Singapore: Expensive Tastes

IMG_0417Young Singaporean workers (particularly HR and admin roles) don’t tend to stay in jobs for very long and will go after slightly larger pay checks over job security. Why? Because most jobs receive an Annual Wage Supplement – an almost guaranteed bonus equivalent to one month’s extra salary. So a slightly higher wage means a bigger bonus.

But what to do with all this cash? Shop of course! Orchard – the busiest, fanciest and most Western of the shopping districts – boasts all of the high end stores one would expect to find on Rodeo Drive: Burberry, Hermes, LV. But don’t think you have to go to Orchard, Singapore has over 200 shopping malls of all sizes so you can spend your bonus money pretty much anywhere.

Got thirsty from all that shopping,  then head to one of the 122 Starbucks or 64 Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores.  Despite Singaporean “kopi” (stronger coffee from stalls made with condensed milk) being available for as little as S$1 (USD 70¢), thousands still flock to the Western chains and pay 6 times that amount.

It is not only the rich that have expensive taste; my colleagues are always on the lookout for the latest trends and most luxurious bags. Students who have done internships with us were concerned about having their gold membership at Starbucks expire more so than getting a job after university. It all boils down to one factor – image. The image of success: the stylised hair, the bag from an exclusive member’s only gym, the Starbucks ice caramel macchiato.

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This lifestyle does not describe all Singaporeans but an interesting sub-set. This also does not mean this sub-set is shallow but rather have all their needs met and so the only thing remaining is their wants. This group of people tend to still live with their parents, sometimes until 30, and therefore lack any true financial responsibility, so when their friends decide to go on a shopping trip to Bangkok, why not go? Their parents provide an often used safety net. If they overspend, they won’t get kicked out for not paying rent – there is no rent for them to pay.

This way of spending one’s early 20s is not wrong or right, it’s just different and it’s the way things are done here for some people. Given the opportunity to save what I want and spend what I want with no risk, I would probably do the same thing – wouldn’t you?

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Fez – Where McDonald’s is the Place to Be

borj fezThe people of Fez often appear restless, waiting. They occupy every public space possible: cafes, benches, walls, itching for a new focus that their city can offer them. With regards to the new town, this has been remedied by the establishment of Fez’s first multi-storey shopping centre ‘Borj Fez’ in 2013. As Morocco’s answer to the Western mall, this melting-pot of stores and franchises has given the relentless population, and crucially the growing middle classes, a space to flood and explore.

The recent public holiday of Independence Day of Morocco illustrated the attraction of these pinnacles of the Western culture on the city’s residents. The McDonald’s next door was at the heart of the celebrations, swarming with elegantly dressed Moroccans who had come to treat themselves on their day off to the culinary delights of ‘McDo’. Indeed, any misguided foreign students hoping to sneak in for the home comforts of a late night McFlurry in their old tracksuits and sweaters found themselves heinously out of place.

Perhaps incredulous from a Western perspective, but McDonald’s does almost appears upmarket. The restaurant is spacious, well lit, and surrounded by trees and benches, making it an appealing gathering spot within the new city. However, unlike in most European and Western countries, it is definitely not one of the cheaper options for a meal.

Fez boasts hoards of affordable eating in both the old and new medina, with a hearty tajine costing between 30-40 dirhams, and yet most McDonald’s sandwiches may match or exceed this in price. Of course, this £2-£3 equivalent meal will by no means break the bank for the average Westerner, however, it is clear that this franchise targets a specific class of Moroccan clientele.

These new spots are being received in different ways by the various demographics. While the older generations are tentative to get on the escalators, the youth are embracing these developments to their cities. Indeed, a common sight at both the mall and McDo itself are the copious proud selfies being taken by excitable groups of young people.

What is undeniable is that what we consider our most basic form of dining is still worlds away for the working classes of Morocco. While it is acknowledged that Western imports represent a luxury for many countries, it is perhaps rather unexpected that McDonalds should be considered amongst them.

Shahnaz Ford