Men wear a long, loose white shirt called a “thawb” and a white head covering, the “ghutrah”, that is held in place with an “agal”, a black band of fabric. Qatari men also wear cufflinks, watches and carry a pen in their shirt pockets, often as status symbols. A bracelet of prayer beads, or “misbah” is another common accessory. Women traditionally wear a long black, all-covering robe called an “abaya” over their clothing and a head covering called a “shayla”. These dress standards don’t leave much room for individuality so make-up, shoes and handbags are important options for a woman to show individual style. That’s why you often see designer shoes literally flashing at you from under an abaya.
When men meet they shake one another’s hands and press their cheeks together (as if they were doing an air kiss but without puckering up). If they do not know one another, the cheek press happens twice. If they do, it happens three times. If the situation is more formal, they may also touch noses twice. When men and women meet, they do not touch at all. They are more likely to lay one hand on their heart and nod their heads at one another.
It is always an honour to be invited to dine with someone in Qatar. Courtesy requires that the invitee bring a small edible gift with them, something like a sweet. To eat one sits at ground level and uses the right hand. The left hand is seen as unclean. Often Muslims will say a prayer – “Bismillah” - at the beginning of the meal, thanking God for the blessing of food. Leaving a small portion of food on the plate is seen as a compliment to the host: The diner is so satisfied by what the host has provided that they couldn’t eat another bite. At the end of the meal, one might say “Alhamdulillah”, to thank God as well as the host.
It is not generally accepted in Qatar society that men and women go out with one another without chaperones, or that they openly express romantic interest in the opposite sex. But somehow there is still flirting! Qatari men like to use some fairly cliched expressions when they’re trying to charm a lady, including some that don’t always make much sense to non-Arabic speakers. Such as: “Ya ba-at chabdy” (you are behind my liver), “amoot ala trabich” (I will die on the sand), “ma asawy thifrich” (I am worth less than your fingernail), “anty il gumar” (you are my moon).
Older people are accorded much respect in Qatar. They are given precedence in queues, offered the best seats and are greeted in a special way: As an acknowledgement of their age and wisdom, one gives an elderly person a light kiss on the forehead, the tip of the nose and the right shoulder or right hand.
With information from Khalifa Al Haroon