Customs and Culture A Girl Should Know About Qatar

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It seems like all of the major world news publications are talking about Qatar recently. What’s the big deal with this tiny Gulf state? Well, it is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is also home to over a million immigrants (which is over 80% of the population!). The big draw to living in Qatar is competitive salaries and access to travel in the Middle East.

Doha, Qatar’s capital, is also a great stop-over point for many airlines traveling from Asia to Western Europe or North America. Whether you find yourself relocating to Qatar for a job or simply stopping over for a 12 hour stint between flights, there are a few things every girl should know about the country.
The number 1 thing to understand about Qatar is that even though it is a more modern country and tolerates western beliefs and attitudes, it is still a predominately Muslim-run country. What does that mean for you? You need to be aware of certain customs and behavioral expectations so you do not offend the locals, or worse, wind up in jail. Below are 7 pieces of advice to keep your visit comfortable and offense free.
1. Don’t wear short shorts or tank tops in public. Muslims are very conservative when it comes to dress, and most feel like showing your knees and shoulders is extremely offense. Qatar is hot, so wear a skirt that covers your knees or a pair of light linen pants when you are out in public. Bring a scarf or a shawl to cover your shoulders or wear a t-shirt. This will prevent people from staring at you or a grouchy old Qatari from yelling at you for being inappropriate. That being said, you can wear whatever you like at home, inside women-only gyms, and at the bars and clubs.
2. Be aware- women always look put together. Their make-up is impeccable; they have fancy handbags and wear designer shoes. All the time. I’m talking about to the gym and grocery shopping. Keep this in mind if you don’t want to look out of place. I am completely comfortable in walking around in my yoga pants and t-shirt, but I know feeling significantly under-dressed can make some girls uncomfortable, so this is just a heads-up.
3. Do not get drunk in public. Alcohol is still taboo in Qatar. There are hotel bars and clubs you can go to, and you can dance and act silly inside those establishments to your heart’s content. But once you leave, be aware that public drunkenness is not tolerated. You can be arrested and put in jail, so make sure you have arranged for a ride home ahead of time if you are not staying in the hotel you are partying at.
4. Men will stare at you. There are 7 men for everyone 1 woman in Qatar. They are not used to seeing beautiful girls walking around so if you are out at the mall or hanging out in a hotel bar, be prepared for some extra attention. Walking around the streets can also be quite the experience. Men will whistle and make cat calls at you, but it not unsafe—only annoying.
5. Greetings between men are a little strange. They greet each other by touching noses. It is also common place to see man walking around with interlocked pinkies. This is completely normal!
6. Some establishments are for men only. Be respectful of this. Many sheesha places and tea huts are reserved for men to play cards or dominoes and they do not want to be distracted by women. If you show up somewhere and there are no other women around, this is a good indicator that you are not welcome. Stick to places like Souq Wakif or spots on Doha’s Corniche, where restaurants and cafes are more family and women friendly.
7. “Western Places” generally follow different rules. Hotel bars, clubs, and places like the European Family Club, have their own set of rules. Westerns tend to hand out in places like this because you can get a beer, wear a two piece bathing suit, and feel like you are a little closer to home. If going out and enjoying the nightlife is important to you, finding the major hotels is your best option. The Intercontinental, W Hotel, La Cigale, the Ramada, and the Sheraton are some hotels that have bars and clubs, and they require you to bring your passport to prove that you are not a Qatari woman. Qatari ladies are not allowed inside any of these bars and clubs, and most Qatari men generally stay away as well. This gives you the chance to let loose with the non-Muslim community. Just make sure you follow the advice from #3—don’t leave these establishments if you are drunk unless you are going straight home!
In generally, people are very accepting and welcoming. As long as you are trying to remain sensitive to the customs of Qatar, men and women alike will be very friendly. These guidelines are not difficult to follow, and will certainly make your visit or transition more comfortable for you as well.

Have you been to Qatar and what other tips do you have for us?

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About Author

Samantha is a travel addict and nomadic teacher currently living in Shanghai. Any chance she gets, she is getting off to a new location or explore, either in China or somewhere with a great deal on tickets. Before China, Samantha spent two years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and two years in Doha, Qatar. During her time abroad she has had the wonderful opportunity to travel all over Central America, central Asia and some of Eastern Europe. As much as Samantha loves to travel, she also makes time to return home to Florida to see her family whenever she can. Her current ambition is to travel to and explore 40 different countries by the time she is forty. Only 12 to go!

3 Comments

  1. I have a question about the dress code. I am moving to Qatar to teach Phys Ed and I usually where yoga pants(tight at the thigh, loose at the calf) and a baggy polo shirt. Will this be okay or will I offend ppl because my pants are too tight? Please let me know what you think or have any advice on what a PE teacher should wear (considering we are active more than normal teachers)

  2. As a P.E. Teacher you may be fine. My school wouldn’t allow us to wear Capri pants. I either had to wear a skirt or full length pants, so you may want to double check with your employer. Around town, yoga pants are fine as long as you keep your bum covered!

  3. I have been humiliated at Fahrenheit Club in Doha. It was my first time to go there and to my surprise, sleeveless shirts and above-the-knee skirts/ dresses are not allowed. I was wearing a dress with long sleeves, but yes, it’s above the knee. The security told us to buy leggings at the lobby instead. So to comply with the rule, we bought leggings and changed our outfit.

    When we got inside the bar, I saw some women wearing shorter dresses than mine! So I went outside and talked to the guards why they allowed the others. They told me I have no concern with the other girls. Woooow! So unfair and unjust! Is this how they treat their customers?!

    So I removed my leggings in the washroom and joined my friends at the table. When I went to order my drinks, two guards came near me and ordered the bartender not to give me anything.

    I did not change my dress. The guard followed me again so I went out of the club because I am too sick and tired of them. The guard humiliated me outside and even raised his voice! (I was alone, my friends were inside.)

    I had been to some clubs in Doha like Sundowner, Wahm, Lava, etc. and the people are nice!

    So everyone out there, never go to Fahrenheit- the worst club in Doha! The security guards are extremely rude! They favor only the people they know.

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