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Georgetown University in Qatar

The GU-Q designed App

If you’ve ever wanted to learn to speak like a local, a new app designed in Qatar could help.

The Qatari Phrasebook aims to teach non-Arabic speakers more than 1,500 common Arabic words and phrases, all in the Qatari dialect.

The brainchild of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) Arabic instructor Hany Fazza, the app provides pronunciation of handy phrases. It also has the actual Arabic text and their phonetic spellings.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The app is divided into sections such as Travel, Shopping, Food & Drink, Emergency and Weather.

It also works offline so you don’t need to have a data connection, is searchable and allows users to star their favorite phrases for easy retrieval.

Authentic Qatari dialect

Five Qatari GU-Q students volunteered to read the phrases for the app. This was to ensure that the pronunciations are as authentic as possible.

Georgetown University in Qatar

Qatari students recorded the phrases for the app

Fazza, who is a mobile learning specialist, came up with the idea after speaking to expats who were frustrated that they couldn’t communicate in the local language, but had no time to attend classes.

He said he decided to focus on the Qatari dialect after realizing that it hadn’t been taught in app-form before.

“The common mobile applications we have are for Modern Standard Arabic – you will find very few applications that have something to do with the dialects,” he added.

The app, which is free to download from the Apple App Store and on Google Play, was funded by a GU-Q faculty research grant.

Have you tried it yet? Thoughts?

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Updated on Aug. 10 with comments from a Gulf expert

Qatar’s decision to waive visa requirements for visitors from 80 nationalities drew widespread praise yesterday, but also consternation from those whose countries didn’t make the cut.

People from some 47 countries, including Indonesia, Lebanon and South Africa, can now visit Qatar for free for up to a month.

Meanwhile, visitors from 33 other nations, including Turkey, Germany and France, can stay for up to 90 days.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But the list of permitted nationalities is mostly from Europe and the Americas.

It does include populous nations like China and Russia, but not most African, South Asian and Arab nations.

And among Qatar’s largest demographic groups, only India made the cut. Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt did not.

On social media, the disparity drew criticism from people in many of the excluded nations:

Fostering relationships

It is unclear why certain nations were excluded. But diplomatically speaking, governments of two nations typically sign agreements with each other to establish visa-free travel.

Speaking to Doha News, Gulf expert Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen said “the choice of countries reflects a canny move to cement Qatar’s reputation as a more open and welcome destination than some of its neighbors among key international partners.”

He continued:

“In addition, it is likely that the authorities have distinguished between welcoming visitors to Qatar as against potential residents, who likely will continue to apply for work visas in the usual manner.”

That said, Qatar does have a new online portal that makes it easier for people of all nationalities to apply for visas before visiting the country.

And it continues to offer free four-day transit visas for Qatar Airways passengers of any nationality who have stopovers in Doha.

It also plans to expand visa waivers in the future.

Crime concerns

During yesterday’s announcement, Qatar officials said the new visa-free scheme makes it one of the most “open countries” in the region.

The move will certainly help tourism numbers that have been hit by the Gulf dispute. But some wonder if Qatar has gone too far to woo visitors.

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Commenting on the news on Facebook, Ancy Thomas warned authorities to “look before you leap.”

She said:

“Brutal crimes in Qatar are very rare and this visa scheme sounds great until God forbid crime increases and anyone on a short valid visa can violate. Especially people who come with that intention. The price you pay Qatar to put on the best face in front of the world and especially the Neighbors. Desperate much? Look before you leap.”

Others worried that more people would be overstaying their visas to work illegally in Qatar.

However, most people have praised the government for throwing open Qatar’s doors to visitors.

And many residents now say they are excited to have their friends and family visit them in Doha.

Thoughts?

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Doha’s West Bay at dusk

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 Mikolai Napieralski came to realize after leaving a few years ago. Here, he compiles a top 10 list of things he and other pampered expats find themselves missing about Qatar. 

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.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

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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.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Qatar Rail

Doha Metro rendering

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.

Visit Qatar / You Tube

Screenshot of the ‘Essence of Qatar’ film

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).

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Doha bringing the heat 👌

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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.

Doha News

The Damien Hirst exhibition in Doha

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.

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Sealine Beach

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.

Victoria Scott

The Doha skyline from the MIA park cafe

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.

Morgan/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

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.

Ritz Carlton Doha / Facebook

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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.

Thoughts?

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.