Todays post is a glimps about the social expectations and Business Etiquette in Qatar. If Qatar is your next destination for Business. Remember that Social culture awarness is more complex than explaining it in a short article on a blog. Social awarness needs you to pay attention to details and improving your (reading people) skills. The idea behind the Culture- Countries weekly articles is to give you a wide idea about a specific country's social mannarism in a wide range, however it is you who decides what kind of experience you'll have!
Qatar is a small peninsula that extends into the Persian gulf from the East side of the Arabian Peninsula. Qatar shares a border with Bahrain to the Northwest, Iran to the Northeast, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to the South.
The landmass of Qatar forms the shape of a rectangle that the local people describe as a right hand extended in prayer.
Hawar is 16 small uninhabited islands that Qatar and Bahrain both claim it to be as part of their own territory. The Hawar islands are rich of water resources, fishing, pearl diving and Sea trade. The conflict between the two countries is being decided by the International tribunal, although Bahrain in recent years has turned the islands into tourist place.
Despite the conflict between Qatar and Bahrain the two countries continue to have good diplomatic relations between them!
In 1940 oil has been discovered in Qatar, bringing the country wealth. In 1971 Qatar was to join the other Emiratis of the Trucial Coast and become part of the Arab Emirate. However, Qatar and Bahrain decided against the merger and instead formed independent nations.
The capital of Qatar is Doha. %80 of the population inhabits the capital.
Origins and History
People in Qatar are divided into three groups: The Bedouin, Hadar and Abd (meaning slaves). The Bedouin descends from the Arab Peninsula, the Hadar are descendent of town dwellers, some Hadar are descendents of Bedouin however the majority of them are migrants’ descendants from Iran. The three groups identify themselves as Qatari and have the right for citizenship without challenge, although the difference in social cultural statue between them is noticable.
In 2007 the population was estimated 907.229. The Native Qataris make about %25 of the population only, on the other hand foreign workers population makes the majority of %75. Most of the foreign workers in Qatar are from South Asia, Philippines and other Arab countries.
The official language in Qatar is Arabic, and its dialect is similar of that of the other neighbouring countries “khaleeji”.
Farsi is the official language of Iran and it also widely spoken by families who descendent of Iran. As result of the big foreign population in Qatar other languages are also used English, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam and Tagalong.
Many Qataris speak one or more foreign language and as result many foreign workers do not learn to speak Arabic and communicate using English mainly.
Qatar is ruled by a prince from the Al-Thani family (SheikhHamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani). The first election ever to be held in Qatar was in 1998 to elect a municipal council.
Qatar gained its independence in 1971 from Great Britain. Since then the Qataris put lots of effort developing their country and making improvements in many sectors: social health, education, road networks, utilities services etc.
The prince’s wife Sheikha Mouza have put lots of effort encouraging organisations to support and serve women issues, children and disabled people especially focusing on health and education.
The famous news channel Aljazeera is based in Qatar.
Islam is the dominant religion in Qatar. The majority of Qataris are Sunni specifically “Wahhabi” although there are a large minority group of Shia Muslims descendants from Iran. There is an unspoken tension between the two Muslim groups!
Equality rights between Genders
Men and women alike have the right for education and work, although the two genders are segregated.
Even though women in Qatar have the right to education, work, driving and travelling alone, it is very obvious the men continue to be more dominant in the Qatari society.
After finishing school, men and women can obtain employment in government agencies or in the private sector.
There is favourite jobs that certain groups tends to seek or have a chance of getting, for example women tend to take government jobs, especially in health and social affairs, high positions are usually occupied by men. Qataris descendant of slaves, usually get jobs in entertainment and the police force.
Foreign workers also seem to have certain jobs that they get depending on their nationality. Even salaries are decided upon what nationality you hold.
There is an obvious inequality between the Qatari people and the foreign workers, even from the houses they live in you can know whether it is a house of a Qatari or a foreigner.
However, despite the inequality, the general atmosphere is comfortable. The workers have the freedom to wear their traditional clothing, practice their own religion and have their ceremonies and celebrations and places to conduct them. The foreign children attend schools with support and instructions in their own language.
Family and culture habits
Family is very important for Qataris. They also like their privacy, and expect everyone to respect and accept it. Visiting a Qatari household with your spouse ( like many other Arab countries) expect gender separation. Visits from unrelated visitors does not happen in the family house or at least in a special area away from where the family usually sits. It is considered rude not to extend hospitality to strangers, and those visitors will be expected to accept the invitation! Refrain from enquiring about one’s wife. When meeting the opposite sex it is best to act with reserve. Some women are happy to shake hands with men while others will not. It is always safer to wait for an invitation to shake hands. Similarly, men might refrain from shaking hands with women and avoid sitting beside a woman.
The Koran is the holy book of Muslims, and you need to make sure to treat it with utmost respect. Do not attempt to place anything on top of the Koran, and you should never place it on the floor or throw it away. Anyone wants to touch the Koran needs to wash themselves first before doing so.
Restaurant customers are usually from the foreign workers population. Qatari women are not usually seen sitting in restaurants; however they might come to pick up an order. Qatari men sometimes conduct business meetings in restaurants.
The right hand is used for eating and passing things around. They use their hands for eating. They wash their hands before and after food.
When offered something to eat always politely refuse the first offer, your host will make sure to persuade you to take part. If you really do not feel like eating, force yourself to eat a small amount or nibble on your food. When you finish make sure you leave a small amount of food left in your plate. When visiting a Qatari house you will be expected to at least have a drink during your visit.
Pork and Alcohol are not permitted in Islam. Pork is illegal in Qatar and any pork brought into the country will be taken off you at the airport.
Alcohol is bought only by providing a permit. Qataris are not expected to drink, therefore they are not issued permits. However, if you enter a bar you’ll see many Qatari men drinking there. Other Arab Muslim foreigners are allowed to issue a permit.
Again, and as many other Arab countries in the Gulf, business negotiations and deals are not so easily signed. Qataris like to take their time knowing you as person and to trust you before any deals agreed. Do not try and force a rushed time table on them, it will simply not work and they might form a negative opinion about you. Make sure you take your time, and show interest in the conversations that is going on. Keep in mind that some time needs to be spent to get to know your host and it will be mainly (Chit chatting). You can ask how the family is as long as you do not mention the wife.
If a Qatari man tells you something about a female in his family listen without trying to know or push for more information.
Conversation topics that are considered safe are: Children, football, food etc.
Carrying in your wallet a picture of your children is a good idea. Qataris love children plus it is a safe subject to talk into.
Topics to avoid: Politics especially, religion. Some strict Muslims might be sensitive to conversations about dogs and pigs.
Be aware!!! Trying to convert a Muslim into another religion is an offence punishable by law, and could face eviction.
Expect schedualed meetings to suddenly be postponed day, two or maybe more. Being on time is not essential is Qatar, and being late is not a big issue. However, you might be expected to be on time. Also expect to be made to wait before an appointment.
Keep a translated Arabic copy of all paper work you have. Also it is a good idea to get a translated version on the back of your contact details card.
Qataris are usually hesitant to sign contract, and prefer to rely on the spoken word. If you need to get hold of a Qatari it is always best to call them on their mobile. Qataris in general finds it very difficult to restrain themselves from answering their phones. On the other hands, if you send an e-mail do not expect it to be read or answered soon.
Always restrain yourself in meetings, and refrain from raising your voice or loosing your temper. Composure is expected and appreciated at the same time!
Interupting other people when talking is normal, and offence should be taken.
Avoid complementing a possession, your host might feel obliged to offer it to you.
If you are in a meeting do not be surprised to see a Qatari answers his phone several times during the meeting, and might leave an important Business meeting easily if it was a family matter. Family takes priority over everything else!
NO is rarely said, although this does not mean yes either. After spending some time in the country you will understand why. Qataris do not necessarily accept to be told no and they will keep on complaining until they eventually get their own way, which they usually do!
You may well be doing business with a woman. Do not offer to shake hands unless she offers first.
Men will shake your hand normally; they might also kiss and touch noses. However, it is unlikely that you will be expected to do that. Make sure you make a steady eye contact when shaking or speaking to someone.
Avoid being with a women behind closed doors. Do not be surprised if she needs to have a man present with her during the meeting. Show your understanding and support when that happens.
Women conducting Business in Qatar rarely encounter any problems with Qataris, who are often polite to the other sex. Visitor women are advised to act in a reserved manner with men and refrain from physically touching a man, to avoid your intentions be misunderstood.
Finally, after and when you win the Qatari’s friendship, you will discover that they are very loyal and helpful and most will treat you as a close friend.
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