I lived in Dubai for 15 years and when I moved, I was shocked by the constant questions I got asked - “Do you speak Dubaian?”, “Oh, so you’re really rich right?”, “Do you own a tesla?”. And I think what it comes down to is the significant underrepresentation of what Dubai is really like for those who live there.
On the one hand, yes, you will be driving to school or work, and you may see some Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Yes, there are luxurious hotels and high-end stores found at malls. But this is just top layer. For one, there isn’t always that much to do - many activities and attractions that are advertised to the rest of the world like Ski Dubai and water parks are expensive, whilst it’s usually 40 degrees outside, so spending time outdoors is out of the question. These attractions are often directed more towards tourists than locals, most of the time we might just go to a friend's house or the beach.
What's interesting about Dubai, and is probably my favourite thing, is its diversity, in that, most of the population is not originally from the UAE. Most are everyday ‘expats’ from around the world who have moved for work. There's a feeling of an inclusive and richly diverse community, where people can exchange pockets of their own culture and learn about other traditions and still feel welcomed. This also means that the rich class is a minority. While local Emiratis hold the majority of wealth and power, expats are often just regular working people.
There is certainly a pressure to work hard in Dubai, placed by the fact that no income tax means you still must afford schooling and healthcare, but also, the lack of citizenship means dependence on a visa - if you’re out of work, you’re out of the country. Dubai is therefore never permanent, as an expat, you can’t retire there, and things are always developing and changing. Your favourite restaurant as a kid will likely be replaced by another business in a couple of years or even months. If I went back to Dubai now, after three years, I most likely wouldn’t recognize it.
I would describe Dubai as a great symbol of capitalism - the city relies on business and tourism to thrive, capturing an ethos of working hard means wealth and a good life. And people are accepting of this, they accept certain governmental restrictions (for example, Skype is banned and scenes are cut out of films) for certain privileges like safety, good education and great opportunities. So, I would not describe Dubai as the land of the rich, rather, it’s a place for everyone if you’re willing to pay a certain price, one that often, is not just financial.