There is no Qatar in the drop down menu

Recently, while trying to make a booking for a hotel, I was unable to find Qatar in the list of options for country of residence. When I called the customer service number of this particular website, they told me to select the UAE country option in the menu.

Selecting the UAE did in fact allow my reservation to be processed, despite the fact that Qatar is not, nor never has been, part of the United Arab Emirates.

The customer service person did not seem too interested in my feedback. Based in the UK, I assume all of us Gulf states strike him the same.

This is a problem I often have when talking about Doha with people in North America as well.

“How is life in Dubai?” someone asked me at my dissertation defense.

“Well, I live in Doha,” I replied.

Perhaps it’s not a stigma of the Gulf alone, since I remember having simliar conversations after moving to Pittsburgh, PA.

“How do you like Philadelphia?” friends would ask.

People must shift to the register they know the best – hence the Dubai/Philadelphia mix ups.

But I’m pretty sure no one was ever told to pick Philly when they wanted the Burgh on a travel site.

Travel tips

Because I travel so often, people are constantly asking me how I juggle jet lag, a hectic pace, and long flights, while still managing to survive a five hour plane flight, drive an hour in congested traffic, and then arrive at a meeting as though I had been in town the entire time. (Or take a 14 hour flight, pick up a car, and meet for dinner – both scenarios happened during my last trip).

Here is my own modest list of suggestions for those of you who would like to travel more with less wear and tear on your body/mind:

1. Keep toiletries in small travel amounts – or substitutes such as chewing gum – within easy reach on long flights.
A quick trip to the bathroom, squirt of perfume and you can feel fresh without having had hours to regroup.

2. Sleep when your body wants to – a neck pillow from Brookstone is worth the expense and the space.
Your body will give you signs of fatigue and you should take them. These will lead to REM cycles which are the most restful.

3. Have at least a shirt (or whole set if you can) in your carry-on that you can slip on as an alternative to your travel clothing.
This quick change can trick your body into thinking you are starting the day over and get rid of any lingering travel odors/wrinkles.

4. Lastly: use those morning rituals that make you feel ready to face the world. 
For me it’s a touch of face powder and mascara. Those two things, and a little swab of lip gloss and I’m good as new!

Hope that helps – and feel free to share your own!

The Hierarchy of Uniforms

If you’ve been to any kind of service establishment lately, restaurant, hotel, shop, then you may have noticed that not everyone working there was wearing the same thing.
This is particularly true of hotels, where the various service people are designated by their uniforms.
Case in point: the latest hotel we stayed in at Masai Mara, Kenya. It was a tented safari; granted “luxury” since there were bathrooms inside the tents with running water. But even in this semi-casual environment it’s clear who does what.
The khaki pants and animal print blouse (red and white stripes) work the bar and the restaurant.
The all over green are the night watch men (which makes them blend into the camp’s lush foliage).
The all over khaki are the camp’s rangers who take you out in the jeep everyday on game drives.
It’s almost like we are conditioning ourselves and others to see the service instead of the person; the women in white blouses and black pants were the managers of the whole operation.
There is a practical purpose to this: when you are a guest it’s easier to see who does what so you know what to ask for.

But at the same time there is something… reductive about it. Granted, the custodian is probably okay with is dull brown uniform because he doesn’t have to get his normal clothes dirty. But at some point it becomes “us” against “them”, doesn’t it? Perhaps I was really aware of this because in our last two trips we have been the only non-white vacationers at both our destinations (Kenya and the Maldives).

It’s a little disconcerting being at these luxury playgrounds of Europe, where families with four children come for a week, when the price is at least $350 a head. Then there are the couples (do they always seem to be from Germany? Best vacation days in Europe!) who have been where we are at least a week before us and staying at least a week after.
None of these people have been overly friendly; this past week I nearly confronted a woman who looked me up and down, literally, all the way to my shoes! Perhaps this is the irony: since we weren’t wearing the uniforms, it was clear we were not there to work but to vacation. And this turned countless heads.
The reaction from staff is always the opposite. In the Maldives, being so close to the coast of India, there were countless Indian and Sri Lankan employees who were happy to serve us and looked after us with an added level of care. As if to say, “we’re happy one of us made it to this place.”
So it’s part guilt and part pride that we take these vacations and try to even out the class and race issues in our own small way. After all, what would you do if you saw an Indian and a “Chinese” looking guy, holding hands, speaking English with American accents?