Friday, May 25, 2012
Qatari Etiquette – random encounters
As you know Arab culture tends to segregate men and women, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. I have a few Qatari friends who are married and to date I have never seen their wives, not even a picture of them. In Qatari culture men simply do not try to interact with ladies (except relatives and spouses of course) and it is considered a bit impolite for a man to even ask about someone's wife. I've always known this so I’ve never been bothered about it.
The other day some of us were out at lunch. We were talking about summer and how everyone would be going to the malls to escape the heat and I realized that there would be a good chance I would randomly encounter my friends with their families at the mall.
So I asked, what is acceptable practice when by chance I see you at the mall and you are with your wife?
Responses were mixed but all agreed you leave them alone -- never go up to the guy and say “hi” like you would in the West.
The disagreement came in whether you even briefly wave “hi” or give some other kind of acknowledgment as you pass. Some said that would be okay but others said don't even do that! Just ignore them and walk on.
One Qatari told me about a time he saw a friend at a mall and went up to say hi, not realizing that the man's wife was a bit further down the aisle. As soon as he noticed he immediately said goodbye and left. I think the conversation went something like this, “Hi, how are you doing .... well, see you later.” Going up to chat with a friend of yours when he is with his wife is a faux pas in Qatari society.
Besides, as someone pointed out, nowadays with phone technology you can just send a text rather than acknowledging him. He can send a text back later if he wishes. Fair enough I suppose.
[May 31 update: I spoke to two Qatari ladies who work in the office and it turns out that the rule only applies to men. If you're a woman and at the mall and you see a Qatari lady you know with her husband it's fine for you to go up and say hi to her.]