Bearing the impressive distinction of being the richest country in the world per capita, Qatar has a robust economy that is driven by its vast natural gas and oil reserves. The country offers plenty of employment opportunities for expats, in diverse sectors ranging from energy and construction to IT and tourism. The expat community in Qatar is a close-knit one, and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle.However, like the other countries of the Middle East, Qatar follows Islamic law. Religious law also governs the way of life of the local people, and although foreigners are not expected to adhere to it, they are expected to respect the various customs and practices.
Muslim women in Qatar abide by a dress code, according to which they must cover their heads and wear a hijab or abaya. Expat women are not bound to follow this dress code, but they are expected to display modesty in their attire in order to respect the sentiments of the local community. They may wear skirts and dresses, but they must be at least knee-length. Pants should be loose fitting and tops and blouses must cover the midriff area. Muslim men in Qatar wear long flowing white robes and headpieces. Expat men don’t have to adhere to this, but must ensure that their clothing is decent. Dressing in modest and appropriate clothing is especially important during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Abstinence from alcohol
Islamic sharia law does not permit the consumption of alcohol. However, since Qatar has a considerable expat population, a limited amount of alcohol is available legally. There are only two ways to purchase alcohol in the country: one is to buy it from an alcohol store where only permanent residents can shop, and the other is to buy alcohol from 4- to 5-star international hotels.
The only alcohol store in Qatar is the Qatar Distribution Company, located on the outskirts of Doha. Expats will need to produce their Residence Permit and also obtain permission from their employer, stating that they have no objection to their alcohol consumption. Quite a few more checks and balances are conducted and only then is the alcohol sold to the customer.
Ramadan is the holy month, which is marked by many lifestyle changes in the daily life of Muslims. Those who observe Ramadan abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, a practice that continues throughout the month. Expats should be aware that some restaurants stay closed during daylight hours. Those that stay open keep the curtains drawn so that the food is not visible from the outside. The only alcohol store in Qatar also shuts for the month, and so do the bars in restaurants and hotels.
Work hours may also be reduced and this can impact non-Muslim expats. Official work hours may be only five hours a day, from 10 AM to 2 PM. One of the Ramadan traditions that most expats will enjoy is the nightly Iftar, which ends the daylong fast. Many restaurants host lavish buffets with traditional Arabic music and dancing.
Concept of time
Expats in Qatar will have to get used to the slower pace of life in the country. Time seems to be somewhat flexible here, even in business. Lunches can take longer than usual and business dealings can proceed very slowly. The advantage of this is that relationships, both social and business, are allowed to develop. Punctuality is not such a big issue in Qatar, as compared to in other cultures. In fact, offence may be taken if one tries to rush things, or keeps glancing at their watch.
How you meet and greet someone in Qatar actually depends on the gender of the person. The main practice of greeting is usually shaking hands or giving a kiss on the cheek. But religious law prohibits unmarried men and women from touching each other and therefore men often avoid shaking hands with women, as a mark of respect. Men may, in fact, place their hand on the chest or simply nod, if a woman extends her hand for a handshake. This too, is a sign of respect according to the local culture. The usual greetings of ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ work well in business settings.
Have you lived in Qatar as an expat? What did you find surprising? Let us know in the comments.