This section gives specific advice and guidance on Qatar's Society and cultural norms, including religion, status of the family alongside business and social etiquette, customs and protocols with Meeting & Greeting alongside appropriate communication styles in each country to enable an employee to move, live and work abroad.
The main religion of Qatar is Islam, hence Islamic festivals are celebrated with great pomp and pride. The main celebrated festivals in Qatar are Eid-Al-Fitr which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid Al-Adha. Eid Al-Fitr is also known as Eid, it marks the end of Ramadan. This festival in Qatar celebrates a moral victory. It is a day when people forgive and peace prevails as foes become friends. People meet at the stadium in large gatherings and they greet each other with hugs which symbolise their love. However, with the increasing number of people migrating to Qatar the culture has changed and has brought new traditions including exhibiting other religions too.
Most Qatari women, especially older ones wear the thoub, a long black coat, which covers the entire body and a hijab, a black head-covering through which only the eyes, nose and mouth are visible. Underneath the thoub, women often wear Western-style clothes. Despite these restrictions, Qatari women are permitted to drive cars. They are also very eager to become more educated and compete with men in different professions, and there are considerably more female students now attending Qatar University than men.
Family takes a high priority in Arab culture and asking after a Qatari’s family and children is good. Just avoid asking after a man’s wife or sister directly.
Hospitality is important feature of Qatari life. Most Qataris receive male guests at home in a majlis (reception area). Traditionally, according to Bedouin custom, guests were seated on the floor on large cushions. Nowadays, however the majlis usually has sofas and chairs. Men and women rarely socialise together. Women receive their friends in a separate part of the house.
Enthusiastic greetings are important to Qataris, so take the time to make a good impression. Greet the most senior person first, and always use your right hand to shake hands. Handshakes can last longer than usual as Qataris are generally quite tactile. When it comes to greeting, not all Arab men and women will shake hands with those of the opposite sex, so always wait to see if they extend their hand first. A hand on the chest is another form of greeting. You may see Gulf men rubbing their noses when they see each other, which is a traditional greeting.
During the Holy month of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims. Non-Muslims are also expected to refrain from eating in public although a number of five-star hotels cater for non-Muslims during those times.
Religion and politics are sensitive topics. Qataris will not tolerate criticism of their Emir, which is punishable by imprisonment. Qatar follows Shariah law, so alcohol, pornography, pork products and narcotics cannot be brought into the country and your luggage will be searched on arrival. Always seek permission before taking photographs of people and be cautious about taking photographs in public. For security reasons, government buildings, military and some industrial sites including some internal and external parts of the airport or shopping malls, should not be photographed. Qatar is fairly liberal compared with other countries in the Middle East, but you should still be respectful of local culture and beliefs. Be aware of your body language as pointing with your finger and showing the soles of your shoes can both be considered rude. Although alcohol is available in hotel bars and restaurants, most Muslims do not drink so it may be best to stick to soft drinks when meeting your Qatari colleagues over dinner.
Status and wealth are very important in Qatari culture, with senior managers commanding a high level of authority and respect. This is reflected in the typically hierarchical structure of Qatari- owned businesses, where decision making is usually top down. Management in Qatar can appear quite dictatorial because of the tendency to defer to senior people. Although they may be asked to contribute an opinion or idea, once a decision is made employees are given clear instructions and expected to follow them to the letter. The pace of decision making may sometimes be slower than in other countries, but efficiency is valued amongst the workforce.
Strong relationships are central to Qatari business culture, so take the time to get to know the people you meet. Don’t expect to talk business at the first meeting – initial contacts often feel more like a social occasion than a business event, but the purpose will be relationship development. Be open and friendly and keep the conversation neutral – steer clear of religion and politics. Family is a good topic to discuss, but avoid asking about female family members as this is considered disrespectful.
Qatari can be quite formal, so you will probably be addressed by title before moving to a name first name basis. Some visitors find the use of given names, ancestral names and family names confusing to begin with, so if in doubt ask what the person prefers to be known as. With high-profile contacts, it may be appropriate to use their Arabic titles such as “Sheikh” or “Haiji”.
When Arab men meet, they usually shake hands. A man does not generally shake hands with a woman. Male business associates will shake the hand of a female business associate if she extends her hand first. Some Arab men and women will shake hands with a woman. If an Arab person pulls back their hand and holds it against the heart this is a sign of greeting in preference over hand-shaking. Qataris are quite relaxed on punctuality, so while its best to turn up on time for meetings, don’t necessarily expect the same from your contracts. It is not always necessary to book meetings in advance, but if you do and someone arrives late it should not be taken as a sign of disrespect or disinterest as it will not be intended as such. Do note that many meetings take place in the evening in Qatar, so be flexible enough to accommodate this.
The work pace is slower that what Western expats may be used to. Life in Qatar is never rushed and you should never appear to be hastening anyone. Meetings can appear quite chaotic, with no fixed agenda and numerous digressions. Don’t be surprised if you are interrupted by phone calls, requests for signatures or other points of urgent business. Often, meetings are lengthy, but if you remain patient they can be very productive, Avoid being pushy or aggressive when selling but expect to negotiate extensively. Be careful not to use the word “no” or any other directly negative terms as a more indirect communication style is preferred in Qatar. Finally, make you can deliver on anything you promise as verbal agreements are taken very seriously.
Foreign visitors are expected to dress in a style that is sensitive to the Islamic culture. Conservative clothing is generally recommended. Men generally wear long trousers and a shirt in public. Women’s attire in public, as opposed to hotels or private clubs should cover the shoulders, upper arms and knees. Western bathing attire is permitted only in hotel and club swimming environments. Topless sunbathing is strictly forbidden.
If you are offered a business card, show your respect by looking at it carefully then either keeping hold of it or placing it on the table in front of you rather than putting it away.