Travelling to the Arab Gulf for the first time can be overwhelming. To help you have a comfortable first visit, here’s our introduction to Qatari culture.
Despite being a highly modernized country, Qatari culture is still strongly tied to the country’s Islamic and Arab heritage and traditions. While there’s no gender segregation in public, Qatari men and women prefer to sit divided in private settings and are very family oriented.
If you are planning to visit the country, or any other GCC state, for the first time, here are some points to keep in mind.
Qatari men usually wear a thobe, a long, flowing white shirt that cover the whole body, as well as a headdress called ghutra.
As for women, they prefer to wear the abaya, a long black overgarment that covers their entire body. Even though it has become a rarer sight, some women still wear the batoola, a face cover.
Dress codes are however more relaxed inside hotels and private clubs, where you could arrive in an overgarments, but take it off once inside.
Hospitality is very essential in Qatari culture, where a Qatari will take every opportunity to greet and offer a refreshing drink and a cool place to sit. However, ways of greeting differ from person to person.
Qatari men are accustomed to shake hands upon meeting someone, as well as before leaving. But it is uncommon for men and women to shake hands. When you meet someone from the opposite sex, either follow their lead or put your hand on across your chest and give a small and modest nod or bow.
Small talk is also a big part of socializing. When you first meet someone it is preferred that you say “Assalam o alaikum” (peace be upon you) and it is replied with “Walaikum assalam” (and peace be upon you too).
After that it is common to ask about a person’s health and family. However, refrain from asking about a person’s female family members as it is considered to be highly offensive.
If there is one thing you should know about food and eating in Qatar, it’s that there’s no such thing as a light meal. When Qataris dine, they like to go all out.
The country’s favorite dish is machbus, or kabsa, made with long-grain rice, meat, vegetables, and a whole lot of spices. The dish is very popular and is commonly eaten during lunch, dinner, gatherings and special occasions. It could be topped with meat from either chicken, goat, lamb, camel, beef, fish or shrimp.
The thing to remember while having a traditional Qatari lunch or dinner, is that dishes like kabsa are usually served in large communal plates for everyone to eat from. Since utensils are seldom used, it is common that people scoop up food with pieces of bread directly to their mouths.
As for other traditions, Qataris are generally very conservative and strict followers of Islam. Pork and alcohol products are not welcomed by locals, and they like to keep their family matters private.
Other than that, Qataris are very hospitable, warm and welcoming people, who will not miss the chance to become your friend.
Hope that you have a nice visit and come back really soon.