I’ve spent almost all my life in the Middle East and never had a local friend, acquaintance, colleague or neighbor. It’s recently that I’ve made friends with a few locals. It is shocking how similar we are. To start with, we are all the same age, grew up in the Middle East doing the same thing, listening to the same music. We are the same amount of lame and cool and think we’re all that.
It’s been an interesting look into what Qataris my age are like. (Qatari men to be precise because women are a completely different ball game and I haven’t cracked it yet.) We talk about food and growing up and school and parents and family obligations and fashion and marriage and politics and women’s rights.
And surprisingly almost all our views match! There are some obvious disagreements, but they put across their views with a lot of thought and logic. They are open to listen to the opposite point of view and actually consider it. So the general consensus is as follows- Parents-chill, social obligations-check! Fashion- white long shirts only! marriage-tricky! Politics-whatever. My views on some of the hot topics are understandably different to theirs, but I’ve learnt a lot through these discussions.
They are very proud of where they come from. Though the system might not work as perfectly for them as we might imagine, it keeps them happy, gives them opportunities and provides them a higher social standing.
With the wealth and the opulence, they appear to be on a pedestal. There is also a certain attitude that has to be maintained. Whether they are tailgating their way from Doha to Djibouti or parking wherever they want, there are certain perks of being Qatari and they aren’t going to forfeit them. Most are very aware of this behavior and can turn it on and off as per convenience and sometimes even apologize for it! The level of confidence with which they carry themselves is impressive.
Friendship is very important to them, but like any young society theirs is also cliquey. Even if you are from the country, if you don’t hang out in the right crowd, drive the right vehicle, have the right job, don’t speak decent English, wear the right ‘thobe’ (long white shirt!), you don’t make the cut. Having studied abroad gives you props because you are more confident with foreign languages and people. I think this concept holds true for all societies.
They are a truly non-confrontational people. They will spend months or even years being friendly with someone they loathe if it means not having to get into it or call them out. They may even shoot off fiery emails to each other but when they are face to face, Bert and Ernie would look estranged in comparison.
They do note a significant difference in opinion from their fathers to older brothers to themselves. They’ve really come a long way. They are happy with most of the ‘advances’, but are wary of a few. In their hearts, they are traditional, and they make it work.