A question that frequently comes up among our female candidates is “What is it like for a single woman in Qatar?”
To get the inside scoop, we did a Q&A with a 30-something teacher from the US Midwest. Working in Doha, Qatar, was her first expatriate experience. Now in her fourth year in Qatar, she was happy to provide information about her experiences, and the inside scoop for, as the song goes, all the single ladies.
Would you describe yourself as an extrovert, introvert, or somewhere in between?
It really depends. I am an artist, so if something is happening in my creative identity, I tend to close myself up and try to hone in on it, and become pretty detached form everything else. But I often need the inspiration of my fellow humans, as well. I am more extroverted here in Doha than I was back home in the United States.
I am working full-time and working on my Master’s, so right now I’m doing more studying and in-house work, but I do get out nights and evenings. After I finish speaking to you, I’m going out dancing.
Is Doha your first overseas job?
Yes! I had never left the United States before I left for Qatar. (Well, I’ve been to Canada.)
What is your job in Doha?
I currently work as an art teacher for high school students.
How do you find this teaching experience?
High school students love doing arts. There’s no apathy with these kids! Of course, you still have occasional lazy students who don’t do their work, and won’t get the automatic A they think they will get in an art class. The class isn’t easy!
Our women candidates often ask about safety. Do you feel safe in Doha?
I have never felt as safe anywhere as I do here. I go back to the United States, and I forget some of my defense mechanisms. There is disparity everywhere (not always the same, but economic, religious), but here, it’s very checked. The Qatari government keeps things under a fine check that no one is willing to cross, so I feel safe from being robbed. I feel safe leaving my purse in a restaurant, but at the same time, I think, “What am I thinking?” But I have not had a problem. I’ve never felt unsafe here, ever.
Where do you live?
I am in an apartment provided by the school, in a building housing its single employees. [Housing is commonly provided for expatriate staff everywhere in the Middle East.] So I’m only with colleagues — you live with everyone you work with, which leaves you with not a lot of privacy. But it is my own space — it’s huge and beautiful. I am pampered here.
In fact, I have as big a space as my friends who have bought a place back home. The quality of buildings in Qatar is not very good, but having so much space is really good.
And I don’t have to deal with anything (repairs, etc.)! But at the same time, I feel like I don’t want to forget the lifestyle back home, where I need to be more active about cleaning and repairs. I don’t plan to be here forever, so I don’t want to become complacent. I don’t want to forget how to budget and do things for myself.
How do you get around in Doha?
I rent a car. When I got here, I had anticipated it being a short-term thing, but now it’s four years. I could probably have bought three cars now with the cost of renting! But if something breaks down, I have no problems dealing with mechanics, or with overcharging by mechanics (which can happen anywhere, especially with women) — the rental company picks the car up and gives me a new one the same day.
Was it hard to get used to driving here?
Yes. Back home in the Midwest, drivers tend to be kind and passive, and only occasionally aggressive. Here, people arevery aggressive. Some seem to feel if one car length is sacrificed, the whole journey will be delayed an hour or more. I’ve adapted to being very aggressive and acting without doubt in my driving. When I go back to the States, I have to adjust to be kinder.
About five times I’ve flashed the smile: “Can I get into your lane?” I’ve exploited being a blonde American girl.
And now I prefer roundabouts. And I guess I am more aware in my driving — aware of that land cruiser coming at top speed, or people running across or walking along the road.
Prior to coming to Doha, what did you do in your spare time?
In the United States, I was near family, so most of my time was spent with family, and a few core friends. I am from a small town near a larger city, but it’s still a very rural area. Where I come from the rural Midwest, social life is going to a smoky bar and talking of hunting.
What do you do in your spare time now?
I have a good active group of friends, so every night, if I want, I could go out, e.g., for shisha [aka hookah or water pipe], or for music and dancing. One of my friends is a DJ, we go to one of the lounges at The Pearl to dance and talk.
It’s easy to isolate oneself, and I’ve seen people do it, but I think it’s a depressing place to be alone and isolated — more so than back home.
And there are the standard pastimes of movies, shopping, dinner. It’s not nature-based here, but there are cultural things to do. Katara, the Cultural Village, has just opened, and they had a Latin event with dancers and films a couple of weekends ago. They have family days. The also have the philharmonic and the theatre.
There are also always huge tennis matches, so people can attend these. And there are opera events, DJ events, etc.
Can you tell me about the dating scene in Doha?
There are a lot more expat males employed here than females. The difference in males/females in terms of numbers gives some advantage to a woman who is looking to be in the dating market.
I find the opportunities are better for me than back home in the Midwest. There are more intellectual men here. I can have better conversations. If I wanted to find something long-term, I could find someone who is successful, if that was my goal, but it isn’t.
I have only dated one guy, but it would easy to date others — even much younger than me! Even 22-year-olds are interested in me, and I’m in my 30s. It’s easy to be involved with someone who has short-term intentions.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in fears and expectations between starting to date, hoping for the marriage and children …
When you go out as a single woman, it’s hard to not be approached by a man. And so it depends on what kind of woman you are. If you are a single who can get used to it and just shrug it off, fine. If you want it to lead to other opportunities, it’s not difficult.
As in any place, you have strange men, men with questionable intentions, men with the usual intentions … I’m dating a Lebanese man (who is Christian), which I identify with, but I don’t practice. It makes for a lot of cultural differences and things to discover.
I have seen a lot of Western women who marry Arab men. The “market” is huge.
What was your greatest challenge as a single woman in Doha?
Although this can happen anywhere, the biggest challenge is men with a wife and children back home, who are not being upfront about that. Being older, I am more likely to find men in my age range who are married back home; a younger woman might not have this problem, or may have an easier time ascertaining what a man is really about.
I also have an issue with the sense of hypocrisy in some cases. I see many Arab Muslim men as viewing Western women as an easy date — an easy everything. You have to be a strong individual not to take it personally, and just shrug it off, as it’s an assumption some people were raised with.
Is it easy to meet people outside of your place of employer general in Doha?
Yes. It’s much, much easier, even than back home. Maybe because at home you have your family and core peer group, so you stick in your clump, and someone may enter, but it’s an outsider coming in to history that’s way before them.
Here, you’re all starting from the ground up.
When I first came, at a club, I saw a Japanese couple, and I thought they looked cool, so I just went over and talked to them. I’m just like that. Then we were introduced to a Lebanese man named Mo, and then he introduced us to four others, and we have become a real core group.
Right now I have more than 1,000 Facebook friends of people I’ve met here. You go out to dinner with a group of five, and you’ll meet five more. Then from those five you’ll meet five more.
People here tend to be more open-minded, outgoing, travelers; we’ve all left our comfort zone. Thanks to the friends I’ve made, I haven’t had to stay in a hotel when I travel. People tell me their family will meet me at the airport, give me a place to stay, food …
Some people also keep building around their colleagues. I’ve chosen to keep it very separate, since I don’t want to talk about work outside work.
Are you able to find all your favourite toiletries, cosmetics, etc., in Doha?
No. I can rarely find what I want in clothing or cosmetics.
Clothes tend to be lesser quality, and not what I want. And the cost tends to be higher.
So, typically I come with everything: my favourite cosmetics, my hair stuff from Aveda, which isn’t in Doha.
Like many other Westerners, I hate to have my hair done here, because I’m blond. The stylists often have difficulty with this. (I did find a Lebanese stylist who’s a lot of fun.) Because of these things, lots of people wait until they go home to get their hair done and to stock up on products.
Is there anything that you miss living in Doha?
I’ve learned to live without anything that was a comfort from home. There are times you crave something food-wise and just do without. They just got pork here last week, which is sold by the store that sells the alcohol, but I don’t really care.
I miss microbrews; I like a good local beer. Here, you have the tops — Corona, Amstel — no microbrews, but as a result I’ve lost quite a bit of weight.
By the way, this is one of the biggest issues of women in Qatar: the initial weight gain. Almost every woman I know here has gained weight initially. It can be relocation and stress, but the food is pretty bread-based if you let it be, so you can gain weight. And eating late can be an issue; Arabs tend to eat later, so if I want to be social with Arab friends, I won’t get to eat in the evening on a work day until 9, 10, or even 11, so I eat most of my food earlier, so I’m not eating so late.
It took me about two years to lose the weight. Aside from foods, exercise is a problem. It is not an active culture. People tend to be very sedentary. Workplaces (such as my school) may have an exercise facility, and some compounds do, but often they’re inconvenient.
What is the main advice you’d give a single woman relocating to Qatar?
Know themselves! I’d give this advice to any single woman on the planet.
When you have a lot of opportunity to date, it’s easy to be flattered by all the attention. The men can be very flattering. For me, because I love who I am already, it doesn’t encourage me to lose sight of my objectivity of what this person might be intending. Men back home are not very aggressive, but here you can really be pursued, and sometimes it is very aggressive.
So I know when I am meeting a new person I must be clear: Do I want this person in my life? Do I want to go slow?
If you want trouble, you have an opportunity for that. Women who are really attracted to the assholes can find them here, too!
And I’ve also heard from many people here that it’s technically illegal to date, though everyone does it.
What has been your best experience in Qatar?
I’ve had some of the most amazing connections to people I’ve ever had — beautiful conversations. I’ve almost felt high from having had a soul connection talking with two or three people from all over the planet … yet, we have these common thoughts.
My favourite thing is the depth of relationships. I miss it when I go home in the summer. I want it to be less “surface” back home. You dive deep into humanity here.
What has been your worst experience in Qatar?
I tend to be optimistic, so I’ve always felt everything is a learning experience. If you let them, bad experiences will teach you so much about yourself. When you are in a comfort zone you set yourself to that zone, and don’t grow.
Do you find you’re more familiar with wider world affairs, now that you’re in Qatar?
I’ve always listened to alternative news; I’ve never been a corporate news observer. So no, I don’t see more international news than I did. But here it’s much easier to be more internationally aware, e.g., I have a friend from Thailand whose family experienced flooding, and they’re sending money home. With experiences like this, you get a real feel for what is in the news.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Travel: The ability to travel from Doha is very easy. It’s not cheap, but international travel is easier here than it is back in the Midwest. I’ve visited 3-4-5 countries each year. I’ve had to add pages to my passport!
I have more money here. For a teacher back home to say that, they’d probably have to be a drug dealer!
In fact, my mom just recently left her teaching job in back home; she’s now in Kuwait teaching. She felt the experience was so positive for me, and the pressures in her district so strong, she made the decision to move. She’s 55 and she had been at the same school for 15 years. The money is better and more stable.
One thing people should be very aware of — a lot of Westerners — they kind of drag their feet in the sand with regards to everything being so different. I think it’s a more miserable existence when you don’t accept and adapt. Someone who knows they’re not really an adaptable person, should think twice about coming overseas. They have to know it will be hard and frustrating at times.
A person really needs to be OK with the weird issues and they must laugh. They really need a sense of humour. What else can you do?