Monday, June 27, 2011

Days are numbered for Abu Dhabi's crowded corner stores

I read with sadness today a plan by Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority to require the 1,300  (often tiny) corner shops in the city to standardise and modernise. These shops, I think, are one of the great bonuses and curiosities of the city. So what if they are so small that I knock things over with my a** while trying to pay for my milk? And if I have to stand waiting to buy Etisalat credit for five minutes, staring at some of the most outrageous candy I have ever seen, while the proprietor finishes his hawala call to goodness-knows-where?

 I love these corner stores, where you can buy toilet paper, canned meat, cigarettes and delicious fruit. It boggled my mind when I moved here that people would pull up outside, honk and then idle in their cars while the staff ran out to take their "order", like some sort of A&W in the 50s. And how when I entered, there was someone usually standing there to put anything I picked up into a bag for me. I was even more amazed when I realised I could phone up from home and order anything I wanted and get it delivered - provided I could get the person on the other end of the line to understand. The conversations at the store near my first apartment went like this:

Store: Hello?

Me: 104? (my apt number)

Store: One-zero-four?

Me: Yes.

Store. Oooookay okay.

Me: Big, big wattter?

Store: Big water?

Me: Yes.

Store: Oooooohkay okay.

If I ordered several things, often the store didn't know exactly what it was I wanted and would bring a little assortment of what they thought I might have been asking for. As a hilarious Canadian teacher I knew put it, "why yes I WILL have some chips". I always found "milk" most challenging. The amount of times I found myself struggling to sound out MEEEEEELLLLKKKKK, I swear. And then once, the guy turned up with a padlock. I kid you not. It happened a couple of months later to my boyfriend, too.

Not only could I order almost anything – I usually added things and always tipped well to make it worth their while – but most times it seemed to arrive about 30 seconds after hanging up. And when I moved to my new apartment, and stopped by the corner store, I knew everything would be okay when they handed me a sticker and said "deliver".

All that to say I feel for all these shop owners and managers, who work their butts off 18 hours a day, wondering how they will pay for this latest attempt to "improve" the city. They are part of the fabric of the city, the charm. If I wanted 7-Eleven, I would have stayed at home.

Some of the lovely wares at my old corner store.

1 comment:

Moe said...

I agree FULLY with the fact that these little "baqala"s are part of the charm of Abu Dhabi. Sadly, however, they are also a health hazard: the reason why they are forced to change is because very few of them adhered to the rules introduced a few years ago about how they MUST keep all refrigerators and chillers on throughout the night lest the items go bad. The truth is, while these grocery stores are extremely convenient (where else can you ask someone to deliver you a can of pepsi for one dirham only?), they do not understand the health factor they have on the residents.

But then again, as someone growing up here and eating their sweets on a daily basis as a kid, I don't recall ever getting sick from eating their products. Junk food, on the other hand, is a different story

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