How to survive a mall

Malls are town squares in the UAE. It’s a country built around shopping and consumption — not to mention the fact that half the year the temperature rises above 100 degrees. 

The major malls in the UAE are big and cavernous, designed to carry sounds. Stores in the UAE spend a lot of money on visual billboards and they throb from every corner. Every store is equipped with theft detection gates and they often shriek with false positives, maybe someone walking too close. 

The best time to go to UAE malls, of course, are Friday mornings. Most muslims are either preparing for prayer or at Friday prayers, so during those morning hours the malls are as quiet and empty as they will ever be. 

But let’s say you need to go to a mall outside Friday morning. How do you do it? 

Apartment Therapy had some good ideas for how to handle shopping in the US during holiday shopping season. This is helpful in the UAE because the malls here are on holiday mode all year long. 

One suggestion: 

Create a Game Plan Ahead of Time

Writing a very specific shopping list and checking the mall’s online directory to plan out which stores you’re going to visit ahead of time puts you in control of the situation and will make it overall less stressful. You won’t feel overwhelmed with options when you arrive and you won’t run the risk of forgetting someone of your list.

Bottom line: Get an understanding of where you need to go beforehand. This will help with the parking decisions, which can be very important. 

Once you’ve parked, take the most direct route to the store. This may seem obvious, but it goes with the game plan idea. Bigger UAE malls are very easy (for me) to get lost in. You may spend stress-filled time searching frantically for your store. Don’t wander from your route.  

When walking to my location, I try to stick to the inside lane next to the stores where traffic seems less hectic. People like to walk shoulder to shoulder, even groups of five, so staying out of their way is a priority method to make your trip faster. 

Stay away from the food court. This is only to be visited when empty. If you must go, think about not patronizing restaurants where staff scream out your order when complete. Taking a number for your order may sound demeaning to you, but it’s easier to listen for a number than trying to listen to the staff screaming names off a menu. Another point: Customer service is generally in English, and the language level is very high here. However, people arrive speaking with many different accents. It may be difficult to hear your order, Chicken Tikka with side of naan, than a number. 

Bring headphones. Many people walk around with them on. And until I did, i didn’t know how much they could deaden the sonic overload. 

Otherwise stay off your phone. (Apartment Therapy suggested this, too.) I could handle general, run-of-the-mill malls, but not the steroid-packed malls of UAE. To do so, I need to keep focused at the task at hand. Malls have so many built-in distractions of noise, lights, buzzers, people, I don’t like adding another one.  

Find a safe space. Chances are you may be finished before your family and you’ll need a place to hunker down. Malls, by definition, are private spaces, and mall owners want their visitors to take down time spending as much money as possible. You won’t find many benches or outdoor areas to relax. Chances are, you’ll be relaxing in a private establishment. 

There are plenty of coffee shops, but some are better than others. Starbucks is often the busiest store in the mall. Add the long lines on to the staff screaming orders, you’d be best to skip. Coffee shops attached to stores could be good, especially if they are off-brand. Arabic coffee shops are good and have table service. They can be busy, but the din of conversation is much more pleasant in places like this than elsewhere.

I type this as a father and watching a young boy and a girl run up and down the middle of a coffeeshop, kicking a soccer ball into the wall.  I don’t know where the parents were. Needless to say, childcare and child minding can be very different in the UAE. 

Hit an off-brand mall. Some of my best experiences shopping in UAE is at the smaller malls, which have a small town feel. Everything is always spic-and-span in the country’s commercial establishments, so you’re only foregoing massive amount of choice (three kitchen stores than the usual six or eight at the larger mall). You’ll also be eschewing the chaos and clatter of large malls.