Doha, capital city of Qatar state, has witnessed explosive growth in recent decades. Its burgeoning expatriate population now outnumbers that of its nationals; when the state opened up its property market to foreign ownership, foreigners flooded the capital, doubling the city’s population in the last decade alone. This oil-rich city has diversified its economy in recent years. With economic liberalization has come a degree of social liberalization. It is possible to find a range of good bookstores, bars and cinemas showing western films. During the sweltering hot summer months, temperatures regularly soar to 50 degrees Celsius and beyond; unfortunately, as the city switches on the air conditioning to cool the interior, it inadvertently heats up the exterior. During these months, many either retreat to cooler climes, or to the air-conditioned cool sanctuary of shopping malls.
Qatar is far more liberal than its neighbors. Prospective expats will be relieved to learn that a blind eye is turned to those wearing shorts, (prohibited in many other Arab states) and that women are not required to wear the abaya here. Alcohol is legal and readily available, albeit at a high price, and you can lounge by the pool in a bikini provided it is in the confines of an international hotel or your own backyard. It is important to observe social norms – no kissing in public, for example, or directly asking after an Arab colleague’s wife. Cover your shoulders, don’t expose too much skin, and make sure your teenage daughters keep their bellies under wraps.
Doha is a city that begs to be explored and its Qatari hosts are welcoming and tolerant. Try out sand surfing, blo-kiting or desert camping. If you fancy a mouth-watering street snack, head for the famous Souq Waqif and sample a traditional pancake. The swaths of fabulous fabrics hidden in the Souq Al Dira and the city’s abundance of talented tailors provide a novel alternative to store-bought designer labels. This affluent, small city boasts an eclectic range of restaurants alongside a host of activities and hidden delights that will make your stay here, be it long or short, a memorable one.
What is special or unique about your city?
Doha is a fast-growing, but comfortably small city in the Middle East. It’s called the “Pearl of the Gulf,” both as a result of its charm and its associations with the pearl trade. Its attractions include great sightseeing (Corniche, Inland Sea, forts, museums, oryx farms), international sporting events and abundant shopping, including the City Center, the largest shopping mall in the Middle East. Qatar now has the fastest-growing economy of all the GCC countries (which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar), thanks to its huge oil and gas supplies (the largest natural gas field in the world).
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Its progressive and tolerant atmosphere (particularly when compared to some of its neighbors), friendly people, high level of safety and low crime rate are among the first things that people notice. On the down side, the slow pace can be frustrating, especially the lack of efficiency when it comes to doing necessary paperwork when settling in. Also, the erratic way most people drive here generally catches people's attention.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Not particularly. Once all the paperwork has finally been done, you can start to enjoy living here. Just take care not to adopt local driving habits; safety first!
What is the local language?
Arabic and English.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
Practically everybody speaks English and there is no problem if you don’t speak or read Arabic. It is sometimes quite useful, though, to know the numbers in Arabic for things like checking expiration dates on products.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Dressing provocatively will certainly offend the local community. It is not a good idea to wear revealing clothes when out in public. It is considered particularly important to dress modestly during the Holy Fasting and month of Ramadan. Also avoid kissing and hugging as a couple when you’re out. Try to use your right hand when giving or receiving something.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Winter (October through March) is superb, but summer (April through September) has to be spent indoors most of the time as a result of the searing heat. The highest temperatures (in summer, usually around 45-50C!) are between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., during which outdoor shops are closed. Life returns to normal in the evening and shops stay open late. Shops in malls are air-conditioned and open all day.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Foreigners are expected to respect local customs and religious rules. For example, during the holy month of Ramadan, drinking or eating in public is not allowed in the daytime.