Saturday, October 11, 2008

Qataris

Although I do not interact with Qataris too often I have been fortunate enough to get to know two Qataris who work in my office as graduate trainees. Through chats I get a number of interesting titbits about life as a Qatari and how it is different, yet in some ways similar, from life in the West.

Both went to university in the West (one to France, the other to the US), which means they have had to balance their religious beliefs with life in the West. One of them told me that for him the hardest part of living in France was getting used to talking to women. Qataris, like Saudis, take seriously Islamic teachings about not associating with women you're not related to. Growing up it is hammered into a young Qatari man probably from about the age of 9 or 10 that he should not be talking to girls, and schools are gender segregated so he would never have much interaction with girls anyway. So going to the co-ed Western university classes would be a new experience. He told me that it took a good year-and-a-half before he was reasonably comfortable talking to a woman.

It works both ways. My friend Linda teaches English to Qatari high school graduates to prepare them for University and the classes are co-ed. She has told me that she has had women drop out because they cannot handle being in the same class as men.

This means of course that marriages are arranged. One of the graduates expects to be engaged next year. It is unclear to me whether he will even meet her before the engagement as his family will arrange everything, though they may "short-list" some potential candidates and he will then meet her and her family to see if they both think the marriage would be suitable. Once they are engaged THEN they can go out on dates and talk to one another -- but only while chaperoned by a male relative from her family. If they feel they are not really compatible then they will break off the engagement.

The gender segregation can manifest itself in other odd ways. For example one of the guys told me that his mother and sisters like to watch Desparate Housewives, but when the show is on they will lock the door so that the men in the family cannot see the show as they do not feel it is appropriate for men to be watching it. And this was the guy who went to university in France.

Qataris also take family responsibilities seriously. In my office the hours are 8-5 but most Qataris work for the government and their hours are 7-2. This gives a Qatari time to come home in the afternoon to see the family and maybe play with the kids before dinner. The thought of not being home with the family in the afternoon is disagreeable to Qataris. I think the graduates here are fine with the extended hours because they are not married, but once they are married and have children would probably try and find a job that would allow them to be home in the afternoons.

At the same time there are many similarities with Westerners: kids play videogames, families go shopping, people love to travel, or go to the theatre or watch movies and so on. No different than anyone else in the world.

3 comments:

Karen C said...

Hi again, just want to say I enjoy reading your blogs. Very informative on the lives of the Qataris. My daughter and her husband are still in the process of getting use to the ways of the country. I am looking forward to visiting Qatar in Jan & Feb, I am sure I will enjoy it. Sand is so much better then the snow.

Hows the cell phone? LOL Hope it is still working.

So far here in Ontario we are still enjoying warm fall weather.

Take care.

Glen McKay said...

Thanks Karen. Cell phone still works so i have to give Motorola credit for a quality product.

January huh? hopefully the weather warms up by the time you arrive. January is the coldest month and with the humidity it is not particularly pleasant (10-14 degrees) but the cold weather usually lasts only a few weeks. My Mom visited once in February and the weather was great.

Glen McKay said...

Thanks Karen. Cell phone still works so i have to give Motorola credit for a quality product.

January huh? hopefully the weather warms up by the time you arrive. January is the coldest month and with the humidity it is not particularly pleasant (10-14 degrees) but the cold weather usually lasts only a few weeks. My Mom visited once in February and the weather was great.