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Monday, April 23, 2007

Life in Qatar

“Living in Qatar” – this is what I typed into the search engine a couple of years ago when I first considered coming to this tiny but extremely rich country. I didn’t find much of an answer then, so here’s a snapshot of what life in Qatar is like, with links to more detailed posts.

Alcohol – you can buy alcohol in hotel bars, although you’ll pay for it. Alcohol can be bought with an alcohol permit up to a limit of ten percent of your income. Drinking outside the house or licensed premises is illegal. See Buying alcohol in Qatar and The Price of Alcohol in Qatar for more info.

Safety – generally this is a very safe country, with extremely low crime rates. There does seem to have been a rise in crime recently, but violent crime is still virtually non-existent.

Sex in Qatar – heterosexual sex outside marriage is illegal. What happens in practice (and contrary to just a few years ago) is that relationships conducted in private are tolerated, although couples caught having sex in public will be prosecuted and deported. Muslims will also be lashed. Some prostitutes do manage to sneak into the country, and from time to time a bunch are rounded up and deported. Homosexual sex is illegal outright, although obviously in a country with a ratio of two men to every one women and huge restrictions on meetings between the sexes, it is rife.

People – it might surprise you to learn this, but Qataris are very much a minority in this country. The largest population group is probably Indian, but there are also large numbers of Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Philipinos, Pakistanis, Africans, Egyptians and others.

Food - with such a range of people, there's a huge choice of food. Eating out is cheaper than in many countries in the West - a vegetarian Indian can cost less than two dollars. Seafood is particularly good value.

Religion – Yes, Qatar is a very religious country. People will try and convert you to Islam – they are concerned for your soul. While proselytizing back is illegal and could lead to you being deported, there is freedom of worship here, and there are a number of churches. Whatever your religion, you will soon become accustomed to the sound of the prayer call.

Police – there are no any longer religious police. Police are generally friendly and polite, and seem to be honest, although I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Dress – relaxed, and getting more relaxed. While all the advice you’ll see is to dress conservatively, in reality people wear shorts, shorts sleeved shirts and short skirts without a problem.

Entertainment - There are bars and hotel clubs, but don’t expect them be up to the standards of major international cities. Nevertheless, you can dance and get a drink. There are plenty of cinemas, including a 14 screen complex at City Centre showing both Arabic and Western movies in their original language. Ice-rinks and ten pin bowling are also available . There’s one national theatre, which is not very active, and an amateur theatre group called the Doha Players, who are very active. More effort seems to be going into providing entertainment, and these often take place in hotel auditoriums. Traditional entertainment is also available – sitting in a cafe, enjoying a shisha and sipping Turkish coffee while lounging on cushions.

Shopping – if you like shopping, put aside any reservations and come now. It’s good, really good, and it’s getting better. There are traditional markets and souqs, including the fantastic Souq Waqif., and huge malls – the latest addition, Villagio , is impressive even before it is finished.

Books – Just a few months ago the situation was dire. Now, however, Virgin Megastore has opened in Villagio and has a very good selection of books.

Things to do – You can do most things that you can do anywhere and a few that you can’t. Sand boarding and dune bashing are two activities which the adventurous can try. You might also want to sample the camel racing at Shahinaya. See Things to do in Qatar for more information.

Things to see – being such a tiny country (length) there’s not a huge amount to see, but the Inland sea and the singing sand dunes are both worth a visit. There are also plenty of forts and excavations for the historically inclined. The Qatar Natural History is a very active organization that organises trips around the country in addition to evening lectures.

Heat – you’ll know its hot but you may not be prepared for just how hot it can be. In July and August even the air conditioning can’t stop you from feeling the heat. Paradoxically, the thousands of air conditioner blasting hot air into the city raises the temperature above that of the surrounding desert. During these summer months outdoor activities cease and people retreat to the malls.

Nevertheless, this punishing heat is not around all year round. In December and January temperatures can even become chilly – and when this happens the country’s supply of heaters can run out rapidly. (See weather).

Online community – there wasn’t one when I came, but it is rapidly developing. Qatar living and Qatar blah blah are the two online forums, and there’s also a small blog community. Blogs can register with the Qatar blogs project on Qatar living to get links – and readers.

Work – there are strict rules concerning hours of work, but many employers ignore them. Long hours are the norm, although not for all (government workers spring to mind) and the private sector often work six days a week. See Working: Qatar styles

Anything we’ve missed? Leave a comment if so.

Also see: Qatar Surprise

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