In Part One, we talked about the transient nature of expat life as one of the barriers to establishing ties between communities.
The revolving door makes not only relationships difficult but institutional knowledge or momentum to develop.
Marjorie wrote her own response to Part One which explains that making friends with locals in any country can be challenging. All of this let’s me know that is in fact a topic a lot of people have thought about themselves (and are interested in discussing).
Most of my childhood, adolescence and twenties, I lived in the no-man’s land as an island buffeted by two cultures – American and South Asian. Those years developed the bi-cultural traits shared by all third culture kids: I hear both sides, I understand both sides, I feel the emotion of both sides. I defended dating, a non-medical career path, prom, all things American, to my parents.
Meanwhile I tearfully declined invitations to the movies, football games, or sleepovers via my Indian father’s rules. Us, Indians. Them, Americans at home. Us, kids (Americans). Them, parents (Indians) at school. I was never fully in one group or the other. Turns out this was perfect training for living in Qatar where I’ve seen and heard the “us” and “them” labels function unchallenged in most cases. That is, except for when I’m present.
Never the Two Shall Meet
Qataries and Expats: Two groups of people living in the same country and yet finding few places to meet, literally or figuratively. In the vast, intervening space rolls harmful myths with grains of truth, that grows unchecked in each community without the response from the other side. Occurring for years between the two groups, this mistrust is now the inheritance of anyone living in Doha in either community.
I posed the questions from the teleclass via Twitter because I wanted to test the temperature and see if things had changed.
- What do expats think of Qataries?
- What’s it like to be a professional woman in Qatar?
28 DM (direct messages) later with someone I don’t know in real life (only virtually) and who was passionate about the answers to question one, I heard echoes of conversations I’ve had over the years with many close friends, expat and Qatari.
The irony of the prevailing us/them struck me as we tapped out 140 character responses back and forth. A Friday morning and if her Twitter handle hadn’t had “Qatari” in it, I could have been listening to an expat complaining from the sticking points we were exchanging.
The Sticking Point
Let’s be clear: this is not a post about the pros or cons of Qatarization. Rather, it is a discussion about myths on both sides. And you can’t talk about misunderstanding between us without talking about the elephant in the room. Money.
BOTH expats and Qataries think the other is overcompensated. There are two sides to this coin but they share the same theme: a perceived sense of injustice at what the other receives.
- The expat is semi-qualified and overpaid.
- The Qatari is under qualified and overpaid.
“What we think about expats, well they get paid more than us, triple, even though we studied abroad and we are in the same level.”
Many expats regard Qatar or other overseas posts as a kind of second chance pasture before retirement, or a place to send problem employees. This is the minority, others of us came for the adventure; but if the few are in prominent positions (as is often the case) then the damage they do is enormous.
I also countered with the truth from my experience at 3 different institutions in Qatar: “Most of the Qataries I know get paid much more than expats or equal.”
My correspondent seemed surprised by this, since her sister wasn’t in this category and had difficulty getting a job after graduating from an overseas university.
In addition to high pay, expat packages are much more than what they’d have at home.
“I have lived in the UK for 20 years they don’t get the luxury they are getting here be real right.”
She had a point: How many times have visitors come, exclaiming you’d never get that much space London, DC, elsewhere?
On the flip side, the tea-drinking, newspaper reading, Bluetooth talking local seems to be whom expats think is the representative of Qatarization. And if you haven’t worked with someone who doesn’t put in a full day, this idea of the “lazy native” goes unchallenged. What many don’t know is that this specter annoys, embarrasses, angers the hard working, high achieving nationals. This generation, their compatriots staging the Arab spring around the Middle East, are launching their own counter culture for their society.
BOTH Qataries and Expats think the other is well off. Depending on the person this may or may not be the case. What many people may not know, and many in the local community don’t discuss, is that not all Qataries are spendthrifts who adore luxury brands.
“You don’t know the Qataries what they go through, people think we are rich, but we are not. We live in two rooms in our mother-in-law’s house and that’s torture by itself.”
In a status conscious culture, to not have the latest and greatest is not an option. In the expat community, the next exotic travel experience is the equivalent of a Porche.
There are so many other things to talk about in this vein. But we will reserve those for Part Three. In the meantime, I welcome thoughts that will take this discussion in a new vein rather than more of the same. What surprising things have you learned about “the other”?