Moving to any new country is an exciting challenge. For the scoop on what it is like for a Western single guy to live in Qatar, we chatted with someone who has made Doha his home for the past year.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am in my early 40s, and I am originally from Canada, but I had worked in the United States for the past few years prior to coming to Qatar. I have been working in healthcare in Doha for more than a year.
Would you describe yourself as an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between?
I would describe myself as an introvert. I am comfortable with myself and therefore do not mind being alone. However, when moving to Qatar, it is important to open up and make an effort to meet others. A little socializing can go a long way in Qatar. After speaking with you I am going to a friend's house for a small get-together.
Is Doha your first overseas job?
This is my first overseas job. Although I had been working in the United States as a Canadian expat, the experience was not drastically different, or overseas. Working overseas has piqued my interest in other international opportunities. If I had the chance, I'd do it again.
Did you have trouble at first adjusting to Qatar?
At first, as with any move, there were difficulties. But, unlike Toronto and other North American cities, people here in Doha are forced to step outside of their comfort zone to seek friendship. If you make even a minimal effort to meet people, you will be rewarded.
The atmosphere is different from what we are used to in North America — seeing the Qataris in their national dress can seem intimidating in the beginning. But I can assure you that once you meet the Qatari people, you will find they become some of the most loyal friends you will ever have.
Where do you live?
I live in an employer-provided apartment. [Housing is commonly provided for expatriate staff everywhere in the Middle East.] I am close to work. I also employ a housekeeper who dusts and keeps things in order; I am a single man after all. For exercise, I travel to Education City to use their pool and exercise facilities.
How do you get around Doha?
Although cabs are relatively inexpensive around Doha, I chose to own the road by buying a 4x4 Ford Explorer for US$6,000 from someone leaving Qatar. Since many expat workers have short contracts, usually lasting only a few years, you can always strike a sweet deal at the "fire sales" expats have when they're returning home.
Was it hard getting used to driving here?
The traffic in Doha is bad in every sense. You never know how long it will take you to get from A to B, and you also never know what kind of crazy drivers you will encounter. My strategy is simple: Mind the front of my car and let others worry about the rear. You have to be aggressive and confident in the way you approach a traffic circle. Take my advice! You should also have an idea of what is going on in the city before you decide to take to the roads. For example, during Qatar's flag-waving, horn-honking, and generally bumper-to-bumper National Day, I do not drive.
Prior to coming to Doha, what did you do with your spare time?
Back home, I used to have a passion for welding and working in my garage. I also did a lot of running and hiking. Since I arrived in Qatar, this has changed, but not for the worse.
What do you do with your spare time now?
There are loads of opportunities for recreation in Qatar. If acting is your thing, join the Doha Players, which puts on amateur musicals and drama. If you are a history or nature buff, you should join the Qatar Natural History Club. Every month, the club brings in guest lecturers from around the Gulf region who speak about everything from archaeological digs in the United Arab Emirates to films of wildlife. There are also the Desert Ramblers who venture into the Qatari interior to hang out. For example, during the Christmas season, they sing Christmas carols in the desert.
I prefer to hit the waves with my kite-board. In the summer, the Gulf is like bathwater and extremely salty. However, in the winter the water is cold enough to warrant a wet suit. The sport is crazy, but I love it.
I have also been taking courses on dune-bashing. The courses involve three groups, each composed of seven cars, which head into the desert to practice driving through the sand. Thanks to the courses I took, I have been able to drive out to the singing sand dunes, as well as to several ancient forts. Surprisingly enough, it is not like driving through snow in Canada, as I had expected.
Can you tell me about the dating scene in Doha?
Finding a date in Doha is not easy. Although I have gone on a couple of dates, this is not the place to come if you want to meet women. In the expat bars, you can always expect men to drastically outnumber women. I'm curious how women would respond to this question.
Is there anything you miss from home?
I miss live music the most. Where I am from, every bar hosts new, upcoming talent every night of the week. In Doha, you are lucky to have a travelling musician playing only the most repetitive lounge classics. I have been so desperate for a good live band that I even went to see Bryan Adams when he came to Doha.
What is the main advice you would give to a single man relocating to Qatar?
Once again, I must emphasize: This is not the place to meet women. That being said, there are loads of other things to do in Qatar. I have already mentioned dune-bashing and kite- surfing, but I also enjoy travelling. Since I've come to Qatar, I've already been to India, Bahrain, Egypt, and Thailand. Qatar is a central location and the airfare to these countries is much cheaper than back home.
What has been you worst experience in Qatar?
"Worst" is not the word I would use, rather "frustrating." There are many times when I have become frustrated in Qatar. Like the traffic in Doha, many things move at a snail's pace compared to what we North Americans are used to.
Their system is also not as efficient, in that there is no one-stop-shopping. For example, if you want to pay your insurance, you cannot simply mail your cheque to the insurance company. Instead, you have to drive to the bank to get a cheque issued, and then drive to the insurance company to submit it. Even then, if you don't stick around to make sure the cheque is processed, it can take forever. My best advice to bypass these inefficiencies is to get to know who you are working with on a personal level.
Do you find you are more familiar with world affairs since moving to Qatar?
Most certainly! Living in Qatar gives you a front row seat to all the action, especially with all the changes happening recently in the Middle East. It's hard not to stay informed when you live in the same city as Al- Jazeera. You always feel politically safe in Qatar. Qataris are always ready to discuss politics and there is no instability in the country. I am amazed by how open people are about things here!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Know what you are getting into before you come here. Many people, men in particular, come to Qatar thinking they can walk through the Souq Waqif drinking a beer. They have to realize that, although Westernized in some respects, Qatar is still an Islamic society. It will be much less of a shock upon your arrival if you know and respect the culture and traditions of this country.
Also, I cannot emphasize enough the need to break out of your shell and approach people. If you do not make the effort to meet people, you will be miserable and alone. We always welcome newcomers, even introverts like myself.
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