Janes on the wane
The expat ladies who lunch are feeling the credit crunch. With ‘hubbies’ losing their jobs, these women face losing their privileged lifestyles. Helena Frith Powell goes looking in the old haunts for the last of this endangered species.
Never mind the redundancies and declines in the property market; the most disastrous consequence of the credit crunch is the Jane Drain. It seems that the legendary Jumeirah Jane, once ubiquitous in Dubai and as recognisable a symbol for the city as the Burj Al Arab, is now an endangered species. Roam the streets of Jumeirah and you may still spot one, but they are on the decline.
Proof comes from several sources, among them our own investigation. As you will read, we had trouble finding a single one, or at least one who would admit she was a Jumeirah Jane. In addition it is now possible to get an appointment at the Reflections beauty salon without booking weeks in advance and you will also probably find a place to sit at the Lime Tree Cafe (General HQ of the Jumeirah Jane set) should you pop in for lunch. A year ago you would have been sitting in your car eating your carrot cake.
For those of you who don’t know what we are talking about, the term Jumeirah Jane dates back to the 1980s when a lot of Europeans first arrived in Dubai. It describes a certain kind of lady who lunches and then spends any spare time around lunch doing, well, not much. A Jumeirah Jane is also defined by the way she looks and what she drives. She doesn’t necessarily have to live in Jumeirah, although more often than not she does because that’s where all her friends are: why risk your Jimmy Choo heels by moving more than is strictly necessary?
So how do you spot one? Well, first of all, her car. She will be driving an SUV. There just is no alternative. It can be any colour, but will normally be the biggest one she can find. So a Jumeirah Jane with two children will invariably drive a seven-seater. Just because she can. As one Englishwoman who has lived in Jumeirah for more than 20 years and wishes to remain anonymous sums up: “Go past the Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) at drop-off or pick-up time and you will see more 4x4s per square metre than anywhere else in the world.”
A Jumeirah Jane’s hair will probably be blonde, whether natural or not, with lots of highlights. She goes to the beauty salon once a week, at least. She will also be instantly identifiable by the designer labels surrounding her, such as her sunglasses (oversized, of course), most likely Chanel, Gucci or a similarly expensive brand. In terms of other accessories she will be easily identified by her high heels and her designer handbag. Jumeirah Jane favours labels that scream “I’m a label” as opposed to the more subtle look. Think Jimmy Choo on steroids or Dior at its most bling. Her handbag will be instantly recognisable as a designer bag and often twice as big as her hair. Hence the need for a vast car.
“You go to Gap if you want to,” she responded. “I can’t be seen at the school gates in Gap.” “Would anyone notice?” I asked. “Well of course they would,” she said. “They look at the label on your jeans before they look at your face.”
My friend has now moved back to England with her designer jeans because her husband lost his job here. As for a Jane’s favourite topic of conversation, well, the absolute top of the list is complaining about the maid. In the way women across the globe have coffee and moan about their useless husbands, Jumeirah Jane will spend hours badmouthing her “useless” maid to other Janes who will nod sympathetically and return the favour with their own maid horror stories, such as when the selfish creature demanded a day off.
M decided to launch its own investigation into the Jane Drain. Could this really be the end of an era? Janes have been part of the Dubai landscape since the early 1980s, longer than a lot of the city’s landmarks. In Dubai terms, they are part of early history. The obvious place to start is Boutique 1 in Jumeirah Beach Residences. “Do you still get many Jumeirah Janes in here?” we ask the sales assistant.
“Sorry, I’ve only been here a month,” she replies in a Russian accent. “Is it a designer from Italy?” We move on to the Lime Tree Cafe, the most famous haunt of these ladies, where they will often squeeze in lunch between tennis lessons and trips to the beauty salon. Here we are faced with a dilemma. Is it considered rude to approach people you think look like Jumeirah Janes? Would it be more diplomatic to suggest they might have some ideas about the Jane Drain instead? Is being a Jumeirah Jane seen as something negative? Yes, according to most of the people we speak to. “Derogatory” is a phrase that comes up often. And funnily enough not one person we approach throughout our research, however well we thought they fitted the bill, will admit to being a Jumeirah Jane. Why not? What’s wrong with doing nothing but playing tennis, shopping, lunching and bossing your staff around? Sounds like a perfectly lovely life. Surely managing to spend one’s day doing what you want without having to do a moment’s work is nothing to be ashamed of? According to one source who lives in Jumeirah, who I would classify as bordering on being a Jane, the label is one many women like. “A lot of people would be flattered to be called Jumeirah Janes,” she says. “It is something they aspire to, in part because to fit in as an expat woman is not always easy. If you are seen as a Jumeirah Jane then you belong, you are part of the community.” Olivia, who declines to give her last name, one of the women we approach at the Lime Tree Cafe, agrees. “I think a lot of people would like to be Jumeirah Janes,” she tells me. “The thought of not working and having lots of money is extremely appealing. I wouldn’t be insulted if someone called me a Jumeirah Jane. It’s just a bit of a giggle. Sadly I have to work, so I’m not one.” I ask Olivia to define a Jumeirah Jane. “She will be driving something big like a Range Rover and there will be evidence of children, but they will be nowhere to be seen.”
Ali and Jessica (neither of whom want to reveal their surnames) are also lunching at the Lime Tree Cafe when I approach them to ask about Janes. “I’m not one,” screeches Jessica, clearly horrified that I would even consider it. “So how do you spot one?” I ask. “Boobs, bags, BMW,” she says munching her chicken salad. “Sadly they are still around. They must be getting their money from somewhere.” Ali and Jessica, who are from Liverpool, have both been living in Dubai for a year. They work for Emirates Airline. Have they noticed a Jane Drain? Is there an increase in Janes going back to Blighty? “Oh yes,” says Ali, noticeably cheerful. “We see a lot more of them heading home nowadays, without their maids and their airs and graces.” “Do they look happy?” “Not at all. They are probably going home to live with their mums and dads, going back to the checkout counter at Asda.” We move on to Spinneys Umm Suqeim, another Jane hangout. At the cheese counter we get chatting to Felicity. Surely anyone who can afford cheese from Spinneys must be a Jumeirah Jane? “Oh no,” she laughs. “I work. Well, I used to work. Now I look after my children.” “How many do you have?” “Two.” I look around for them. “They’re at school,” she explains. And how would she spot a Jane? Felicity thinks for a moment. “She will be carrying a designer handbag that is not from Karama.” As I leave I cast a glance back at Felicity’s Louis Vuitton; it does look remarkably real. Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist with the Human Relations Institute in Dubai, agrees that the term can seem uncomplimentary. “The term ‘Jumeirah Janes’ can be used in an uncomplimentary fashion, for the purposes of social class distinction, to describe persons with new-found wealth as lacking the experience or finesse to use wealth in the same manner as old money,” he says. “Jumeirah Janes are usually middle-class social economic status (SES) originally, who got rich with money but never learnt to behave in the newly acquired SES level.” So are they a kind of nouveau riche? Quelle horreur? “The most basic class distinction is between the powerful and the powerless,” says Dr Hamden. “Trying to play powerful with money but being powerless with psychosocial class. You can take the person out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the person.” This reminds me of a saying people are very fond of in England: you can take the girl out of Essex but you can’t take Essex out of the girl. You will probably have heard of Jodie Marsh, the patron saint of Essex girls? Is this why no one wants to be classified as a Jumeirah Jane? Because they think it’s common? Is there not so much a Jane Drain as a Jane Denial?
Jo Montezuma, a personal stylist at Boutique 1 in Dubai, thinks that may be it in part. “They don’t want to be perceived as common,” she says. “They are trying to lose that stereotype and going for a more designer look; more Paul & Joe girl as opposed to Essex girl.” Her colleague, Nameera Khan, agrees with her. “The Russians are the new Janes,” she says. “The blonde hair, the high heels, the white jeans. There is not so much a Jane Drain but a transformation.” Should we be on the lookout for the Jumeirah Jenika? According to a popular expat website, the Jumeirah Jane species has subdivided into several subspecies, rather like the Barbary lion and the Asiatic lion are subspecies of the Panthera Leo. They are as follows: the Original Jane, New Money Jane, Jittery Jane and ex-Jane. The Original Jane, as we have concluded, is now seen as something of a rarity. Her children still go to JESS (Jumeirah English Speaking School) and she still prefers to shop at Wafi, which she considers superior. She will also more than likely spend a lot of her time moving her furniture around to see if the dreadful maid has missed any dead cockroaches. New Money Jane is eternally grateful to her darling husband for dragging her away from the shoe shop that she worked in to this life of luxury. She is now a regular at The Lime Tree Cafe and name-drops continuously. Jittery Jane missed the boat on the generous expat packages, so is less arrogant than New Money Jane. She does her best to hide this lack of confidence, though, and pretends to be part of the extravagant gang she hangs out with. Ex-Jumeirah Jane has moved on geographically and mentally. She now lives in Mirdif and can hardly remember where the Lime Tree Cafe is. Her reason for moving on could be economical or maybe she feels Jumeirah Janes are just too 1990s. There is another newly identified species on hand that should not be discounted. The Jumeirah James. He may not be as blonde, or as high maintenance, and he will need to work. But the Janes that are still here will like him (especially if he has a well-paid job) and together they can go about reversing the Jane Drain by producing future generations of Jumeirah Janes.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019