Some expats complain a lot about Qatar while living in the country (for better or worse). But when all’s said and done, there’s a lot to appreciate about the country.
That’s what former Doha resident
Western expats love to complain about Qatar.
Whether it’s the bureaucracy, the traffic, the exorbitant rent or the heat, there’s always someone in the Doha News comments with a sob story to share.
The response from locals is just as predictable, and is usually some variation on “If you don’t like it, you can go home.”
Well, an increasing number of these expats have done just that.
In recent years, budgets and ambitions have been scaled back, resulting in pink slips and one-way tickets for western staff, and a steady exodus out of the country.
I left in 2015 when the global price of oil plummeted, my government project was cancelled, and I found myself clocking in at work to watch YouTube for several hours.
Two years later, I’m enjoying life back in “the real world. But whenever I catch up with other expats from Qatar, we find ourselves reminiscing about the place.
Because for all its dramas, there are some things you’re going to miss when you leave.
Here are ten of mine:
1. Ridiculous brunches
The first time I was invited to a brunch in Qatar, I drove to the hotel expecting a stack of pancakes, a cup of coffee and some decent conversation.
When I emerged from the endless champagne top-ups several hours later, I was in no state to drive anywhere, so it’s just as well that we all reconvened at the hotel pool and ordered more rounds.
As I quickly learned, brunches in Qatar are an ode to excess.
To borrow a quote, they’re “a physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country. But only for those with true grit.”
2. Overseas travel allowances
Attending an overseas conference while working for a Qatari government department in my experience means flying Business Class while clutching a wad of cash large enough to choke a horse.
For western expats used to boring things like “accountability” and “budgets,” the generosity of the Qatari per diem is a beautiful thing.
Anywhere else in the world, the money would be considered an annual bonus.
But in Qatar, it was spending a week in London to attend a two-day conference and coming back home with several thousand dollars in your back pocket.
3. World-class infrastructure projects
Speaking of money – between 2010 and 2014, Qatar was flush with cash and happy to spend it on forward-thinking, nation-building projects.
We’ll have to wait and see if the outdoor air conditioning system that helped sell FIFA on holding the 2022 World Cup in the desert actually works, but the plan shows the drive and ambition you’ll find in Qatar.
Whether it’s Education City, greenhouse farms in the desert, or the aforementioned FIFA initiatives, Qatar is willing to invest in the future.
And that’s a welcome change from the political gridlock and short-sightedness you often see in older, established nations.
4. Dhow boat parties
A dhow boat party is a right of passage for almost every expat.
Taking to the waters with a bunch of strangers, several coolers worth of booze and a third-rate sound system playing terrible music is the quintessential Doha weekend activity.
The associated photos of the West Bay skyline are just made for Instagram, and jumping into the water can help sober you up after one Vodka and Red Bull too many.
5. Sneaking into ‘Nikki Beach’
Technically, you’re supposed to be a resident of the Pearl to gain admission to ‘Nikki Beach’ (so-called, even though the Nikki Beach chain pulled the plug on plans to open there several years ago).
But as countless expats have discovered, it doesn’t take a lot of persuasion to get past the security and enjoy a relaxing Saturday afternoon on the sand.
As much a social scene as a destination, Nikki Beach lets you work on your tan and go for a swim without paying the exorbitant day-rates the hotel beaches charge. And as a bonus, it’s only a short drive from the city center.
6. Overt displays of wealth
Sometimes it’s nice to celebrate the finer things in life, and Qatar has the resources and the outlook to do just that.
One of my favorite memories from Qatar is the Damien Hirst art exhibition launch in 2013.
Looking around the room at Al Riwaq, I saw a woman who looked a lot like Naomi Campbell, quickly realized that it was Naomi, then watched her board a helicopter with Damien Hirst and Jeff Koon.
Turns out they were heading to a pop-up Prada shop in the desert for the official after-party.
You don’t often see those ostentatious displays of wealth where I’m from, and certainly not in the art and museums sector, where everyone is wretchedly poor and scraping by like they’re in a Charles Dickens novel.
7. The surreal lifestyle
The thing about well-heeled expat life in Qatar is that it often feels surreal.
The money, the hotel lifestyle, the heat and the uneasy mix of modern and traditional influences can make your brain swim, so that nothing seems entirely real.
Expat life in Qatar can feel like an extended holiday at times, and as we all know, normal rules don’t apply when you’re traveling.
In comparison, being back home can feel boring, mundane and scripted.
So, the opposite of a holiday, basically.
8. The West Bay skyline from MIA Park
The West Bay skyline is always impressive, but the very best place to view it is the crescent-shaped harbor that juts out of MIA Park.
On balmy autumn afternoons, I used to grab a book and wander down to the café near Richard Serra’s 7 sculpture for some peace and quiet (with a side order of Belgian waffles, black coffee and Instagram photo opps).
Because, you know, it’s the simple things that often mean the most.
9. Cheap cigarettes
Okay this one isn’t necessarily a positive, but when a pack of Marlboro lights only cost you US$2.50 and you can still smoke in most places, it’s very tempting to join in.
For comparisons sake, those same Marlboro Lights will cost you $25 in Australia, and you can’t smoke anywhere, ever.
10. The friends you make
Qatar draws people together.
Since everyone is a new arrival, it’s really ease to meet people and make friends.
Attend a couple of house parties and you’ll soon find yourself swapping numbers with an extended social circle.
Sure, a lot of them will be out the door and on a plane in six months, but if you’re lucky, you’ll meet a handful of friends that will stick with you for life.
And when you do find yourself meeting up again several years later, you’ll have endless anecdotes about Qatar to fill those late-night conversations.
Mikolai’s new book “God Willing,” about his time in Qatar, is out now via Amazon and on Kindle.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.