Cheap Seats 2016
Winter Vacation (Part 2) - 01/27/16
By Rich Trzupek
Greetings once more from sunny Qatar, where – I have just learned – I am going to spend an additional two weeks in exile. Blech. No, it’s not horrible here, but I do miss my home, my wife and my dogs. Hell, I even miss the cats. Well, kind of anyway.
For today’s installment, I decided to share a few tips and observations about life in this part of the world, should you ever decide to visit here. I realize that’s a long-shot for many Americans, given the reputation that the Middle East has earned, but you never know. So here’s a few things you should keep in mind.
Keep your head on a swivel when you’re walking about. Unlike most of the good ole US of A, pedestrians do not have the right of way in this part of the world. Perhaps they do legally (I have no idea), but they do not for any practical purposes. You quickly learn to check carefully in all directions, including directions where cars may potentially turn in the next five seconds and who will not signal those turns about 95 percent of the time. It becomes a habit very quickly in this part of the world.
To be fair, most of the drivers here in Qatar are not Qatari citizens. Actual Qataris make up a very small percentage of the people who live here, most of whom hail from India, Nepal and the Philippines. Thus the driving habits are largely inherited from those nations, and they range from the questionable to the downright terrifying.
And Indian friend of mine who grew up what we now call Mumbai (used to be Bombay) explained it thus: “Rich, you can’t even begin to imagine traffic in Mumbai. If we drove the way you do in the states, waiting and letting people in, we’d never get anywhere. You get into traffic and go!”
Old habits die hard and though I have yet to be picked off by a motorist flying around the corner on two wheels, it’s been close a couple of times.
It could always be worse. The traffic things is disturbing, but it’s nowhere near as scary as that other Middle Eastern country that I’ve spent significant amounts of time in: Saudi Arabia. Some (not nearly all) of the more devout members of that nation take the Qaran’s promise that – and this is rough translation – the end of your time on earth has been written and cannot be changed.
Applied to traffic law, for some Saudis, this means that red lights are a pointless annoyance and they blow through intersections as if nobody else on planet earth exists. If it’s their time, they’ll cream somebody. There’s no way to avoid it. If it’s not their time, why pay attention to a stupid traffic light?
Thus, traffic lights in Saudi are a particularly wearing form of Russian roulette and one is constantly on the lookout for a native whose number might be up and take yours with it.
Qatar doesn’t have that problem, because the old Emir put red-light cameras everywhere, set painful fines for anyone who got by them and, most importantly, didn’t allow anyone – no matter how well-connected – to get out of paying those fines. As a result, whatever other problems one may have in traffic herebouts, people madly running red lights ain’t among them.
Get the price first. This applies especially to cab rides. Doha does have an official cab fleet with meters and everything, and most of the cabbies actually use the meters. However, there is the unofficial cab fleet here, as there is in Saudi Arabia (and I’m guessing most of the Middle East) that bases its pricing on what the market will bear. As an American, it is expected that one can bear quite a lot.
Accordingly, before you get into an unofficial cab in this part of the world, know about what the price should be (the staff at most good hotels can clue you in) and agree on the price before you go.
Bring your sweet tooth, if you have one. Personally, I don’t, but if I did this would be heaven I think. They love their sweets here and are constantly pushing them. I’m told that many of the cakes and candies are quite good, but I am unfortunately unable to confirm that. You’ll have to find out for yourself.