Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Cafés in several Gulf Arab countries began selling coffee and other cold drinks in baby bottles this month, ushering in a new trend that has sparked excitement, confusion and backlash.
The fashion started at Einstein Café, a stylish confectionery chain with branches across the region, from Dubai to Kuwait to Bahrain. Instead of regular paper cups, the cafe, which was inspired by photos of the trendy looking bottles shared on social media, decided to serve thicker milk drinks in plastic bottles for the kids.
Although the franchise was not a newcomer to baby-themed products – Cerelac milkshake and baby rice cereal is a long-time bestseller – the unprecedented enthusiasm for baby bottles was a shock. All the tension and anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic appears to have spurred some to find an outlet in this strange new craze.
“Everyone wanted to buy it, people called all day, and they told us that they are coming with their friends, they are coming with their father and mother,” Yunus Malla, CEO of the Einstein franchise in the United Arab Emirates, told The Associated. Click this week. “After several months with the epidemic, with all the difficulties, people took pictures, had fun, and remembered their childhood.”
Einstein lines clogged up all over the Gulf. People of all ages flock to the sidewalks, waiting for their chance to sip their coffee and juice from a plastic bottle. Some patrons even brought their baby bottles to other cafés, pleading bewildered baristas to fill them.
Pictures of baby bottles filled with colorful drink kaleidoscopes attracted thousands of likes on Instagram and bounced off the popular social media app TikTok. A cure for the uncertainty in the world? A response to some primitive instinct? Either way, the trend was born.
However, haters soon noticed on the internet – bottle-drinkers and drinkers faced a barrage of bad comments.
“People were very angry, and they said horrible things,” Al-Mulla said, using the Arabic term for shame or disgrace. “We were a ‘shame’ for Islam and Islamic culture.”
Last week, the anger reached the highest levels of government. Dubai authorities crack down. Inspection teams stormed the cafes, where this direction started, and imposed fines.
“Such indiscriminate use of baby bottles is not only contrary to local culture and traditions,” the government statement said, “but mishandling of the bottle while filling can also contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” a clear reference to those who bring in the bottles used in Other cafes.
The statement added that the authorities “alerted social media users to negative practices and their dangers.”
The backlash also came from Kuwait, where the government temporarily closed Einstein’s café, and from Bahrain, where the Ministry of Commerce sent policemen armed with live cameras to cafes and warned all restaurants that serving drinks in baby bottles “violates Bahraini customs and traditions.”
Oman urged citizens to inform the Consumer Protection Authority hotline about sightings of baby bottles. Twitter users and Saudi media personalities denounced this trend in the harshest terms, as the famous news site Megaz Al-Akhbar expressed regret that “the daughters of the Kingdom have suffered from the loss of modesty and religion.”
This is not the first time that the guardians of local customs in the Arab Gulf states have focused their anger on social media phenomena. Vague laws across the region give authorities broad power to crack down on public immorality and obscenity. Last spring, for example, Emirati officers arrested a young migrant for posting a video on TikTok in which he sneezed into a banknote, accusing him of “harming” the reputation of the UAE and its institutions.