Monday, March 14, 2011

Ten Things You Should Know About Qatar Before Moving Here

Here are a few items that have been on my mind - items of wisdom for the newcomer to Doha.  Now this wisdom might seem very trivial and unimportant to many of you, but when you live in a country that is filled with ironies and the status quo is that everything MUST be done in the most difficult way possible, the little things start to become the BIG things in an emotional/mental health sense.  (wink, wink)

1.  Grocery carts are called "trolleys" and you need a lot of upper body strength to operate them.  The wheel action is archaic and they are not user friendly.  To illustrate this when I push an empty trolley I can push the handle to the side with one hand and the cart will turn all the way around in a kind of haphazard way.  This may sound fun, but trust me, it isn't a good thing for getting the cart to go in a forward motion loaded with orange juice and toilet paper.  Even though we have been here three years I still haven't learned how to operate them without much frustration and body pain.  I'm sure I am still quite a hilarious site to behold at Carrefour as I trudge my way down the ailes and stretch my whole body one way in order to turn a corner the other.  If I would only learn not to fill the carts so full, but whenever I go to the store I get as much as possible so I don't have to go back any time soon . . . but that is another story.

2.  There are VERY FEW left turn holding lanes here which means that you will be forced to make way too many "U" turns at round abouts and intersections and go way out of your way to get to a certain location.  Conserving gas is not an issue here, I guess, and conserving forethought is, at least when it comes to road planning, but to conserve my sanity I usually try and remain open to the option of NOT actually getting to my destination when I am out on the road and just returning to the safety and serenity of my own villa for an impromptu nap.

3.  REAL marshmallows cannot be found in this country.  I think it has something to do with REAL marshmallows containing some form of pork product.  Don't even try to make respectable Rice Krispie Treats with the local marshamllows to take to the Friendship Festival.  They will come out different every time and when I say "different" I mean not in a good way.  They are rubbery, rock hard, or just nasty tasting.  Just bring the good old Western Family brand from the U.S. and save yourself the grief.  But then don't make the mistake of getting involved in the risky Marshmallow Black Market here and find yourself trading your precious Libby's canned pumpkin for REAL marshmallows that some Texas oil executive's wife squished into her Samsonite last spring.  You might get sucked into the underground licorice trade next and then it will be all over for you!

4. There are many different people here in Qatar from many different cultures.  Our first months here were spent getting used to the mannerisms, personalities, and accents of the numerous foreigners.  Most of them know English but not the English we are familiar with.  For example, if you encounter someone from India, Sri Lanka, or Nepal and you have asked them a question, you might be mystified by the wiggling of their head from side to side (in a bouncy way).  This famous head wiggle is an expressive gesture and can mean YES, or I agree with you, or Yes, I would like that - similar to the western nod for agreement.  The Indian head wiggle can also be used as a greeting.  I have yet to master it, and I might need to have some tutoring from the guards at our compound, but one day I will get brave enough to use it and then these very good-natured people will embrace my blonde, lily-white self as a true sister.

5.  Speaking of culture, Qatari culture is very difficult to differentiate from other Arabic culture.  The food they eat here is mostly Lebanese, Turkish, or Iraqi.  Their homes are decorated with Persian rugs, marble flooring, and ornate, burnished furniture that looks like a golden peacock threw up all over it.  Their architectural skyline seems to be a Dubai wannabe and even the excessive use of white Landcruisers on the roads is prevelant in most other Arab countries.  We are still trying to find unique cultural markers that are only in this Middle Eastern country, but it might be safe to say that the new internet phrase of "That's so Qatarded!" that came about after the shocking news that Qatar had won the 2022 World Cup bid can only be linked to Qatar.  The sore loser countries that didn't win probably came up with the term to make themselves feel better, but leave it to Qatar to be the nerdy newcomer on the recess world stage getting picked on by the World Cup bullies.

6.  Turkey Central is not a restaurant featuring Thanksgiving dishes.

7.  If you hear someone talking about Sheikah Mayassa in Qatar they aren't talking about their dancing prowess.  They are discussing one member of the royal family.  BTW, she's very beautiful.

8.  If you burn your hand in a simple kitchen accident DO NOT put it under the water that comes out of the faucet.  You must use the cold water from the water cooler.  Water storage here is outside and therefore, all the water that comes into your villa is heated by the ferocious desert sun.  So in the summer we turn OFF the water heater and get hot water on the cold side of the faucet from outside and warm water on the hot water side of the faucet from the water heater - confusing I know.

9.  Some of the crackers that are available here might not be what you are used to.  For that matter, many of the products here probably WON'T be what you are used to unless you go to the very OVER-PRICED Mega Mart and pay about $8 a box for Special K cereal.  This package of saltines was the first saltine I found and that was this year.  The taste was not worthy of being called a saltine.

10.  If you are lucky enough to meet and get to know a genuine Qatar national you will find him/her to be very pleasant, accommodating, and generous.  They love to teach westerners about their country, their traditions, and their culture.  Just last month when my cousin was here from Germany and wanted to buy a ghutra and some other authentic Qatari clothing Brett asked his student Abdullah to help them.  He helped them by taking them to a rustic souq that sold Armani headdress items and bought my cousin all the items he wanted.  Now what is a German guy going to do with an Armani ghutra you ask?  Well anything he wants and in style for sure.  Now that is how Qataris are in person.  Don't even get me started on what they are like on the road.


Amber said...

I guiltily raise my hand for number 1! I too put too much in those blasted baskets. I found that the giant store in hyatt plaza had SOME decent I often chose to shop there. :)

Mary said...

LOVE this post! Thank you for sharing a bit of what your life is like out there! I nearly fell off my chair when I read # 7 :)

terahreu said...

Okay, I love this post! It is all so true. You needed to stay in Nepal just a bit longer to master the head bob. I could give you a tutorial. I got pretty good. Maybe we could add a RS class?

Also, go to Spinneys for groceries. It is a little pricey, but soooooo worth it because the carts run like butter.

Oh, and I would like you to get started on the driving in Qatar. I want to see the evil Dianna come out ;-)

Stretch said...

Just came upon your blog and love this post!
By the way, once in a while MegaMart does have real marshmallows, but you'll have to get them quickly as when I see them - I buy about 10 bags myself. Never used to be a hoarder....