Dialogue Distress: The Gap Between Qataris and Foreigners

January 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm (1, Just a thought ..., Opinion, Qatari culture, Society, Women Today Magazine Articles)

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”.

WE

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?

Not being able to speak your language freely; And on top of that, being judged by foreigners! Imagine being criticised by foreigners on your lifestyle, traditions or even clothes?

Work

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 Life

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?

YOU

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?”.

US?

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.

13 Comments

  1. Non-expat said,

    “We’re accustomed to a different type of social structure […]. 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.”
    It reminds me of a German friend of mine who spent 6 months doing an internship in Jackson-Mississippi (US) and had never been invited once to the fishing parties of his colleague or to any event. He gave up trying to interact, cause these colleagues were family-oriented and didn’t want a foreigner to disturb their lifestyle, I guess… Americans and Europeans you find in Qatar are mostly people from the big cities, they apparently never seen any other way of life than theirs… and they can’t accept it!

  2. Qusay said,

    Great post, I was thinking about writing something similar for a while, but now that you did, I might just link to you and say “she said it all”

    Thanks🙂

  3. Zak said,

    Excellent post! This can be a wake up call to fill the gap.

    Thanks.

  4. genesis said,

    Yet Another insightful post from the diary of a Qatari Girl🙂
    I do understand where all this is coming from.Yet, the ‘racist’ tone is increasing lately among Qataris. worked-up by a series of articles by local columnists in newspapers & internet public forums.
    I have written some time ago that in my opinion many Qataris feels that way because of personal insecurity.
    When all they read about in newspapers, Qatar is achieving great financial returns from investments & having the highest GDP among other Arab Countries.Yet , some live on less than 10k
    When writers like Nora Alsaad & others write in dailies , We should have more rights in Qatar Airways!, Foreigners must respect our culture!, Exit permit exist to protect Qataris interests!blaming road work & traffic for bad driving attitude!’Expats receives so & so salaries’..I guess they would behave accordingly.

    But do they really have the right.No they don’t.

    Powers to be are changing this country to the better.

    However, no one is paying attention to the social impact it has on the locals. All of a sudden (in a decade to be exact). The population tripled, there is traffic everywhere,most government sectors & education institutes are becoming co-ed (which according to many is against our norms) and inflation that barely covers their bills & debts.

    Did they ask for all that, no they did not

    Being an employer myself, i do understand that HR regulations here follows the trends that of other expat population dense cities like Dubai , Singapore & shanghai. Offers must be at the same range, or else it gets rejected. Just check out the web sites of most government entities and look at 100s of job vacancies in each sector. And let’s face it, at the moment most Qatari workforce are limited to administrative jobs which are already qatarized & there are no more vacancies.

    The very few Qatari professionals tend to get promoted very fast or being assigned to many committees & tasks at the same time til they resign to get a better opportunity else where or start their own private company

    We can’t blame the expat community in that.

    I think it’s the responsibility of the Qatari intellects to start this dialogue & outreach to both expats & Qataris alike .Also officials to explain to the local public that expats are here to participate in the development & modernity of this country

  5. Bleu said,

    Genesis,

    I don’t think anybody is right to blame anybody else, but it seems that some of the expats here really hate us, our ways, our cars…. and some Qataris really hate them, their ways, their salaries??

    It’s just a case of “THEY are bad, WE are good” even if the definitions of “THEY” and “WE” are not that well defined… There are 100 types of Qataris and 1000 types of expats, and they only feel united by blaming the other side.

    I regularly frequent two Internet forums, that you go to as well… one is full of expats complaining about Qataris, the other is full of Qataris complaining about expats…

    p.s. I rarely drive over the speed limit, but I really love driving the “White LandCruiser” after reading what is written about them online (by expats) …

  6. iman said,

    that is one great post, but i am afraid, dear mimi, that you have overlooked few aspects that i will help in clearing them out,
    first of all, this post, as i believe, features the gap between qataris and WESTERNERS
    not ARAB expats..
    i wished all Qataris could realize that for one, an arab expats gets paid very poorly
    and it is very common to find an architect, an IT employee, a journalist, an HR manager, PR manager, staying in homes that are not good for humans, living in “piled up” mode
    and Arab expats do not have privileges, except the one free ticket per year, not to mention that they are the category that doesn’t wonder how wearing Abaya feels like in the Summer, neither draw question marks around Qatari lifestyle aspects because we are the ones who understand most, the particularity of each culture, especially in the GUlf,

  7. iman said,

    one other thing i wanted to draw attention to,
    for one, when Qataris become frustrated, they should take into account that, expats work here as well, i mean they do not just get paid for doing nothing, not to mention, that they leave behind families and homeland..an entire legacy, etc…and this is painful and frustrating in itself.. living on a “missing everyone at home” mode on a daily basis..
    i also ask all Qataris not to take for granted the aspects an Arab expat has to adapt with, Qatar is a completely different place, different weather and different lifestyle..this will at least cause some hormones disorder to a human being..

    an Arab expat, usually cut out a sum to pay the rent, power bill, car loan, and family support (not to forget that most if not all are here to support their families), and at the end of the day, is left with a couple of hundred riyals to get by with for the rest of the month..and this is very frustrating as well..
    but the thing is, imagine if there was a huge cut in the number of expats..let’s say, to make the Qataris outnumber them..i imagine, that the Qataris will miss the “beat” in the streets and venues,,,car agencies won’t sell like before, real estate will suffer a major drop
    what im trying to say is that, it is true, living a minority in its own country is horrible, but on the other side, what the expats do is basically moving forward the economy wheel, and qataris are actually getting richer because of them
    now, most westerners who are granted cars and education for children, accommodation and etc..are not much of a benefit, cause they hardly get to spend on such sectors, and Qatari loose because of that..and that is an affair to be addressed by them in front of their officials, but i believe since they can’t do that, they take all their frustration on all expats without any exclusion
    finally, what would a Qatari want an expat to think, when at work, a scene such as the following (a Qatari young female colleague was shouting at the Arab GM one morning, when i asked her what was it for, she went off again saying that he told her to turn off the loud cartoon she was watching on the TV on her desk and start working), is common?
    i used to love that kid a lot, so i told her “but sweety i hate this GM more than devil but this time he’s right, u are watching cartoon and loudly too”, she replied” but im waiting on the others to finish their part of work so i can proceed, can’t do much now”..and then i said “but do u know that it takes me 3 hours to finish a work that i can do in 30 minutes, just because u watch cartoon on ur TV, another watches music video clips, and another is turning on Qur’an recitation, and do u know that i get a warning every time i am in delay and that some people cannot concentrate when the workplace sounds like a playground?

  8. iman said,

    let me share this too..
    i was invited one time, to a Henna night, as a Qatari colleague (the same girl i talked about in the earlier post) was getting married..i drove all the way to her parents’ house in al-Wakrah..she opened the gate, we hugged for a long time, and she grabbed my hand and took me right to her bedroom, where she was getting ready to ware makeup and clothes, with a dozen of cousins, who came in one after another, to change and embellish
    none said hello or wondered politely about me as i was sitting on the floor, watching the make up process…every girl came in, started showing their dresses and Abayas, and then looked at me saying “You!! who are you”..some did not even bother to ask or say hello
    i was on the edge of dropping tears, i felt very humiliated, and then when my sweet friend finished her makeup i told her i had to leave,
    on our way to the main gate, we ran into her mother, the girl introduced me “mama, this is my sweet friend from work”..and her mom just stood their staring at me as if she didn’t like me and said nothing..eventually, my friend felt embarrassed and grabbed my arm again, to walk me to the gate..
    i felt really sad, cause this Qatari Arab female community considered me as an alien, although i am an Arab just like them, i was very very sad

  9. mimizwords said,

    Genesis and Blue
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and adding ideas to the discussion.

    And for IMAN my comments are
    1- There are different categories of expats, I should have clarified that the one I was mentioning was the professional westerns. Of course, Arab expats and cheap labour have a different status. I have mentioned the unfairness of cheap labour treatment in previous posts and on the point of Arab expats, I completely agree with you. I think this issue is important and this is why I will dedicate a separate post for it in the future.
    2- Yes it is hard to be away from your family, but many expats are only here for the money. They do not care about the country or its people. And believe me, many of them get paid for nothing! I have seen and heard many stories of directors who do not know what is going on at all.
    3- Maybe Qatar is getting richer because of the work of all the foreigners, but not Qataris. Many believe that their existence was a major factor for inflation and raising living expenses on Qataris.
    4- And about this horrible experience you had at your friend’s place, I can only say that I am sorry that you had such experience, but I hope that you don’t stereotype all Qataris to behave in such way. But if you come to my house, I assure you this wont happen 

  10. alma wad said,

    Mimi !
    This is the first Qatari post that I read and had some self -criticism .
    However you must be aware of that these foreigners have no rights here at all . If we get some salaries we get it just temporary – so why should our heart throb for Qatar when our visas can be canceled at any time ?
    But believe me it still matters . I got two of my kids here . This is their birth place . Wherever we will live later – Qatar will be always on our heart . ” this is the time that you had spent on your rose that makes your rose so important” … And it is sad to see at times how much the youngsters of Qatar can not see their interest .
    I read that they wish most of the constructions to be stopped and most of us sent home (.Of course everyone wishes to keep his own servants, drivers ,favorite doctors or teachers ,restaurants , cafes , clubs )
    What about the time when gas and petrol will not be soo important … How will you be able to keep a reasonable living standard ?

    I ‘am bringing up little kids here . Qatari women’s gender bias attitude seems so strange to me at times .MY daughter almost never got a smile or compliment from Qatari women as we were walking here or there though she was a lovely baby and still a lovely child … MY son gets just too much attention … They stop us they want to hug him and even one of them kissed his little feet .. it is so embarrassing for me as a mother .. as my little girl is standing there and is not noticed at all …. Why this gender bias from their part ?

    Then there is this bias towards the Indians . My big daughter went to an international school . She found friends quickly among the Indian girls . Then the Qatari girls felt hurt and they kept telling to my child : How can you make friendship with those ? They smell – however much they bath .!
    Then things turned into worse … They started to bully my child : shouting after her” Indian smell you got their smell yuk and they were spraying after her wherever she went …That was the point when I got really fed up …. and i arrived to the point to advise my child avoiding the local girls as much as she can … We had to make complaint at the principal . .. that was the only way to fix the situation .

    And oh yes, the very same girls wanted to hug m y little son at the graduation ceremony – but I told them not . And they were hurt … but so was I for they hurt so badly my child and her friends ….We foreigners are also humans … and get feelings … however much it is difficult to imagine it … and after all those bullying these local girls should have felt ashamed and avoid me for fearing my anger …but they did not think they should fear a non-Qatari at all …

  11. Lisa Clayton said,

    I find this an interesting post, but sadly one that just reinforces the stereotypes and emphasizes the gap that exists. I certainly don’t blame that on the author because she is just telling it like it is for her, but there are logical answers to almost all of these points that contribute to the social and economic gap between different residential populations. The problem is, no one wants to accept them; and I have given up explaining why certain nationalities get paid more or why Qataris may feel threatened as a minority whose cultural longevity could be under threat. I now feel it is hopeless to try to bring Qataris and expats closer together as populations (although on a one to one basis, I know it can happen).

    As usual, I think Genesis and Bleu have made some very interesting points and I always appreciate you guys and your perspectives. I miss reading your thoughts since leaving QL. All the best to you both.

    Salaam,
    Lisa

  12. mimizwords said,

    Alma
    Thank you for sharing your story and feelings about the topic. I appreciate this. and sorry for your horrible experience. As a Qatari woman, I too do not understand women’s behavior towards your daughter and son. it is not a common thing that I can explain or find a reason to.

    Lisa
    I would like to know more of your thoughts if you wish of course

  13. Angie Nader said,

    i belive that no matter what…if you are visiting someones country you should be respectful of their customs.

    everything else may just be missunderstanding. like the comment you wrote about someone in usa having close family ties.
    yes im lebanese and live part of my life in Lebanon…but im very much american as well. and when my mothers husband died, i moved my mother in with me. and me and my husband take care of her in every way. so when someone will ask my son about his grandma…he will say she lives with them. even white americans take care of their parents. maybe not all….but not all middle eastern people all move their parents in with them
    i think its all pre-conceptions. we hear from others, or news how a cultrue is..but the only ones who can rally say how someone is ….is if they are living in their shoes.

    my cousin Paula lives in Qatar. her husband moved them their because the work is better than in Lebanon for him. she really likes it. i have yet to visit her…shes been their for almost 4 years…but she really likes it.

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