By Anil Bhoyrul
After Covid-19, what it means to be hip and cool has been flipped on its head
I’ll start this column with a personal story, but ride with me for a minute. Maybe you can relate, even if you would never admit it.
Back in January I arranged to have dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen for a year. I booked a restaurant on Jumeirah Beach Road. Small, family-owned pizza place. Not many people ever go there, but the food is great. Anyway, just before we were about to order, my friend leaned over to me and said: “Not really happening here, is it?”
I didn’t really understand what was meant to be “happening,” but we left straight away, making the 25 minute drive to a trendy spot in DIFC.
Place was absolutely heaving. It took another 25 minutes to get served at the bar. I handed over AED500 and never saw the change (I’m sure I got it, I just couldn’t see it). There was no chance of a table for dinner as we hadn’t booked 12 years in advance, so we stood in a cramped bar, tightly squeezed amongst a crowd of 100. Music loud, sweat dripping off my back, and doing that awkward dance where your body stays still but you move your shoulders and hips. Sort of like Bikram Yoga, without the Bikram. Or the yoga.
As we left an hour later, after I stole some peanuts from someone else's bar table, my friend said: “Wow! What an amazing night, and what a cool place!”
Covid-19, and social distancing has changed all that and flipped what it is to be “cool” on its head.
Now that the world had ended, and a new one about to begin in a few weeks, I suspect it will be a very different one we are about to enter. Mass crowds, heaving restaurants, queues to get in and talking to total strangers will be a thing of the past. Places that “losers” enjoyed going to – like my pizza joint in Jumeirah - will suddenly become hip.
Being in an empty restaurant or bar, surrounded by almost nobody – because deep down we will all be convinced that the guy next to us is still carrying the virus – will be the new norm. No more ban, but keep your distance man.
And this has its advantages for large sections of the community, who like me are introverts in an extrovert’s clothes. I have 5 close friends. I find most people incredibly dull. I like to watch Narcos Mexico Season 2 for the 15th time on a Thursday night (still don’t get the ending). I dread being invited to a Friday birthday brunch, and having to pretend I’m having the time of my life with 12 strangers I hope never to see again.
And most of all, I dread going to a restaurant on a Friday morning for breakfast, and explaining to the waitress that no one will be joining me.
But alas! Thanks to social distancing, “losers” like me are now winners. We are the cool people, the type everyone else now wants to be like. I am no longer embarrassed to be thrilled to discover that adding an extra spoon of olive oil to baked pesto salmon with asparagus can make such a big difference. I no longer have to cover the apps for The Economist and The Spectator on my iPad, for fear of being called a boring twat. Spending my 50th birthday with my wife and 3 kids – and not inviting anyone else to join us – wasn’t that strange after all. I’m back! I’m back! I’m back!
And I am not alone. My good pal Matthew Priest, the Editor in Chief of Esquire Middle East (who by the way looks exactly like the Russian spy in Homeland Season 7), last week launched a brilliant campaign called #DressupThursdays – the exact opposite of what many of us know from office life as Dress Down Thursdays. His theory being that just because you are in self-isolation, doesn’t mean you have to dress like a tramp. I tried this last Thursday, and loved it.
For the first time in 2 years, I put on a suit that I think really fits me, and is not ridiculously tight. I wore socks with my shoes without feeling awkward. And yes, I wore shoes with my suit, not trainers (I don’t understand that trend either. It’s just wrong isn’t it?).
I gotta say, it was a truly uplifting experience. I felt good inside, and nobody judging me on the outside. Or to be precise, nobody outside.
Deep down, I guess I always knew – and so did the many other people who feel the same as me – that our time would come. The moment when everything we did and felt all our lives, that was deemed so wrong, turned out to be so right. No more peer pressure. In fact, no more peers or pressure.
Just didn’t think it would take a global pandemic to get here.