Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Qatar Primer: Doha Dos and Don'ts

This time next week, I will have just landed in Doha, Qatar on a quick five-day business trip for the official grand opening of Northwestern University's new campus there. NU currently has branches of the Medill School of Journalism and the School of Communication in Qatar's Education City. I never expected to travel to the Middle East, so this somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip is a huge boon to my Bucket List. It's one of those life goals I didn't know I had, but will gladly complete.

I recently received my itinerary for the trip (as well as some nifty purple NU-Qatar luggage tags!) and it's shaping up to be a packed couple of days. All told, I'll spend about 30 hours on various airplanes and three full days in Doha, where I will be staying at the opulent Doha Ritz-Carlton (pinch me).

Expenses for the journey are being covered by the Qatar Foundation, the organization that also bankrolls the educational endeavors of Western universities that open branches in Qatar. In addition to NU, Education City is home to schools from Texas A&M, Georgetown, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. The educational initiative in Qatar has been led by Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, chairperson of the Qatar Foundation and wife of the Emir of Qatar (His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani). She will be attending the opening ceremony and a formal dinner with the NU contingent during my trip.

My itinerary packet also includes information on Qatari life and culture, as well as some of the social differences that a foreign visitor should be aware of.
  • Average temperature for March in Doha: High of 80, low of 62. Precipitation is rare. Bring it on.
  • Arabic is the official language, though Urdu (Pakistani) is widely spoken in cities. English is also spoken by the vast majority of businesspeople and I understand that Education City is Little America. I doubt this will be an issue.
  • "Do not extend your hand to a local from the opposite sex unless he/she extends his/her hand first. Always use your right hand only."
  • The standard greeting during a handshake is "Salaam Alaykum" (peace be with you) and "Wa alaykum as-salaam" (and peace be upon you).
  • It is impolite not to accept at least one cup of tea or coffee. Can I just drink water?
  • "Qataris of the same sex like to sit or stand very close to each other, closer than many foreigners are accustomed. Try not to move away, since this would signal coldness."
  • The normal work week is Sunday through Thursday. Businesses open at 7 a.m. and close in the afternoon. Friday is the Islamic holy day.
  • "Some Arabic food is eaten by hand without utensils, and visitors are cautioned to use the right hand only for this purpose. The left hand is thought to be "unclean" and should not even be used to pass plates." Bad news for a lefty like me...
  • "Many people are strongly opposed to having their picture taken. Always ask for permission before taking photographs. In addition, avoid taking photographs of sensitive sites or people, such as the police or armed forces." Did I mention that I am in Qatar to take photos and videos for the NU news site? I guess I'll be asking for a lot of permission.
I'm extremely excited about this upcoming adventure and I hope that I have the Internet access and time to blog about it while I'm there. If not, rest assured there will be several posts devoted to the trip when I get back. Actually, there probably will be either way!

For more on NU-Q, check out Medill Professor Richard Roth's blog or my slide show below on the first semester of classes.

P.S. Happy Pi Day!


Andrea said...

just accept the cup and then take only a sip of it...all you need to do is hold it =) nice video too!

and i better get a postcard!

mz said...

yeah, if you're not careful with your camera, you might kick the bucket sooner than you think.

Margaret said...

Good Luck with the left hand thing...I got yelled at for it in is the traditional poop wiping hand. How very comforting.

Have lots and lots of fun!

ap said...

You're a lefty? Good luck.