Is Qatar on your “to go” list? I recently had a unique opportunity to visit some family friends there this summer, and I learned so much! So I came up with this great list of things to know before you go!
The official language of Qatar is Arabic. All the words below are spelled phonetically, since I imagine the majority of my readers do not read Arabic symbols!
- Qatar: Pronounced “Cutter”
- Hello: Marhabaan (“mar-ha-bahn”)
- Thank you: Shukraan (“shoo-krahn”)
- Toilet: Hamam (“ha-mam”)
- Yes: Nem Fielaan (“nem-fall-an”)
- No: La (“la”)
- Market: Souq (“sook”)
- A.H.: Anno Hegirae, or “in the year of the Hijra.” The defining event that began A.H. was the Prophet Muhammad’s and his followers’ migration from Mecca to present-day Medina in Saudi Arabia to start the first Muslim community. But don’t worry! All the dates I saw in museums and the like showed both the A.H. date and the corresponding A.D. date. For reference, they are about 622 years apart.
No one likes to get ripped off or think you’re spending $10, only to realize you’ve spent $100. Here are some tips to save you money and help you spend wisely.
- Country Currency: Riyal
- ATMs Available: Yes
- Credit Cards Accepted: Yes
General “Need to Know” Facts
Some of these may sound like stereotypes, but they came from my personal experiences and from my friends who are actually from Qatar! It is always good to take the advice of locals to know what to expect.
- Friday is the holy day of the week, so many museums and businesses are closed or have greatly reduced hours. Plan accordingly!
- Only men go to Mosques to pray. Women have a separate prayer area in the back, and anyone can go in to look around during non-prayer times. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how to respectfully visit a mosque.
- Qatari people often eat on the floor They lay down plastic sheets on the floor and put the food platters on the plastic!
- Qatari (and possibly most Arabic people!) mostly eat with their hands. Pita bread is kind of like a utensil when needed!
- If you are eating with a Qatari family, a member of the family will stay at the table or meal with you until you finish. It’s considered rude to leave the guest at the table by themselves.
- Water is not free at restaurants! Tap water is all desalinated from the Arabian Gulf, so it is expensive. You will always be offered still or sparkling bottled water, or another beverage. You won’t go thirsty.
- Ladies, you need to know about the Asian-style toilet, or Turkish toilet. Not into it? Never fear! Western-style toilets are widely available as well. I even used one in a bedouin camp in the desert one day!
- This is a pigeon farm. You might find yourself eating pigeon in Qatar (and liking it)!
- This is the kind of power adaptor you will need. It is the same as the one you would need in the UK!
Shopping is a favorite Qatari pastime–largely because malls are air conditioned! But don’t miss the traditional open-air markets while you’re there. Here are some good things to know before you start your Qatari shopping spree.
- Mall shopping is a popular daytime activity.
- Outdoor markets like the historic Souq Waqif are more popular at night, and even the official Souq Waqif website advises visitors to come between 7:00pm and 11:00pm!
- Haggling is expected. Here’s how to haggle:
- Ask the price
- Offer half—with confidence!
- He goes down
- You go up
- Eventually you will come to an impasse, he won’t go lower, you still think it’s too much; decide if it’s worth the price to you
- Say you saw it for less elsewhere and that you will be leaving
In a word… don’t! Sure, you can if you want to, and it may even be good to have your own car if you plan to go out into the desert. However, the driving style in Qatar is kind of an “anything goes” philosophy. That can be scary if you’re someone who pays attention to the lines on the road!
- Options for getting around:
- If you are driving yourself, you must have an international driving permit. I don’t have an international driving permit (more commonly but erroneously called an international driver’s license), but maybe I should get one and do a blog post about it!
- If driving yourself, also, be ready for lots of roundabouts! Americans in particular are not as used to roundabouts as other drivers around the world.
- You don’t have to speak Arabic; all signage is in both Arabic and English!
- Google Maps and Maps for iPhone do not work well within Qatar, so learn how to read a map!
- Surprisingly, everyone in Qatar drives large, American-Sized cars on big, American-sized roads! I was expecting the cars and roads to be smaller like they are in Europe and Asia, but I was wrong!
What to Pack
I know you probably don’t want to hear it, but you are far better off dressing conservatively, whether you’re a man or a woman! Pack natural fabrics like linen and cotton, and err toward flowy clothing rather than tighter clothing (unfortunately, moisture-wicking fabrics tend to be quite clingy and less modest). I have a full packing guide and a Middle Eastern fashion post coming soon, so stay tuned! Aside from appropriate clothing, be sure to pack these items as well:
- A light jacket or scarf. The air conditioning is like a polar blast when you walk inside anywhere!
- Tissues or a small roll of travel toilet paper. Asian and Middle Eastern toilets are very different from American or “Western” style toilets, and they do not usually include toilet paper (instead, there is a hose for washing off). If you like toilet paper, you will have to bring your own!
- Sunglasses. You will be glad you brought a pair!
- For more, stay tuned! I have a post all about what I packed, and another post all about what men and women wear in Qatar. They will be coming at you soon!
Are you ready to hop on a flight to Qatar? Tell me in the comments below!
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