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20 May 2024

Sometimes less is more

By Alice Haine


The other morning on the way to work, I decided to stop off and buy a coffee. All I wanted was a filter coffee with milk. Simple I thought. But when I placed my order, the barista gave me an anguished look and asked: “What type of coffee would you like madam?”
“Just a white coffee,” I replied. Again, the anguished look. “Would you like a cappucino, a latte, a low-fat latte, a mocha, a mochachino....?” she droned on. Now I had the anguished look. “Just coffee with milk,” I repeated. Then she came again: “What size would you like madam?” before rattling off a list of different sized cups. “Just a regular coffee,” I whispered through gritted teeth.

When I finally arrived in work and took my first sip, I realised I had ended up with some milky concoction that bore no resemblance to a white filter coffee. The choice had flummoxed both the barista and myself and I had ended up with something I didn’t want. Maybe it was my fault for not learning the coffee terminology – after all, every corner of the UAE boasts a branded café offering endless variations. But I’m not that type of consumer; I like things to be simple and straightforward, which is why I struggle as a shopper in the modern world.

Go to any city across the globe and there are giant malls or busy high streets offering endless choice. If you want a new pair of trousers, take your pick from dozens if not hundreds of different brands. If it’s jewellery you like, the same applies.

But I’m a woman who is always short on time and needs to make quick decisions. Giving me 30 different stores all selling the same thing confuses me, and I often return home empty handed. Give me two shops to pick from and I buy more.

Last weekend I wanted a pair of shoes for my 18-month-old daughter. Dubai Shopping Festival was in full swing and the shopping mall was littered with “For Sale” signs offering great deals. It was a win-win situation. But as I traipsed from one store to another, I realised I was struggling to make a decision. Every shop offered rows and rows of brightly coloured shoes that would transform my daughter’s image. She could be a tomboy in lace-up boots, sophisticated in pink suede slippers, summery in sandals or cute in tiny gem decorated trainers. But the more choice I encountered, the less inclined I was to actually pick a pair.

Then I spied a sports shop that only sold trainers. I went in and there on the shelf were two pairs of children’s shoes – a pink pair for girls and a blue pair for boys. We tried the pink ones and within 10 minutes a purchase was made and another pair of adult trainers were bought too. The simplicity ensured a quick sale and everybody – including me, my daughter, who kept padding around the store and pointing at her new shoes with glee, and the shop assistant, who had doubled her commission – was happy.

While I can understand the need for choice – after all, we don’t all want to look the same or drive the same cars – I have always believed that sometimes less is more.