Archives for category: Culture

Courtesy of Internations

New Zealand places 6th and Qatar 54th in the line up of the best destinations for expats out of 64 countries included in the survey. In summary, Qatar is described as “peaceful but boring” with limited social activities available, takes longer to settle into the culture, working hours can be long (although I don’t find this to be the case!), and costs can be high and not reflected in quality. New Zealand is great for families, easy to settle into, good work-life balance, but expensive.

Qatar:

New Zealand:

See the full list here

Note that this is based on a survey of Internations members, so will be impacted by how popular the site is in those countries. Pinch of salt ‘n all that.

Two and a bit years on, Qatar is beginning to feel a little same same. We’ve seen the Sheep & Goat Festival come and go, the dhows in the harbour for the pearl diving competition, Ramadan, Eids, and the summer haze. It’s time to shake things up and see what else is going on in Qatar.

I present to you, the A to Z Challenge of Qatar!

a-to-z-graphic

A friend and I will complete one new activity per letter to complete the Qatar alphabet in a period of approximately 6 months.

Add your ideas to the comments!

A Aerial Yoga; Arabic; Air Hockey

B Ballet

C Camel Racing

D Dragon Boat Racing; Dhow Cruise; Dune Bashing

E Example & DJ Wire

F Fencing

G Girls Night

H Horse Riding

I Indonesian Cooking; Ice Skating; Ikebana; Internations

J Jewellery Making

K Kangoo Jumps; Kitesurfing

L Latino Tonic

M Makeover; Make Up Class

N Night Photography; Networking

O Overnight Desert Camp

P Paragliding; Ping Pong

Q Quiz Night

R Roller Skating

S Salsa; Skydiving (Dubai)

T Thai Boxing

U Ukulele

V Volunteering

W Wing Walking (not in Qatar); Wahm at the W

X X Marks the Spot (Geocaching)

Y Yoga

Z Zumba

We’ll be providing regular blog updates and photos on our experience and progress. We’re looking forward to months of fun!

Special thanks to a friend (you know who you are) for the idea, hope you can attempt this in NZ too.

Inserting myself into a new country and culture has had its ups and downs. Here’s to the good stuff!

1.       Lifestyle

Life in Qatar feels similar to life in New Zealand. You can live a sleepy life or you can hunt out loads of weird and wonderful things to do. Take up opportunities as they arise, say yes more often, and just try it. I’ve seen far more sport, classical music, ballet, opera, and Tom Jones than I ever thought I would. There’s more to Qatar than shopping.

2.       Change

SO MUCH CHANGE. Everywhere you look – infrastructure, new buildings, new strategies, systems, processes. Qatar is trying to squeeze what other countries have done over the course of decades, if not centuries, into a few short years. We are pioneers in the land of change.

3.       Culture

I am fortunate in this land flooded with expats to work with a large percentage of Qataris. It’s amazing to see their passion and keenness to take on new challenges in areas never experienced before. The locals are not afraid of speaking up or complaining directly to Ministers, and expectations of services are high. You soon get used to seeing and recognizing people in abayas, niqabs and thobes, and understanding and respecting their religion and morals attached to those.

4.       New Friendships

Entering into a strange land, knowing only your partner forces you to meet new people. We’re in a strange category of people here; not party-goers, nor parents, we seem to be the lost group. To make new friends you must put yourself out there, go to things when invited, and invite others. We’ve made a few good friends over this last year, and 2014 has brought a fresh batch of arrivals keen to experience all Qatar has to offer!

5.       Tax Free Income

Depending on your tax obligations elsewhere, your salary is your salary, with no one taking a cut before it going into your bank account. And money can mean FUN THINGS. Or GROWN UP THINGS like saving for important life stages. It’s all a bit easier when someone else isn’t taking a giant bite of the pie.

 

Looking forward to more fun experiences and challenges in 2014.

My first year in the Middle East has flown by. While some days it seems I struggle through, the year disappeared far more quickly than expected. What I can say is that I have definitely learnt a thing or two!

 1.       No Expectations

High expectations may only lead to disappointment. Keep an open mind, set your expectations low, and enjoy the highs while learning from the lows.

 2.       Tenure

There are two categories of expats in Qatar – those who will be here a few years maximum, and those that have been here for a long time. When you meet someone who has lived here for two or more years your jaw will drop, then you meet those who have been here over 10 and it astounds you. All the while you’ll just be pushing through to adjust and survive your first year!

 3.       Simple Difficulties

Everything is more difficult than it should be. Need to open a bank account? You need a letter from your sponsor. Need to exchange your driver’s license? Another letter is required. Getting your car serviced? Yeah, that will take weeks. You’ll soon come to understand (and expect) that everything will be slightly harder than it should be. Which leads me to…

 4.       Nothing Quite Works as it Should

As above, this can make life more difficult! Come to expect the unexpected.

 5.       Death Defying Driving

Every outing on the road will be a death defying experience. If you do drive, drive with the attitude that everyone on the road is trying to kill you, that way you will never get too relaxed and will pay attention at all times.

I’m back on the blog wagon after an unplanned break away. Gosh time flies doesn’t it? Suddenly it’s nearly the end of August and y’all must have been wondering where on earth I’ve been.

                                                                                                

Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, beginning following the sighting of the crescent moon, and lasts around 29-30 days. Ramadan is observed through a month of fasting daily from sunrise to sunset. Prayer increases and more time is spent reciting the Quran.

I am not Muslim thus this was a completely new experience for me. What I didn’t realise is that fasting means you cannot eat or drink anything, water included. As Qatar is an Islamic country, these rules apply to everyone in public, and also in our workplace. Cafes are no longer open in the days, meaning no more coffee runs at work, you cannot chew gum, sip water, eat outside or in front of people. The desire to do a jig on the street had to be promptly quashed as music, singing and dancing was no longer allowed. The country also becomes dry, with the only alcohol centre closed for the duration, along with bars. Restaurants could open specific hours, but no alcohol was available.

Suddenly this underground society opened up to cater for those not fasting. Restaurants had their blinds down, hidden from the masses, and are only open to those who know they are. People began sneaking into dedicated ‘eating’ rooms just to sip water. Coffee was being hidden in travel cups, wrapped and sealed in plastic, tucked into handbags and smuggled in. Martini Mondays moved from the Four Seasons to our apartment, catering for Westerners desperate for a taste.

At work we basically began fasting ourselves, it was easier to avoid anything rather than hiding things away and being sneaky, worrying that someone might see you and be upset or disappointed, or even worse, complain. In reality, this meant that we were eating dinner around 7pm, having some water before bed at 9.30pm, then not eating nor drinking until we arrived home from work the next day at about 3. Even with my cactus-like conditioning going a long time without food or water was difficult in the hot condition of the desert. Before Ramadan began we were warned by Muslim colleagues that the quality of their work would deteriorate during the period, as they would not be able to concentrate due to the lack of food and water. When I explained how we were eating/drinking I think they were shocked. Yes, I was getting a decent amount of sleep in comparison, but my fasting was ending up often longer than theirs – in Qatar you can break your fast with iftar (breakfast) at sunset (6.30pm or so, much earlier than the UK), and eat suhoor after evening prayers at around 3am, before sunrise.

Jumping in the car after work we’d quick grab a sweet and shove it into our mouths while pretending to cough or yawn as it is still very much frowned upon to be seen to be eating, even in the relative privacy of your vehicle. Racing home we’d grab a sugary drink and eat something light. Thus beginning the cycle of Work –> Eat –> Nap –> Eat –> Sleep.

Ramadan also meant we had to be much more aware of cultural values and dress more conservatively. Arms, legs and chests had to be completely covered. The previously bearable 40+ degree heat suddenly became more difficult to manage while fully attired and layered. Due to the difficulty and limitations in wardrobe choices, the other girls on my team opted to wear an abaya, the black gown of traditional dress that goes over your clothing meaning that underneath you could wear a light summer dress and no one would know.

Ramadan did bring with it some positives. Our working hours decreased by 3 hours (in reality we were still doing nearly the same most days), and the slightly later start made us feel a little more normal. People started disappearing on their summer holidays to go somewhere cooler to enjoy being outside in the summer sun. But the best thing about Ramadan was Eid.

Eid al-Fitr, Feast of Breaking the Fast, is a celebration where Muslims show unity. In Qatar we heard rumours that this special time of the year was rewarded with up to 10 days leave, granted by the Emir. However, such leave is only confirmed at very short notice, and with the recent change in leadership people were unsure if the new leader would be as generous or hoped he would be even moreso! And thus, on the 3rd of August, the Emir announced that 10 days leave would be granted to government employees beginning 6 August.

We’re back at work on normal hours now, but the summer holiday feeling is still very much there, with many people away until September.

We survived our first Ramadan. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as we anticipated.

To Porsche or not to Porsche, that is the question
Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

After a couple of months of suffering in direction-less taxis we quickly came to the realisation that we needed a car. The rental market is huge here, and finding one wasn’t a problem. However, the monthly cost was more than what we anticipated as anything larger than a car is roughly double the price.

Hubby was convinced on the need to buy and researched the options. It’s a strange car market in Qatar, with small 4WDs rare to come by, and cars have to be relatively new (circa 5 years) in order to get full insurance. I was setting my sights on a 2 door Pajero, while Hubby aimed at more ambitious (outrageous!) options. His ideal: a Porsche Cayenne.

I’ve dreamt of a Porsche for many years. Let me be honest now (because I think I can be honest with you, Internetland): there is nothing sexier than the 911’s arse (mmmmmmmmm *drool*)

:}~

Sexy Piece

And in my older years I dream of rescuing and doing up of these beauties:

1958 Sexy Piece

1958 Sexy Piece

The hulking great V8 Cayenne was never on my radar. I thought these ‘Remuera/Chelsea Tractors’ were a little ridiculous. Un-Porsche like. And, why would you? They don’t have an arse to die for, they are not sleek and sultry.

Porsche Cayenne S

Porsche Cayenne S

I pursued my more realistic dream of a practical small 4WD, while Hubby kept pressing forward with his Cayenne desires.

Due to the rarity of small 4WDs on the market they charge a premium. There’s a large gap between ‘smallish’ to Land Cruiser and GIANT AMERICAN TRUCK. Hubby did not want to consider car options for fear of DEATH AT ROUNDABOUTS.

This really does happen!

This really does happen!

So he looked. I argued. He continued. I denied. He hunted online. I looked too. We trekked Salwa Road in a wind-whipped sandstorm seeking other options.

The question: how can a Porsche be cheaper than a Pajero?!

With more Cayenne’s on the market, with all of the internal options in comparison to basic Japanese models, why wouldn’t you? My answer, obviously, is because it’s RIDICULOUS. That was my only reason. The quality was there. The cost. Meeting our basic needs and requirements. The niggling voice saying “but it’s a Porsche 4WD” needed adjusting. Soon changing to “but it’s a Porsche” to “but it’s a PORSCHE!”. Hubby had won. He had broken me down.

Yesterday we brought our baby home. We have now peaked in terms of cars, and never ever in our lives will we be able to afford another car like this. It’s a 4.8L V8 and purrs, PURRS like a contented lion. It has buttons aplenty, many of which we don’t know what they do, and we have plenty to learn.

It cost 80 Qatari Riyals to fill up. That’s £14 or NZ$27.

We will never be able to afford this again. So we’re doing it. We’re living the dream.

[Next car: 911?!]

I climbed high up onto the bar stool, increasing my height easily over 6ft. I surveyed the room, yes yes, we were ready. The jazz was about to begin.

But wait, what is that unfamiliar feeling? Something’s amiss…

My eyes darted around the packed bar. Then I saw it. It rose quickly from multiple sources and headed straight for me. I tried to swerve out of the way but it was too late. I resisted as long as I could, but could not hold back any longer. I inhaled. It brutally attacked my nostrils, crawling up and down to my chest. Coughing. The dank smell thoroughly coating me.

In my mind the crowd had suddenly changed to this:

All credit to Villafane Studios

(All credit to Villafane Studios)

Grimacing and laughing and puffing away on fat cigars and cigarettes. Women and men alike were attacking me with their putrid fumes.

I was taken back to my teenage years where you’d get home at 3am, stumble drunk, and only smell of smoke. Of course, too tired to do anything about it, you’d sleep like that, hair reeking of smoke the following morning. Then there’s the [non-]smokers cough.

All in all, going out to a busy smoky bar is an unpleasant experience, breathing in fumes that have a negative effect on your body when it’s not your choice. Smoking is highly socially acceptable here (with the exception of Muslim women), with smoking sections in restaurants too.

Let us hope that it won’t always be the case, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a smoke-free night out!

Apologies for any preachiness – smoking is a personal choice, but please refrain from sharing it inside when we cannot escape!

Apologies for my absence. Life lately has been cat-like, existing on a process of sleeping, working, sleeping, eating, and sleeping. I’ve done very little of anything and have preferred to curl into a ball on our 2-seater couch and snooze. So much so that anti-exercise Hubby has left me to my slumber and hit the gym without me (he’s a “gym bunny” now).

Qatar has a different class system to that of the UK, simply split into what I will term blue collar “service” (construction workers/drivers/maids), white collar expat workers (like us), and then the local population. It amazes me that we could hire home help for less than we hire our car for – countries are currently agreeing minimum wages with Qatar and the GCC, bearing in mind that this does not include their housing, food, amenities etc which are covered by the employer.

There is help available everywhere you look: men to help you load your supermarket shopping; doormen; multiple cleaners on every level of our office building; and ‘tea boys’ in the office. If you hired a maid and a driver, you literally wouldn’t have to do anything except work, exist, and enjoy.

While stuffing ourselves at three hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink feast at Doha’s best restaurant (it just won the TimeOut Restaurant of the Year award), Market Restaurant, in W Hotel, a discussion about the ‘tea boys’ came up. [To clarify, ‘tea boys’ can actually be men or women, and their more official title at my office is Aide, who assist with other office duties too].

Colleagues were discussing how the tea boys stopped serving them for a few days, or only brought them one coffee a day – “Shocking!” I hear you cry! At that point I stopped and thought “WHO HAVE WE BECOME?!”. Of course we have the skills to make our own hot drinks, but ironically, you are not allowed in the kitchen to do so. So if the tea boy doesn’t provide, you go thirsty. Seriously, there aren’t even water coolers available – it’s either BYO or ask someone nicely. In my case, it’s hoard bottles of water from meetings and keep for future use!

It’s dawning moments like that, as I waltz through yet another 5-star hotel, where I wonder when the change happened. Will I be able to go back to a normal life, where I am not living in a fancy serviced apartment? Can I survive without having the flat cleaned three times a week? Can I open MY OWN DOOR?!

My general life skills are quickly deteriorating, and there may be no going back.

I have just returned from New Zealand where I spent most of my time in typical Kiwi attire, shorts and t-shirts (not jandals though, I’m not that Kiwi). When we jumped off the plane in Doha we’d noted things had hotted up, and that was at 6am. After a nap back in our air conditioned apartment we got ready to venture out.

Hubby: “Why are you wearing jeans?”
Me:        “What else should I be wearing?”
Hubby: “But it’s hot out, why aren’t you wearing shorts?”
Me:        “They don’t cover my knees”
Hubby: “Oh…”

In that moment was the realisation that our trip to New Zealand was the last time he’d see my pasty white pins in the light of day.

Thus leads me to my clothing conundrum. I packed my life into a suitcase and moved continents (again), and now most of what I packed is inappropriate. Tops may expose too much shoulder or arm. Skirts do not cover my knees. A v-neck may be a little too risqué. That fitted top or dress is too tight. Layering doesn’t work because you melt in the heat, and the heat is yet to come. Who knew I dressed so scandalously?

I’d describe my clothing style as ‘lazy’. I hate shopping, throw outfits together from the ‘what’s clean and doesn’t require ironing’ pile, and prefer to wear flat shoes to enhance my ability to walk while demonstrating a key attribute, my lack of height.

But what’s a girl to do when she doesn’t want to offend? I have cardigans and scarves to utilise when need be, but they just add extra bulk that you don’t require when even the gentle sea breeze is hot.

So I went shopping. I. WENT. SHOPPING. (Detect the anger, no no, of course there’s not online shopping as an option – it may never get delivered!). We actually went to Villagio which all Kiwi’s will know and hate because of that fire, so I should really not be seen as supporting it, but I digress.

Shopping is a unique experience here. You’ll find all of your favourite(?!?) UK shops in a Venetian style mall which spans such a large area my shopping fatigue quickly sets in. The shops are styled with mannequins of the latest fashion, but the latest fashion is rarely appropriate – think hot pants, singlets/vests, and dresses that are too short, too tight, and missing half the back (yes, that’s just one dress), all paired with ridiculously high heels I’ll never be able to walk in.

After hours of failing at shopping we stumbled across Marks & Spencers and decided to give them a shot, just in case. There it was, glowing, LINEN, COTTON, breathable materials! They weren’t too tight, too short, or too hot. Sure, they’re not cutting edge fashion, but at least I won’t offend anyone by baring my knees.

But back to my style, now it’s loose trousers (or as Hubby terms me, MC Hammer), light cotton t-shirts or linen tops, and below-the-knee linen skirts. We shopped up a storm!

Hammertime!