Identity | Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Dear Faithful Readers,

Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…

Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 1
By: Ms. Hala

I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There are still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉

However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco for so long to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!

When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”

Say Whaaat?
Say Whaaat?

I reply, “I’m American”.


“Yes, I’m from California.”

“How long did you live there?”

“Born and raised.”


The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatari citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not legally recognized as Qatari.

There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostly on those tropes and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.

Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome the terrible stereotype that comes with it. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time, and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservatives here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”

*sighing and shaking my head*

Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with “Egypt” just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.

*sighing angrily*

During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!

I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American switched on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bi-cultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bi-cultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.

I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!

On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.

I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.

An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.

Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)

I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a  funny conversations.

At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.

I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.

I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.

26 thoughts on “Identity | Living the Confused Expatriate Life

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  3. I don’t know how I ended up here, but I glad I did, your last statement about how the problem related to close-minded people just summarized the whole issue, as I have been facing the same situation since I came to Doha 14 months ago.

    Back to your case, the bi-cultural identities, I still believe u r in a better position than Egyptians, we are suffering here my sister :), the so-called superiority categorization puts us in the last of the line, and to your knowledge, ur american identity and native english can be life saviors in Qatar.

    I am also aware it is exhausting how u have to explain the ability to be american-muslim-with egyptian heritage :), the whole mix appears strange to some, but, u have the luxury of getting involved with many different groups in Qatar, as the american community doesn’t accept “brown” or arabs, while egyptian community still treats americans as tourists not friends, so, u can get along with both so easily.

    I just wish u all the luck in ur mission here, hope Qatar be gentle with u, and will definitely wait for part 2

  4. Well I’m glad you did brother! hehehe Thank you for your comment but may I make a few points…

    1. I think it’s utterly disgusting this whole categorization… two people, same job, different pay based on ethnicity? Just disgusting… and the fact that you mention that I have it better than most Egyptians makes me feel worst about it.

    2. My American identity has brought me a headache and my native English has been good to me, Alhamdulillah! hehehe

    3. I guess being bilingual has its advantages socially… However I’d like to note that I don’t associate with others whom are discriminatory or intolerant of others, no matter their background. I’ve cut a few ties with people because of this, including the story I mentioned above.

    I wish you the best as well Insha’Allah, thank you! Part 2 is coming! =)

    1. I second that, the categorization is disgusting, but it is there, it is everywhere and not only in Qatar, it is a rule, either to adapt or … mmm leave!, we are not making the rules, we just live by the rules, it might sound harsh, but after all, we are just expats.
      Just for clarity, I am not saying your american identity is a huge advantage, but, look at the bright side, you can get yourself out of some troubles by waving your passport, or at least you have an embassy to consult, while we, egyptians, despite being so proud of our nationality (most of us are), the country can leave you in ruins, we are expats inside egypt, so imagine being outside! (of course you’ve watched “3asal Eswed” 🙂 )

      Yet, it is still good to see you discovering life out here, my whole judgement of the situation is based on my limited experience in Gulf, I believe we must take sometime before we start judging things, maybe the categorization is just a myth, or individual acts, as, to be fair, to my surprise we don’t have this thing inside my workplace, where everyone is equal.

      So, will assume you working on phase 2 of your arabian nights, given the fact that Qatar is getting changed everyday, and our paradigms about this place are getting altered accordingly.

      All the best…

      1. Well some rules were meant to be broken, especially one that is as disgusting as categorization!

        I did get in trouble, I waved the only passport I hold and it was of no help… that’s another story for another day. No I haven’t seen that movie, but I’m trying to find it online! hehehe

        I’ve only been here for about 9 months so my experiences are limited as well I’m sure.

        Arabian nights? Ummm… hehehe

      2. here you go, you will know what I am talking about 🙂

        Of course it is not 100% honest, let’s give it 99% 🙂

        As a side note, this movie was made before the revolution, but, since the revolution didn’t change a thing, the contents are still valid

      3. For the record, I saw the movie and it was horrible. I don’t agree with anything part of it except the “eky lass” scene because I’ve actually seen that happen in Egypt first hand. #FacePalm.

        Hope you’re well! =)

  5. Similar is the British Stereotype to the english 😛 Shamefully some people of any nationality live up to this stereotype the people of narrow mindedness are those who do not understand the world in an open view. People are different, people believe in different things. The basic fundamental is how to be a good person? I would like to think the majority of the people living in Qatar of all nationalities know the difference between right and wrong. However I remember queing up for some food and I had some teenage boys in their local dress just spitting at my feet? I have met some fine Qatari’s, and not so fine, same with egyptian, same with british, american, etc.

    Anyway I really enjoy reading your post 🙂

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Exactly, there’s good and bad in all but to make a general assumption is what gets to me.

      Glad you enjoyed my rants, stayed tuned for more! =)

  6. Your comment….They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not even legally Qatari.

    Not true, my hubby was born and raised here in Qatar, he hasn’t ever lived outside of Qatar. He does not get treated like a Qatari. He is treated very badly as an Expat, and of Jordanian roots. His family and grandfather’s family have lived in Qatar longer then most Qatari’s.

    He is very discriminated against at his work which is managed by mostly Lebanese!!!
    I am American, so I do see your other points what people think about American’s.
    especially when I was looking for work here in Qatar.
    I wasn’t offered a ridiculously high salary, I was in fact insulted and offered less then a uneducated person in USA would get bagging groceries. The idea that all Americans make very high salaries in Qatar is false

    And I have a B.A. Degree in Business Administration.
    I was discriminated because I am looked at as blonde and dumb, and was offered to just be a pretty little one behind the desk, who can be available to the boss for you know what!! Not the high position I applied for, that I am more then qualified for.

    It is very absurd to deal with such mentality. I can not wait to leave here, with or without my husband.

    All the best to you.

    God Bless

    1. My comment, “They do get treated like Qataris with regards to ‘Qatarization'” was with regards to attaining employment, nothing more. I too know of a handful of Qatari born individuals whom are in your husband’s shoes. That was the point of my comment, that they are discriminated against and not allowed citizenship of the country in which they were born in.

      I’m sorry for what you and your husband have been through, it’s unfair and honestly very disgusting. No one deserves this kind of treatment nor should they accept this treatment upon themselves. That I think is the bigger problem here, that people accept this form of treatment and my advise to them is to simply not tolerate it. When there is no more talent in Qatar, than maybe, just maybe, people will change.

      Maybe I just have high hopes for humanity… I don’t know.

      Same to you my dear! =)

  7. Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

    1. If you’re using an older version of IE, that could be the case but I’ll double check just to be safe!

      Thanks for the heads up, keep reading! =)

  8. I understand how you feel. I think it is not the natives who do this kind off “dual identity”/”Who are you actually” attitude.

    It is mostly the expats and that too the people from our now roots/native place etc.

    I am an Indian born and brought up in KSA and did my schooling in a British School in the Middle East. Which led me to have a rather good understanding of Arabic as well as command over English which is a tad better than “Burrfect Ingleesh”. I face the same “surprised/shocked” look which gives me the vibe that the person across me feels that I am an illegal or wanna be American/European.

    It is quiet odd.



    1. I agree, most of that attitude is coming from expats more than the locals. Funny enough, the locals don’t give citizenship to those born and raised in their country which I find quite sad.

  9. You have really written it raw girl! There is so much stereotypes here. I was so shocked to read about your school experience. And I totally don’t understand why people associate Americans are always drunk!
    Hope this changes on a pretty fast pace. And I always include you in my Duas darling..

    1. This was when I first came to Qatar. Of course, things have changed since then, some what. Jazaky Allah kheer for your duaas, know you are in mine too. =)

  10. I was a bit confused when I started reading it and then I realized it’s an old post. Lol. Loved it Hala! And here I thought I’m being stereotyped much more than anyone else in Doha, I feel you. I hope it’s now better for you? Or just like me, you kinda got used to it? Which I think is sad.

    1. Yes, from when I first came to Qatar. Much as changed if not somewhat slowly since then. I’ll never get used to it even though I deal with it almost on a daily basis.

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