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?”
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.
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.