The national language of Qatar is Arabic and it has its own letter characters, named Arabic alphabets, which is written from right to the left. Arabic is one of semitic languages –the most predominant language used on the earth— and widely used in the Middle East. In Qatar, this language is commonly used by local residents and Arabian communities in their daily life. If you are interested in knowing more about Arabic language, please go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language.
The second language used in Qatar is English. Many signboards and public place signs are written both in English and Arabic, as well as in some workplaces, hotels, tourist areas and malls. So, it shouldn’t be a problem if you only speak English. Most people in Qatar can speak English, even some of them can speak English fluently. (But knowing some Arabic basic conversations would be useful). Some of them listed below:
|Good morning = sabaah al-khair||Good morning (in reply) = sabah an-noor|
|Good evening = masaa al-khair||Good evening (in reply) = masaa an-noor|
|Good night = tisbah’ala khair||How are you? = Kayf halak? / Kayfak? (to a man) and kayfik? (to a woman)|
|Hello = marhaba||My name is... = Ismi…|
|Greeting = asslamu alaikum||Greeting (in reply) = wa alaikum issalam|
|Goodbye = ma assalama||Thank you = shukran|
People are basically the same everywhere on this planet, i.e. there are friendly, unfriendly, kind, and nasty people, however generally Qatari people are friendly and nice people. Similar with the other Middle East countries, the Qataris usually like to talk and may tend to speak loudly with full of gestures which it could be leading you to the assumptions of anger or impoliteness, which indeed is not always the case.
When talking, they tended to hug, hold hands, or touch each other more often and stand much closer, even in Western perception. (But this is only happened between woman to woman or man to man/not for the opposite sex and mostly to those who already know each other well). Even so, do not be surprised if you find married couples do not show their affection in public places. It is a kind of basic culture in Qatar that they do not touch, hold hands, hug, or kiss to the opposite sex, even if they were a married couple!
Although Qatar is a Muslims country, it is allowed for expats to buy alcohol and pork meat for home consumptions in a few special stores, though “alcohol and pork licenses” are also required for the buyers. To obtained these licenses (mostly for residence not tourists), you ought to contact Qatar Distribution Company, the only one alcohol and pork distributor for expats in Qatar: +974 44699412, 44699413, 44687547.] Gambling is totally prohibited here.
Do not take any pictures of military or police installations, government offices and airport, as well as for take a picture of Qatari women without any permission. As for Ramadan (fasting month), eating, drinking or smoking in public places is forbidden during fasting hours (approximately it starts from dawn to sunset).
There must be some culture differences that you might observe (learn) once you are there. Just keep in mind, as we expect foreigners to respect our own culture in our backyard, so do they elsewhere in the world or in Qatar.
It is recommended that you prepare your own medicines/drugs from your local chemists or clinics since it might be hard for you to looking for your usual/known medicines in Qatar. Possible (common) health problems are dehydration and stomach upsets.
Dehydration. As a year-round sunshine country, Qatar has a high temperature up to over 40°C (104°F). Therefore, it is suggested for tourists and foreigners to protect their bodies from the heat by wearing hats, applying sun block lotion, and the most important thing is drinking plenty of water or eating foods that have high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, as a prevention from dehydration. Mineral water can be found anywhere in grocery stores in town.
Stomach upset. The typical of Qatari food is rich in spices and mixture of meats or lamb, cooked with milk and many kinds spices (similar to Indian and Lebanon dishes). If you are not familiar with these kinds of spices, then it is possible to cause you a stomach upset. Sometimes ice cubes can cause problem too, though it depends on where you take them.
Just imagine a tourist from inland Africa, the Middle East or an American Indian walking on a street in a beautiful small town in Australia, northern Europe or far east Asia in summer wearing their customary/traditional clothes. Unless you want to get similar "extra" attention from local crowds, it is advisable to respect how locals normally dress.
Similar to other countries in the Middle East, Qatari people dress up themselves with a long white sleeve robe called “thobe” (for man) and a long black dress called “abayah” (for women). They also wear a cloth, folded on their head, named “ghutra”(for men) and a scarf to cover their hair called “shayla” (for women). These are their traditional clothes for their daily activities. Nowadays, their dresses become more colorful with vary ornaments and many details, especially for wedding dresses.
Although Qatar is more tolerant than other Muslims countries in the Middle East (especially compared to Saudi Arabia), it’s wisely suggested for visitors or foreigners to dress modestly. You do not have to dress like Qatari people –wear “thobe” or “abayah” and cover your head, but you should wear a cloth that cover shoulder and knee when you walk around or go to public places. Clothes like shorts, short skirts, tank tops (sleeveless shirts), low-necked dresses, or tight jeans are not really appropriate, though wear sports-wears like shorts and swimsuits are acceptable at swimming pools, beaches, or other sports venues.
Qatar offers modern shopping malls and traditional souqs (markets). The modern shopping malls have air conditioners and majority occupy a great-modern architecture building, such as City Centre, Villagio Mall, Al Asmakh Mall, and so on. They sell branded items not only from Qatar itself but also from overseas, such as from USA, England, China, Japan, French, Spain, and many more, mostly at a fixed price (except during discount events).
On the other hand, some traditional souqs in Qatar occupy clean and neat marble buildings, decorated with fountains and indoor plants (similar to modern malls). But some of them also occupy traditional Arabian buildings, with bamboo and woven palm leaves on the roof that will take you back to the old times.
There are some traditional souqs in Qatar, such as Souq Waqif, Souq Al Ahmad, Doha Souq, Gold Souq, and so on. These souqs are located close one to another in the center of Doha. Another good thing is the stalls here are classified according to each type of goods (such as textiles, warehouse, spices, etc.), which in turn will make you easy to find them. The operating hours are usually around 10am till 10pm (some of them may temporarily be closed for few hours in the noon).
Bargaining is the important thing to do when you go to traditional souqs in Qatar! In souqs, you can find various goods, such as clothes, electrical goods, perfumes and jewellery, accessories, household goods, etc., at lower prices. Since prices are competitive, you have more chance to get the best price and quality by comparing what you look for among sellers. The first thing to do is to politely ask for his/her best price (or "special price" for you) before getting into further challenging "negotiation".
It would be better if you ask your hotel staff, tour guides or may be even your taxi drivers for the current local price range. Additional readings on how to bargain (from external sources) are at: www.wikihow.com, www.askmen.com.
Generally, tipping in Qatar is not yet a standard practice, though in the most great fancy restaurants or hotels they do so, which around 10% of your transaction or depends on your generosity, especially if the service was satisfied! But in some cases, a service charge is already included in your bill. If it is so, you do not have to give a tip. Taxi drivers, tourist guides, or porters do not expect a tip, but it is good to give them a small amount of money as a tip.
Unless in international modern buildings or international renowned public places, do not expect to find western standard toilets in Qatar. Mostly, public toilets in Qatar use squate toilets, not sitting toilets, (though there are more sitting toilets may be found nowadays) and it’s the best suggestion for you to bring tissue anywhere you go since it might be no toilet papers in public toilets.