Culture Shock in Qatar
As is the case with other Arab nations, local culture is indefinitely linked to the tenets of the Muslim religion. Though non-Muslim foreigners aren’t expected to adhere to Islamic code, they are expected to be aware of it and respect its principles.
Overall though, culture shock for expats may not be so downright drastic in Qatar when compared with other Middle Eastern countries, because nearly 85 percent of the population is made up of foreigners. As the oddly outnumbered minority, Qataris have had to become generally open-minded and tolerant as a survival mechanism.
Still, the sand-shrouded peninsula is a step behind what many Qataris consider the debauchery of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Though women are able to drive and walk unescorted, and expats can purchase alcohol in selected venues and with appropriate licences in Qatar, the nation is a far cry from liberal.
Meeting and greeting in Qatar
It’s not as simple as a handshake, and not as complicated as an Asian introduction. The rule of thumb for meeting and greeting in Qatar is to temper your action according to the sex of the person present. Men typically greet men, and women typically greet women with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek. On the other hand, according to Islamic law unmarried men and women should not touch. As a result, men will often not extend their hand to women out of respect, so do not be offended. Similarly, if a woman extends her hand, a man may prefer to put his hand on his chest or to nod, also out of respect.
In all cases though, eye contact should be maintained during the meeting process, and a ‘Good Morning’, ‘Good Afternoon’ or ‘Salam Aleikum’ should be exchanged.
Dress in Qatar
Expats are not bound by the same dress code as Muslims in Qatar, but it’s still important to be sensitive to Qatari ideas of decency.
Women do not need to cover their heads, faces or wear a hijab or Abaya, but they are expected to dress modestly so as not to offend the local community. Skirts, dresses and loose fitting pants should be knee-length, and tank-tops and shirts should cover the midriff and shoulder areas. Sheer clothing should be left at home.
Men do not need to dress in the flowing, white robes common among locals or wear headpieces, but they also need to keep their wardrobe tasteful. Shorts should be knee-length and cut-off t-shirts should be avoided.
Wear bathing suits (swimming costumes) and sportswear only in appropriate venues. Both men and women should be especially vigilant about choosing appropriate clothing during they holy month of Ramadan.
Language barrier in Qatar
Though the official language in Qatar is Arabic, most people can speak and understand English. Furthermore, English is quickly becoming the lingua franca of the business world – much to the dismay of some Qataris.
That said, keep in mind that the ever expanding foreign community is a mishmash of cultural diversity, and some people will be more proficient in the language than others. Try your best to be patient.
Time in Qatar
It won’t be long before expats realise that the concept of time in Qatar is somewhat more flexible than what they may be used to, especially when it comes to doing business. Long lunches are the norm, and business negotiations may progress at a painstakingly slow rate while a relationship is cultivated between client and service provider.
Furthermore, lateness is not nearly as offensive as it is in Western cultures; rather, it’s considered inordinately rude to hurry someone, or to look at your watch throughout an engagement.
Things tend to unravel at a slower pace in Qatar, and again, it’s necessary to practice patience.
Cultural dos and don’ts
- Western bathing attire should only be worn at hotels or private beaches
- When seated with a Qatari, avoid showing the sole of your shoe
- Traditionally, the right hand is used for shaking hands and eating – even if you’re left-handed
- As alcohol is forbidden for Muslims, expats should not expect to receive any at a Qatari-hosted function, and should not offer it to Muslims at their own events
- During the month of Ramadan, eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public is prohibited, and it is considered extremely taboo to do so
- Religious discussions should be treated gently. Proselytising is illegal, and attempting to convert someone of a different faith (especially a Qatari) can be punishable by deportation or even arrest