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.

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Is it Culture or Personality?

December 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm (Diary, Everyday life situations, Women Today Magazine Articles)

First Published in Women Today Magazine December Issue 2009

Between running to lectures, the gym and the office, I encounter people that truly astonish me – not necessarily in a good way.I don’t know how to explain their behaviour or choice of words, and then I wonder if their behaviour is related to their culture or simply a byproduct of their personality. Every morning I experience sinus trouble not because of the cold weather, but because of the heavy clouds of smoke that surround the buildings on campus. More than 15 smokers gather on top of the entrance steps and smoke before and after lectures. The smoke is so thick that you can’t help but inhale some on your way in and out. Now, I don’t have anything against smokers, but this is too much, especially since it irritates my sinus for the rest of the day. I complained to one of the security guards, who is African. he said that he is equally bothered by this, but there is nothing he can do because according to the law it’s a public space. He ended up promising to speak  to a higher official in the university. The next morning, i saw this lovely sign prohibiting smoking near the entrance! wow, that was fast and considerate. I was so happy and went immediately to the security guard and thanked him. It is a great feeling when people are considerate to others’ feelings and thoughts;I wish we had more of that in the world. I wondered what made him go through the trouble of printing this note and putting it there, even though he was not supposed to! but, here in london, not everyone is considerate or taught the same manners.

Some  people do not even realize that they are offending others because in their culture such behaviour is not an offence. One day, I went to the post-graduate room to do some reading. The place has tables, chairs and sofas and the only available space was on one of the sofas.A western girl was sitting in front of me with her feet on the table, straight to my face. I thought she would put them down when she saw me, but nope! they were still up. I could see the dry and cracked parts of her toes and heels! not a pretty sight at all! then my Iraqi/British friend came, and I told her how bothered I was. she said, “Don’t take it personally – this is not an offence in their culture, though it is in the Arab and Indian culture. she simply does not realize it is an inappropriate act.” I know that in arab culture not only putting your feet in someone’s face is disrespectful, but so is showing someone your back in a social gathering.

But this is not the case with all cultures of the world. for instance, I enrolled in a Japanese class and my classmate, who was sitting on the other side of the room wanted to borrow my pen. so i told her to “Catch” and threw the pen at her. My teacher said, “this is not good Japanese manner. You must give her the pen with both hands.” I thought, “this is not an Arab manner either; I should have given it to her with my right hand.” but I remember in school we used to through things at each other. where does this vulgar behaviour come from?

A few days later, I went back to the smokers building and some people could not care less about the sign. They were smoking right in front of it. After class, I left the building holding coffee in one hand and my coat and bag in another. While I was just about to reach the exit, an englishman came through the doors. He saw the load I was carrying, and went back quickly to hold the door open for me. What a gentleman! I wonder if these small acts are because of one’s choice or the way one is raised. what do you think?

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Overwhelmed with clutter

May 28, 2009 at 9:45 am (Just a thought ..., Women Today Magazine Articles) (, )

First published in Women Today, December 2008

 

 

There are  times when we feel that we have everything planned ahead and we are sure of what we are doing, but all the sudden we realize that we are actually lost. And when we are lost, suddenly everything around us seems not right and we start accumulating clutter; emotional clutter and physical clutter. But at the end of this cycle, there is hope to feel free from the clutter, to feel right on track again. And that is possible by simply deciding to.

I went through this cycle this year. I felt lost again. I thought I had my life planned the moment I started university. But I was lost again, more than ever. The last time I felt that lost was when I graduated from high school. At least back then I knew where I wanted to go and what to study. But after university I felt unsure of everything; of my degree, my job, the things I do. I felt out of place; I was thinking too much. Was this depression?

The problem is that if I say that I am depressed, people would not understand. Usually in a traditional conservative part of the Qatari society it is non-sense to be depressed. Not a lot of people would understand. I would probably hear these phrases: “ you don’t have any reason to be depressed, you have a good job, good family, good friends and a life that many would wish to have” or I would hear “ Just pray and ask for forgiveness, maybe you are distant from God”. Ok, thank you for your encouraging words, but they are not helping that much. I thought I shouldn’t depend on anyone but myself. But, what to do? How can I find myself again? How can I stop thinking too much? There is no clear reason for my feeling!

My emotional status started to materialize into piles of clutter on every corner in my room. It also affected my physical health; my appetite was going up and down. I would either eat too much or not eat at all.

I needed to get rid of all of this; to much clutter inside my mind and in my room and I needed to be healthy in body and mind. I didn’t know what to do for months. I thought I should keep myself busy by choosing a goal and dedicating myself to it. However, that by itself was difficult; I didn’t know what to choose as a goal. So I started thinking of simple short-term goals like learning a new thing. But that didn’t work either, because once the excitement of starting something new goes away, I would loose motivation and interest, get bored, quit and start something else. And that just added confusion to my list of clutter.

 After few more months I think I found the solution; dedication + devotion = achieved goals = content. I simply had to stick to my goals and work hard to achieve them. It was hard but it was worth it at the end; I managed to do so many things. And for that achievement I felt happy with myself, that I was actually productive. Moreover, I realized that I shouldn’t do too many things at the same time; I should focus on few things that I wanted to do the most and make sure I devote myself to them. So I decided what I had to do exactly and asked myself what I wanted to get out of doing this thing. Keeping me busy and productive gave color to my life. I felt of use to myself and to the people around me.

I first started by removing all the clutter in my room. I actually felt light. Then I took a long hot shower, went out to buy some new books to read, passed by a language center to learn a new foreign language and registered at the gym. I also started teaching English for a lady in her late thirties who decided to finish high school. I felt happy that I was improving my life and helping someone to do so. What was important here is that I stuck to what I have started and never missed a class at the language center or at the gym or was behind in my reading. When I started thinking positively, positive things started to happen even at work.

So I believe that we have the power to create our lives and decide how it is going to be. We can either nag and complain and be negative or take action and be positive and try to deal with our problems the best way we can. So move now, get rid of that clutter!

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Parenting From a Daughter’s Point of View

May 18, 2009 at 7:20 am (Opinion, Women Today Magazine Articles) (, , )

First Published on Woman Today, May 2009

I do not have to be a parent or an expert to give my opinion about parental mistakes because as a daughter, I know the things that have affected me the most. I am very lucky to have moderately open minded, educated parents in a conservative community. There would always be a chance to make them understand and accept my point of view-But still, not on everything. They always fear people’s judgment upon my very modernized life style. Being in an age where I am expected to get married makes things even worse. But, I do not want to live my life according to what my parents’, or others expect, I want to live it according to what I want. Does that make me an ungrateful child?

Being a parent must be one of the most difficult things to do in life. I know that I will never understand my parents unless I become a parent too. But I see my parents, my uncles and aunties who have children, and I see their mistakes. It seems that their authoritative and strict character camouflage their loving and affectionate side . They put emphasis on people’s judgment over their children’s’ choices and behavior. I am terrified of repeating the same mistakes one day, because I know how they can affect the child’s character. I have found four common mistakes that should be avoided.

First, I am completely against leaving children with maids and nannies all the time. They are the ones who play with them, change their diapers and clothes and feed them. I remember that when my little baby cousin would cry, he would reaches out for his nanny rather than his own mother. Simply, because he spends more time with her than his mother. Thus, a child becomes more attached to his nanny and looses this special bond with his mother. Studies have shown that a child in his first five years absorbs ideas and behavior patterns which make up his personality as he grows. Therefore, there is a great chance that the child absorbs more from the nanny than his own parents. The child will grow up confused and tormented between his nanny and his mother.

Second, punishing the child in front of his friends or comparing him with others has a long term harmful effect on the child’s psychological behavior. Parents might think that this will motivate the child to be better, but it doesn’t. A child would resent his friends and parents. It shakes his confidence and self-esteem and could be the source of future psychological problems. This leads to the question of why we really punish our children in front of others? Is it because we are afraid for our perfect image in a society where brushing up the perfect image is what matters the most? or because they have done things that don’t please us? or because we want to educate them about morals?. If the purpose was to educate children about morals then there is no need to punish them in front of others. It is very important that when we punish our children, we speak to them in a language they understand and explain to them that we punish them because we love them and want to teach them right from wrong, not to make them afraid.

Third, being overly strict and saying “NO” without explanation. Parents should get the child involved in decision making as the child will feel appreciated. This is very important especially with teenagers where the parental relationship should have more friendship traits. Parents should consider the needs of their children not those of the community members. The society is contradicted, and parents themselves sometimes give contradicting paragons. What is forbidden today is allowed tomorrow. Moreover, strict upbringing turns the kids more eager and curious to breaking rules; for them it is a way to punish their parents for being overly strict. Thus, strict upbringing breaks communication between parents and their children. I remember my teenage cousin telling me that she would love to talk to her mother about her sensitive problems but she couldn’t due to her fear of her mother’s reaction. Especially that she tried to open up several times and was shut down be the harsh response she received from her mother which made her regret her decision.

Fourth, even though we live in a chauvinist society, I am against over emphasizing the different roles and expectation for boys and girls in a conservative community. As a consequence for this discrimination, girls end up missing on many opportunities in life even though they might be as qualified as boys. Moreover, boys learn that when they mistake, society forgives them while the girl does not receive the same treatment. It makes boys feel they have the right to have authority on females in the family, even if the females were older. I remember once my little brother asked me as I was leaving the house about my destination, I said “non of your business”. My mother suddenly shouted “this is your brother, the man of the house, you better not disrespect him like that and tell him where your going”. Gender discrimination within the family could create resentment and jealousy between the siblings.

Finally, I would like to say that parents should not be afraid to show love and affection to their children. Hug them. Tell them “I love you”. Smile. Be kind. Hold their hands when they need to. Love them equally. What you harvest is what you plant.

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