Expat Eyes

This blog contains the photographs, observations and reflections of Rena Diana, an educator and writer, during extended stays in the Arabian Gulf, China, and Mongolia.

Five Frequently Asked Questions

“It is really HOW and not WHAT one sees that matters…”

Freya Stark, Baghdad Sketches

1.Do you, as an expat, have to cover your head? -No. In Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, and all other Muslim countries EXCEPT Saudi Arabia, the only place it is required for all women, regardless of their faith, to cover  their heads is inside mosques. Non-Muslim women can wear their normal attire everywhere else, but it is appropriate to dress modestly.

2.Can a foreign woman in Dubai and Qatar go anywhere alone?-Yes.

3. Can a Muslim woman in Dubai and Qatar go anywhere alone?-Yes, I frequently see Emirati and Qatari women shopping and driving alone or with their children. They are, however, more likely to dine out with small groups of women  or their families rather than alone.

4. Is it expensive?  Yes and No. Real estate is expensive. Prices for food, clothing, and other amenities are comparable to what I am accustomed to paying at home. The cost of services, such as home cleaning, taxis, childcare, salon care, etc. are quite inexpensive, which is what gives the life of the expat the image of ease and luxury. People can afford domestic help, including chauffeurs, here, which would be unthinkable back in the United States. And, of course, the price of gasoline is cheap: 45 cents per gallon!

5. Are you ever afraid for your safety there?No.  Due to the more progressive attitudes toward women in this part of the Arab Gulf,  the family-oriented, slower-moving culture, a large security presence, and the no-tolerance policy on crime, which is strictly enforced, I am never uneasy in terms of my physical safety. It is much more dangerous in US, UK, and European cities!  What surprises most visitors to Dubai and Qatar is how clean and civilized these cities are.  Some would say sterile. A friend who visited us in Doha repeatedly commented on how “gentle” and cordial the people are, both the women and the men. There are exceptions, of course, but the general impression holds. Certainly there is an understory, however. The no-tolerance toward crime mentality has a dark side to it, for sure. And the English language newspapers undoubtedly cover up a lot of what goes on. Nevertheless, it is ironic that in a part of the world associated with terrorism and violence, we feel safe.

These questions reflect the stereotypes that Americans have about the Arab world in general. It seems that many people think that all Muslim countries are like Saudi Arabia, which receives much media attention. Before I lived here, I thought the same!

Next Post: Visions of Utopia

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2 thoughts on “Five Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Mary J Sullivan on said:

    Rena, great post! I think we often have inaccurate perceptions of places we haven’t lived based on “parts and pieces” of information. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences and helping give us a better understanding of that part of the world!

  2. Anna Burns on said:

    Such a good piece! It’s so great to hear the sound of stereotypes breaking, like glass on floor tiles! Hooray! And I recognize a couple of the pics from our day in Doha! What wonderful memories!!

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