Dubai – the modern global crossroads where Starbucks meets Stalin

Would you like tea, coffee or juice with your murderous dictator?

The legacies of Stalin’s rule lingers on in many corners of the world, but I am sure even Uncle Joe might have been surprised to find himself appearing on a menu. The Stalin Breakfast, pictured here, consists of boiled eggs with Sevruga caviar on top, and a couple of bits of toast on the side.

The odd thing, though, is that this particular celebration of the late Soviet dictator/mass murderer is not to be found in Putin’s Russia, but in a cafe at Dubai International Airport, where I am currently idling in rather jet-lagged fashion (and hence blogging about things like cafe menus).

Quite why they have chosen Stalin, rather than someone slightly more acceptable like Gorbachev or even Lenin, I am not sure. This is, however, just one of the many strange cultural mishmashes that one gets here, in what is probably one of the most cosmopolitan airports in the world.

For those who don’t come out this way often, DXB, as Dubai airport is known, is now the main international hub for the Middle East, where Africa and Europe connects with the emerging economic giants of India and China.

You can get flights to nearly anywhere from here, and the people who pass through here reflect its exotic flavour: legions of Indians, Thais and Filipinos who work for wealthy Gulf families; Somalis heading from London to the old country to see if it’s improved yet; Iranians from the other side of the Gulf salting away their cash in more reliable banks than the ones in Tehran. Then there are also the estimated 100,000 Brits who now work in Dubai itself, attracted by tax free salaries, and the availability of booze and winter sun.

In fact, the only people you don’t see that much of is the indigenous people of Dubai itself. The tiny Gulf state, which has expanded massively in the last 20 years to become a desert answer to Hong Kong, has more than four fifths of its 1.9 million population listed as expatriates.

Which, I think, is one reason why things like Stalin-themed breakfasts are on offer: there is no real dominant culture here in particular, leaving people free to pick and mix in what sociologists would probably say was a very postmodern fashion.

Take the airport’s Irish bar, for example. On my last visit here, I had a cooked English breakfast, served to me by a Thai waitress, while every now and then, the sounds of O’Mulligan’s Wake (or something similar in the piped music) was interrupted by the tannoyed call to prayer.

True, you might say that this is airport mall culture anywhere these days. In Dubai, though, it doesn’t change that much when you exit the airport and head into town. The first time I came here, back in 2008, I had lunch in an Italian restaurant where an Indian band were playing covers by American sixties rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival, much to the delight of a group of drunken Russians.

Stalin, I suspect, would probably not have approved.


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