As Qatar hires more expats to work on its many development projects ahead of the 2022 World Cup, cultural misunderstandings and tensions are becoming more common here. Prof. Ali Al-Hail, a Qatari consultant, argues that making an extra effort to understand – rather than stereotype – each other could go a long way in fostering expat-local relations.
Since its inception, Qatar has been a safe haven and peaceful peninsula for human beings. With the rise of oil, many people from different cultures have started seeking job contracts here.
This has widely been perceived by the indigenous people of Qatar as a natural and normal practice, as long before the era of oil, Qataris themselves would travel to Asian countries, such as India, Myanmar and Pakistan, searching to earn a living.
Many societies today, most notably Western cultures, often expect its visitors to behave like them. Qataris, on the contrary, do not. We have quite often been observed to be tolerant with the foreign cultures pouring into our little but rich country. Recently, with the discovery of natural gas, even more people have begun to come to Qatar to work.
Qataris do acknowledge that their country has been developing and expanding in nearly every single sphere of life over the past decade. Because the native population is quite young – some 70 to 80 percent of Qatari society is less than 40 years old – locals realize that they need expats to contribute to their country’s build-up, and therefore do not resent people from outside coming to work in the country.
However, most Qataris have lately been questioning some Western people’s perception of them as ignorant and arrogant. This perspective also seems to be shared by Asian and Arab migrants with Western, Canadian, or Australian nationalities.
It has to be noted though, that those with lower wages who hail from Asia and Africa seldom show the same pattern, and instead show respect to their visiting culture’s nationals.
In my own experience, at least many Western expats tend to underestimate the intellect of national people, and they apparently come here with certain stereotypes about Qataris that they don’t wish to change.
Thus, there has been a growing concern amongst Qataris that they are being judged morally, rather than objectively, and this puts a strain on the expat-local relationship, because it at least gives an impression to most Qataris that they are being discriminated against.
A relationship without racism, and arrogance on both sides of the divide would certainly lead to a balanced cultural understanding.
Most Qataris perceive certain phrases expressed by some Westerners as “arrogant,” such as “we are here to help…”
Excuse me – What do you mean? Aren’t you on a monthly salary? Then, you’re here to work and earn a living.
Expats should realize that Qataris know many people have come here to help themselves, as well as helping our country develop. One Western architect named Frank was fairer in describing his stay in Qatar.
He said to me: “I came over to your country, because I didn’t find a job in my country.” Another expat from a Western culture expressed to me that: “he’s grateful to Qataris, because they offered him a job.”
Meanwhile, many expats (especially those from Western countries) tend to put all nationals in one basket. For instance, not every Qatari owns a fast car, or is a “bad driver.” This is typically a youth behavior, but still happens in only small numbers.
It’s also not a truism that Qataris think life owes them a living, as one stereotype goes. Many Qataris work extremely hard, and some of them have established careers at international levels. But being a minority in our own country doesn’t mean that we don’t run our country.
A Westerner asked me, “Why does the government give young Qataris money? What for?” And I replied: “Would you expect their government to starve them? Just because what for?”
Undoubtedly, Qataris need expats from the West and from other countries, and equally, Westerners need Qataris. Understanding this symbiotic relationship will hopefully lead to the establishment of a harmonious society, whereas everyone feels that she\he is important.
In order to bridge the gap between expats and locals, there needs to be some sort of cultural exchange.
This could be done in “organic” settings, like at home or in the workplace, but should also be fostered through debates at school, on TV, in the press and within communities such as the Pearl’s Qatar, for example.
For Qataris, respecting there is something engrained in our culture. However, guests should realize their limits, and not abuse their rights.