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There was the following sentence in the New York Times (February 8) article titled, “Azerbaijan is rich. It wants to be famous.”:

“Oil-rich, velvet-rope-poor Azerbaijan, a country about the size of South Carolina on the Caspian Sea, would very much like to be the world’s next party capital.”

Curiously enough, none of Oxford, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster online dictionary and English Japanese dictionaries at hand carries the word, 'velvet rope' under the heading of velvet as I checked, though some include 'velvet carpet' and 'velvet glove.'

I understand velvet ropes are seen in airports, hotels and event arenas as well as a red carpet to receive dignitaries and stars. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

It seems to me that Velvet, the symbol of the rich and Poor seem contradicting each other.

What does “velvet-rope-poor” mean?

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“velvet-rope-poor” is not an idiom. It's a phrase to be interpreted in context. – Kris Feb 9 '13 at 8:52
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Given the text says Azerbaijan wants to be the world’s next party capital, it's probably a reference to the velvet rope you often see outside swanky party venues where people are queueing to get in...

Saying they're currently velvet-rope-poor doesn't mean they can't afford velvet ropes - it means you won't see scenes like the above very often in Azerbaijan, because they don't have that kind of society. But they want it, because they want to become more "Westernised".

The construction XXXX rich, [but] YYYY poor is often used to contrast the abundance of XXXX with a lack of YYYY. It needn't necessarily have anything to do with economics. For example...

Computers and the Internet have created a world which is data rich but information poor.

...is a sentiment which has often been expressed using the rich/poor juxtaposition.

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While much of the party scene is based on "Western" culture, I think the striving is for chicdom regardless of the hemisphere. – bib Feb 8 '13 at 23:07
@bib: I think since we're talking about a whole country, that's probably not really the intent. Just as streetlights shine on the poor as well as the rich, the Azerbaijani elite don't want to always have to travel by Lear jet to another country whenever they feel like partying. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '13 at 23:21
I meant the hemisphere source of velvet-ropeness, not the physical location. – bib Feb 8 '13 at 23:24
@bib: By jetting off to another country I didn't really mean they need to travel all the way to another physical hemisphere. Whatever that means in terms of East/West. Azerbaijan is apparently 40°N 47°E, but I bet they'd like to have a party scene like Qatar, which is relatively close at 25°N 51°E. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '13 at 23:39
@Yoichi: With hindsight there are many things we all could have realised earlier! But I think it would be difficult in this case unless you were already familiar with the XXXX rich, YYYY poor "formula". It's usually used in contexts where the two things being contrasted are either an unlikely combination in the first place, or where you'd naturally expect XXXX and YYYY to both be "rich" or both be "poor" (like my data rich, information poor example). – FumbleFingers Feb 20 '13 at 13:34

"Velvet-rope poor" means "poor in velvet ropes." Just as "oil rich" means "rich in oil."

Velvet ropes are used to control the flow of guests at night clubs and other party facilities. So "velvet rope poor" means "night club poor," not a good quality for a country who "would very much like to be the world’s next party capital.”

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