Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, March 2014
To Expats in Qatar:
It's my Honor And Prestige That You're My Guests, But Don't Take Advantage Of Me
By Ali Al-HailAl-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 3, 2014
As the State Of 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. The Writer 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 human's cultures is something engrained in our culture. However, guests should realize their limits, and not abuse their rights.
Let's Have A Civic Sense, In Our Civil Society
Qatar, is obviously, a multi-cultural society. Though, it's not a melting pot yet but, the country may well be described as a civil society, to a certain point. At such a society, people are not necessarily, expected to like each other (albeit, it would be an added bonus, if they did) as they come from different and somewhat, unrelated cultures, and backgrounds, but perhaps, they should learn to live in peace and harmony.
Given that expats noticeably, outnumber Qataris by nearly, 10 to 1- which is profoundly, alarming in terms of both short and longer terms, henceforth; Qataris mostly, feel that, while they do make an effort to understand expats way of life, many expats apparently, don't seem to understand and appreciate their way of life, as it's a prerequisite for any given civil society to live and breathe. For instance, many expatriate women choose to push their luck too much, and don't flatter themselves by appearing in public in indecent clothes(e.g., French shorts, short skirts..) while doing exercises, on the Cornish or the Pearl's Qatar. Qataris, feel that, those particular women must be aware of the conservative nature of Qatari society, and still, they tend to insist on provoking their hosts.
In my own experience, many expatriate women frequently, complain to the Security at the Pearl's Qatar, about an alleged harassment by Asian workers. Such a circumstance, is not necessarily, groundless, but, as we all know, these low-waged-workers are in this country without their families, for up to two or three years, and those women presumably, ask for it, because of the way they look.
By the way; the other day, at Carrefour-City Center, I was with my wife and children, I had to alert a couple's attention to observe the culture they are visiting by saying to them in the best possible manner: " excuse me, a little bit of amorous, there are ladies and children around."
To conclude, one could say that, in a civil society, the harmony of interests, as Adam Smith put it, is essentially, crucial for the sustainability of living to both sides of the demographic equation i.e., the indigenous, and the expats, despite its critically, imbalanced practicality.
Dr. Ali Al-Hail, Professor of Mass Communication, Twice Fulbright Award Winner, Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Vice-President Of Qatar Fulbright Group, CSR Award Judge, lecturing on Psychosomatics and a former Board Member of AUSACE Can be contacted via:
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