First published in Women Today, January issue 2010
There seem to be a lot of misunderstanding and gaps in communication between Qataris and foreigners; many misconceptions and hasty judgment. I have wondered where these feelings and ideas stem from. I’ve been discussing this with people around town, and I am drawing some interesting conclusions. These are just opinions, it is not a study. Moreover, I am only talking about concerns and issues – there is brighter side that I will save for my future columns.
We hear many Qataris say “They don’t respect our traditions; They have more privileges than us; How come they have higher salaries than Qataris? Crime and disease spread because of the large number of foreigners! Qatar has become too crowded …” While foreigner say “Qataris are lazy they never work; They take everything for granted; Qataris are aggressive and not friendly at all; They are all spoilt, rich people; They are so closed minded and difficult to deal with”.
Arabian gulf culture in general is very unique; yes people are Arabs and Muslims but the way they live is different from Arabs in Lebanon, Egypt or Morocco. The kind of society in Qatar is more akin to a tribal one, because of its small number and strongly shared values and traditions. People are raised to respect traditions and honour them. Qataris tend to be conservative; formal and shy even with each other. Hanging out in public places is very new to Qataris. Till a few years ago, going out only meant camping in the desert, going to the beach, visiting friends and relatives, or an evening at the Al Muntazah park. Girls would be with their families and boys would be in ‘almajlis’ or at the camp. It was not acceptable for groups of girls and boys to hang out in the malls; there weren’t many in any case. Imagine being a minority in your own country?
Qataris believe that foreigners enjoy the privileges that really matter. For example; they get paid for accommodation, car, annual travel tickets, put their kids in the best and most expensive schools and earn double or triple of what Qataris get. An example is a friend of mine who applied to one of the largest employers in town; he was offered QR15,000 to start with and after one year training an increment of QR2,000. While a French friend of his, with the similar qualifications, with little Englishspeaking skills received this: QR35,000 per month + house + car + cell phone + travelling costs + health insurance for him and his family + education at schools of choice for his children + finding a job for his wife ASA P. There are examples dime a dozen, in this tone.
Why do foreigners with similar or lesser qualifications as us, get paid more?
The frustrations reach another level when the boss at work is a foreigner who refuses to guide or train them properly, because he/she knows that one day this Qatari person will take his place.
And, NO , not ALL Qataris are rich. There are some poor Qataris living in small old houses with no jobs. Sometimes, when I go to certain events where I am the only Qatari lady, I am stared at. I don’t know if they are curious or surprised. Once when I said it was too hot to walk in an Abaya during summer, an expat replied “Oh! I always wondered how you feel in that thing, now I know, not comfortable!” That was offensive.
I also get offended when I am asked: “Can you go out clubbing? Do you have a boyfriend?” And if I answer “NO ”, they give me a ‘sympathetic’ look and say “Oh! so you don’t have freedom.” How ignorant is that? Is freedom only about clubbing or having boyfriends? Is this what life is all about? Imagine if I were to ask an American, “Do you visit your grandmother’s every week”. I would probably receive a ‘No’ as an answer. Would it make sense to this person if I said “Oh! poor you, you don’t have strong family ties.” Another thing that bothers me is when some assume that we are lazy. I bet if they had servants and drivers, they wouldn’t bother with cleaning and driving, would they?
After speaking to several expats to fairly present their point of view; I honestly can say they cannot be blamed for these misconceptions. The first disappointment they face is the difficulty of meeting Qataris and socialising with them. “We’re accustomed to a different type of social structure and don’t take the Qatari structure into account. I’ve been here seven years and during these years, I’ve been invited to one Qatari farm (with the men, but not the women). Because those of us who are from the US and Canada are accustomed to interacting with people from many different ethnic backgrounds and different religions, we are highly disappointed to be in a place where we can’t interact with the people who live here. Most westerners really do want to know Qataris. After a while, we sort of give up and assume that Qataris would prefer not to know us at all”
However, the number one idea they have of Qataris is that they are lazy and that is because of several reasons. At work, a large number of Qataris are always late at work and do not show any regret or care about their tardiness. While people from other nationalities have more respect for time. On top of that, they see many Qataris spending more time on their mobiles than doing actual work.
At schools, expats see maids carrying children’s bags and in some cases feeding them. Children are used to throwing their garbage on the floor, expecting someone else to pick up after them. At public places they see women with their maids carrying their purses and shopping bags. And they know that the maids do all the cooking and cleaning
for most households. They also see children being taken care of by maids instead of their mothers in playgrounds or schools; and usually there is one maid for each child. Whenever they make eye contact with a Qatari, the Qatari either looks away or returns a suspicious look. Hardly anyone smiles which makes Qataris look a little intimidating. An expat explains, “In the west, I’ve become accustomed to receiving a ‘thank you’ when I hold a door open for someone or a ‘you’re welcome’ if I say ‘thank you’ for someone holding a door for me. This interaction rarely, if ever, happens here in Qatar and when it does, it’s usually with another expatriate. In fact, it’s more likely that if I hold a door open for someone, I’ll just be ignored, not even as much as a glance in my direction. Or, if I’m walking in behind someone else, they’ll just let the door slam in my face. Is absence of this interaction lazy, rude, or inconsiderate or is it just a difference in cultural behaviours?”.
I believe that because of this reason; and the fact that it’s hard to meet Qataris, many might assume that we are not friendly. Then, they also get the overall impression that we can buy anything. If we think about it, it’s not their fault that they are getting paid more; these are decisions made by different organisations in the country. At the same time, it is not fair to say that a whole nation is lazy or rude because of a few individuals. I believe that people are the same where ever you go. We are all humans and share the same feelings, aspirations and needs. There are kind and rude people every wherein the world, and passing random judgment blinds us from the truth and the beautiful things we can learn from each other.