Cultural Etiquette in Qatar
Qatari culture is wonderfully apparent, even if expatriate nationalities dwarf the native population. Indeed, in a country of over 2.8 million people, Qataris account for less than 15% of the total population. So, how do Qatar remain the dominant culture, and how is the cultural etiquette of so few upheld by so many?
The nation's culture is heavily promoted and preserved through public policy and is strongly upheld by its people. And, as an Islamic country, whose culture is heavily intertwined with its faith, laws are in place to protect various aspects of the Qatari way of life. However, though Qatar is fervent in its desire to protect the nation's heritage and culture, it also strives to be forward-thinking and a key player in the modern world.
In a region not always known for its liberal values, Qatar's high level of tolerance for the cultures and beliefs of others is certainly refreshing. Traditionally and culturally, Qataris are hospitable and tolerant people. Constitutionally, the ruling body recognises the role that tolerance, benevolence and openness has in building a secure, prosperous and peaceful nation in modern times. The results of this outlook are reassuringly apparent.
Qatar, one of the most open countries in the region, offers it's expatriate community a safe, peaceful and tolerant environment in which to live. Around 2.4 million people from over 100 countries, comprising a variety of religions, cultures, languages, etc. all coexist peacefully. Foreign workers are neither discriminated against because of their religion or prevented from practising their own religion. Indeed, places of worship are available in and around Doha for various faiths, and Qatar runs numerous interfaith initiatives, including playing host to the annual Doha International Interfaith Dialogue Conference. Other countries' cultural holidays and festivals can be observed freely, and state-run programmes to celebrate the cultures of others are commonplace. Foreigners are free to wear their own national dress, attend schools following the curriculum of their home nation, and have access to a plethora of publications in their own languages. Residents and visitors, though Qatari and Islamic law prohibits the consumption of alcohol and pork products for Muslims, can in designated places buy and drink alcohol.
In 2019, Qatar was ranked the 7th safest country in the world out of 128 countries, according to the Global Finance Index.
It was also ranked the 31st most peaceful country in the world out of 163 countries, according to the Global Peace Index. In fact, Qatar tops the Middle East region as the most peaceful nation - Kuwait drops in at 43rd most peaceful and the UAE at 53rd.
That so many expatriates and visitors can live together so peacefully following their own cultural beliefs and values is a sign of the respect and tolerance this small nation instils, not only in its own people, but also those who come to live, work and visit. Indeed, Qatari culture is upheld not just by its people, but also those who adopt it as their own for a while.
If you plan to visit or move to Qatar, you can do so in the knowledge that the nation's society as a whole will accept you, your culture and your beliefs. However, to be welcomed with such relative freedom, Qatar asks all its visitors to respect the culture and Islamic faith of the country and its people. So, take a moment to familiarise yourself with our Do's and Don'ts guide below.
Do learn some Arabic greetings. English is, of course, the de facto language in Qatar, but, as in all countries, making an effort to try the local language is always appreciated.
Formal greetings are considered good manners and a sign of respect. Acknowledgements such as good morning (Sabaah al-khayr) or good afternoon (Masaa' al-khayr) or the common greeting, As-salaam ‘alaykum (literally ‘peace be upon you’, to which the response should be Wa 'alaykum salaam) are used regularly.
It is also worth going the extra mile to learn the words for please (raja’) and thank-you (shukraan).
Qataris also like to use titles, so where appropriate, use them.
Do temper your greetings according to sex. Men are generally happy to shake hands with men, and sometimes women - though they may instead offer a hand to the heart as a sign of greeting and respect. For most Qatari women, a nod of the head will suffice.
Public displays of affection should also be tempered. Hand holding is fine, but canoodling in public is considered distasteful.
Do show respect for women. Like many Muslim cultures, Qatari culture demands that the virtue of women is upheld. As above, verbal communication between a man and a woman rather than physical contact is preferred. Staring or taking photographs of women without their consent is also frowned upon.
It is also worth noting that in many public places, women and men have different lines for queuing, waiting areas, and entrances. Make sure you use the right ones.
Do dress modestly. While visitors are not expected to wear the long robes and head coverings preferred by Qataris and other Islamic cultures, both sexes are asked to dress modestly. In general, this means covering shoulders and knees. So, it is recommended to avoid revealing clothing, short skirts and shorts, strappy or sleeveless tops and t-shirts.
For women, taking a scarf or a pashmina out with you will allow you to cover shoulders as required.
Head coverings will be required for women to visit mosques (though some mosques open to visitors will supply an abaya and a headscarf). Men should be aware that in Government buildings, visitors will be refused entry unless they are dressed modestly, including wearing full-length trousers.
Swimwear should be modest on public beaches, but at hotels and resorts, bikinis are fine.
Do accept hospitality. Qataris are extremely hospitable and regard its offering as a sign of respect and friendship.
If you are invited to share in a Qataris hospitality, remember to greet people accordingly by age and status (the elderly and those of higher status are greeted first). Avoid showing your back or the soles of your feet to your host - it is considered quite rude.
Do prepare yourself for a more relaxed version of timekeeping in Qatar - life revolves at a different pace, and often meeting times seem quite elastic!
Do try some haggling at local markets and shops. It is part of the nation's culture and is a perfect way to set up some good-natured dialogue.
Do eat, greet and pass with your right hand - the left hand is used for personal hygiene!
Do be tolerant of others. Qatar is an extremely peaceable country with people from a variety of nations living in it. Respect their cultures and religion - we’re all different.
Do be mindful of daily prayers; disturbing the devout during prayer is impolite. Also, be especially mindful during the Holy month of Ramadan - it is forbidden to eat and drink in public during daylight hours.
Do maintain composure, even in the most awkward situations. Creating conflict or publicly displaying anger and annoyance is considered gross bad manners.
As in all countries, there are several 'don'ts' that extend beyond basic respect for another's culture; those that tie in with the law should be adhered to by the letter!
Don’t try to bring drugs, alcohol, pork products, pornography, religious books or materials into the country. The punishment for bringing drugs into Qatar can be severe.
While alcohol is served in designated hotel and resort bars, and residents with a license may buy alcohol in an authorised shop, drinking or being drunk in a public place is a punishable offence. Don’t risk it.
Don’t use rude or offensive hand gestures or language in public. Again this is a punishable offence and may lead to deportation.
Don’t throw rubbish or spit in the street; you could be smacked with a very hefty fine.
Don’t film or photograph Government, military establishments, or construction sites. Additionally, posting materials online that are considered insulting, slanderous or culturally sensitive can lead to deportation or prosecution.
Don’t attempt to convert anyone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another (lighthearted or not); it is a very serious offence, and punishment can be severe.
Observing and respecting the local culture will not only make sure you enjoy your stay in Qatar and have a greater understanding of the country and its people, but it will also help to keep you out of trouble!
To read more about Qatari culture and how it has evolved over time, check out our Culture Trip article.
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