a weight tied around their waist, and then haul themselves up on a rope. They would make about 50 dives per day.
10. You can buy pretty much anything from a vending machine
The Gold to Go ATM in Dubai Mall allows you to buy anything from a 2.5-gram, 24-karat gold coin to a one-ounce gold bar. There’s even a computer inside the vending machine that changes the prices every 10 minutes in line with real-time fluctuations in the market.
Bling not your thing? Take a visit to the Sharaf DG store at the Times Square Centre mall, where you can buy a laptop, tablet, camera or phone straight from a vending machine.