Qatar is a contemporary and forward-thinking country but it holds its heritage very close and when it comes to traditions, customs and culture there are certain etiquettes that are still being followed to this day.
We are listing a number of do's and don'ts when it comes to etiquettes in Qatar. As an expat in Qatar, you may be aware of some of these etiquettes, but maybe not all of them. And, if you're new to Qatar, this is a great guide to help you integrate into Qatari society and learn more about the country and its values.
When you visit a Qatari home, greet people according to their status and age (the elderly and those that have a higher status must be greeted first, and also the women). If you touch a child on their head, it's also a sign of respect for them and means may God bless the child.
Some people in Qatar prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex as it is deemed religiously inappropriate, but they may hold their right hand on the heart as a sign of greeting.
You may be expected to take off your shoes when you go to a Qatari home because it's part of Qatari traditions, but this varies from home to home. You can keep your socks on, but if you take them off, make sure your feet are clean.
Arabic coffee (gahwa) is served from a traditional coffee pot known as the ‘dallah’ in a mini delicate cup called the ‘finjaan’- that does not have a handle - and even that is not filled to the top. It should be filled upto 1/4th of the cup, so it isn't too hot when the guest sips it.
The Qatari host will always try the Arabic coffee first to ensure it's good enough to serve the guests. Each guest is served in the same way individually; the coffee is never poured into ‘finjaans’ and served in a tray. The guest must always drink from the right hand.
Do keep in mind that if you hand the 'finjaan' back to the person serving the Arabic coffee, it means you want a refill, and if you don't want any more coffee, you must jiggle (shake from side to side) the 'finjaan' which indicates that you've had enough.
Don't be surprised if you sit on the floor to eat and everyone eats the machboos (rice and meat/chicken) from the same huge platter. This is common in Qataris and is a way to bond and share. If someone puts food on your plate with their hands, don't mind it, as they wash their hands before the meals. This is a gesture of welcoming guests and letting them know they are important.
Food is generally eaten with the hands (but this may differ from household to household). Only the right hand should be used for eating as the left one is considered unhygienic.
When you are full, it's common to leave a tiny portion (a smidgen) of food on the plate to indicate to the host that you enjoyed the food and are now full. It's also a way of telling the host that they were very gracious. End your meal by saying "Alhamdulilah" (thanks and praise be to God) out loud.
When the meal is over, someone will go around with bukhoor. You can place your hands above the smoke and wave the aromatic scent towards you so you can eliminate the odour of the food.
If you're invited to a Qatari majlis, that's a sign of great respect and trust. It means that you've got an open-ended invitation to pass by and have some refreshments (even if someone isn't there).
There are usually separate majlis's for men and women. Women cannot enter the men's majlis and vice versa.
Dress modestly for the majlis; if it's a formal majlis, dress formally, if it's a casual one, you can be as casual as you want. When you enter the majlis, you must remove your shoes.
Greetings are also very important. The formal greeting extended to the host and other guests upon your arrival is “Salaam Alaikum” (peace be upon you) and reply to this is “Alaikum As Salaam” (and on you, too, peace).
Usually, Arabic coffee and/or refreshments will be offered upon your arrival and should be accepted only with your right hand.
When you're out and about, it's better to dress modestly and appropriately to respect the Qatari culture and traditions, as you will see that Qataris are always modestly dressed.
Abayas are not compulsory for Qatari women, however, a lot of local ladies do wear them as a symbol of their culture and heritage.
And, yes, if you want to have the full cultural experience, as a non-Qatari woman you can wear an abaya, too, and it doesn't have to be black.
If you are planning on visiting a government building or a mosque, wearing shorts, skirts and sleeveless tops are prohibited. For the mosque, you will also need to cover your hair.
For men, they should keep their shirts on, unless they're at the beach and if they wear shorts, it should preferably cover the knees. If you go to a government building you must not be wearing shorts or a sleeveless T-shirt or you will be turned away, and told to come back in something that covers the legs and upper arms.
And, yes, non-Qataris are allowed to wear thobes. In fact, Qataris will feel honoured that you want to try their national dress and embrace the Qatari culture.
If you're standing in a queue or you're having a conversation with a Qatari, they may stand at a little distance. They are not being rude or offending you; they are just respecting your personal space.
In Qatar, you'll often find places like hospitals, government buildings, banks, etc. where there are separate queues for men and women. Please respect the segregation and stay in your own line.
If you're taking photographs in public, be cautious and avoid taking pictures of the locals, especially Qatari women, as many don't like being photographed. Also, for security reasons, you should avoid taking pictures of government institutions, some archaeological sites, and other sensitive areas in Qatar like military sites and refinery areas.
Don't stare at people; it's just very rude and inappropriate to stare at anyone.
If you're a man who has a business meeting with a Qatari woman, it’s best to not extend your hand for a handshake. If she extends her hand, you may shake it, otherwise, verbally greet each other.
In some cases, especially if meeting a woman, a Qatari man may not shake hands, but hold his right hand against the heart as a sign of greeting.
Quite interestingly, there are two wedding parties in Qatar: one for the man and one for the woman because weddings are mostly segregated with men in one place and women in another.
When a Qatari man gets married, anyone who knows him can come to the wedding reception which is usually held in a huge dedicated wedding tent, wedding hall or even in a hotel. As a guest, you should greet him, eat the wedding feast and leave. You don't need to necessarily bring anything to the wedding; just make sure you're well-groomed and neatly dressed.
A Qatari wedding reception for women is invite-only; it's quite the lavish set-up and an honour to be part of something so intimate. There are no men at the women's reception. Photography is not allowed so don't be surprised if someone takes your mobile or camera for the time you're there. Qatari women like their privacy and since it's a women's only gathering, they will be without their abayas and hijabs, dressed up in their finest clothes, and it's offensive and very inappropriate to even consider taking their photographs in this kind of setting.
In between, the groom comes for a wedding shoot, but before he enters, the women put their abayas and hijabs back on. The groom stays for a short while, and after he leaves, the women take off their abayas and hijabs, and the wedding celebrations continue.
You don't have to bring a gift. In fact, in many Qatari weddings, you'll end up taking home a gift instead, when you leave!
Ladies are not allowed at funerals. If you're attending a Qatari funeral, avoid wearing something that's too casual (likes jeans and a T-shirt) or something that's too dressy, and don't bring anything with you. Your presence is more than enough for the family of the deceased.
When you attend a funeral, pay respects to the family of the deceased and if you are served refreshments like coffee, take it with the right hand only. When you leave, you don't need to go seek them out to say goodbye, because they are probably busy with other guests or handling funeral details.
The right is always the right side in Qatar. So, whether you're stepping out of an elevator or a door, off an escalator or stairs, through revolving doors, the person on the right side should move out first.
If a Qatari gives you something, you must receive it with your right hand, even if you are left-handed.
Qataris also find it insulting if someone puts their hand behind their neck unless they are friends or have that kind of comfort level. Pointing fingers at someone is also considered rude.
In a meeting or a conversation with a Qatari, avoid looking at your watch, it's considered insulting, and the other person may just stop the meeting or conversation with you.
Another thing to keep in mind is to never tug on the igal's tassles, as it will mess up the ghitra as well.
Never sit with your legs crossed in such a way that the foot of one leg is resting on the knee of the other leg, with the foot facing another person's face. This is considered an insult in Qatar.
In Qatari tradition, there is no tipping culture, but since many expats live in the country, you will find them tipping in restaurants, cafes and other places. However, there's no specific amount or fixed percentage that you have to tip. It's entirely up to you.
Cover image credit: Shutterstock
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