Doha is a funny place. Many of the city’s oddities result from the rapid urbanization that has transformed Doha from a desert to a metropolis over the last few decades. During my time here, I’ve been keeping track of some of these little Doha things that have surprised me, so I thought I’d share them now.
Doha hardly has any crime. For example, there are free mobile charging stands along the Corniche (waterside promenade). People will leave their smartphones at these stands and walk away for a little while, and no phones are ever stolen.
No one drinks the tap water. According to my Lonely Planet, the tap water is safe, but according to the Lancet health study, the water quality is not up-to-snuff. This whole month, I’ve been drinking from plastic bottles or the water cooler at the house.
The more elaborate malls have ice rinks in them year-round. I had always associated ice rinks with being outside at Christmastime (unless you’re at Chelsea Piers for a fifth grade birthday party).
I’ve seen lots of American brands and stores here: Coldstone, Starbucks, Shake Shack, Bath & Body Works, Old Navy, and more. Shake Shack was the real odd one out to me!
Thanks to globalization, Qatar celebrates “fall” even though it’s 95 degrees outside. Coffee shops have been selling pumpkin spice lattes and advertising pumpkin muffins with signs that say “fall in love with fall!” Of course, these flavors don’t really make sense without the cozy fall weather to match. Even worse, stores are advertising fall clothing complete with burgundy pullovers! It’s hilarious.
There are basically no sidewalks. The streets here are wide avenues, built for big fancy desert cars and lots of traffic.
There is so much diversity here! I’ve met people from Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Poland, Canada, the U.S., Canada, India, Kenya, and the Philippines. I’ve even met people born here in Qatar who do not identify as Qatari. I’ve met very few “real” Qataris, identified often by the traditional robes, who comprise ~13% of the population (the rest being expats and migrant workers from a diverse array of countries). Some of the people I’ve met have lived here for years without meeting any locals.
There is no recycling whatsoever in Doha. After receiving mail my first week, I asked my host mom where to recycling the packaging. “Hah! Give it to me, I’ll toss it in the garbage,” she said. “Welcome to the Middle East!”
The movie theaters show all the latest releases, but they censor some movies. When The Wolf of Wall Street was shown here, it was 45 minutes shorter!
Mail is a bit odd in Qatar. No one has postal codes (zip codes). Individual houses don’t have mailboxes, so people are required to rent a P.O. box from the main post office branch.
There doesn’t seem to be a distinctive Qatari cuisine; rather, the cuisine is Arab/Middle Eastern and a fusion of Turkish, Lebanese, Israeli and even Indian cuisine.
Last but certainly not least, Aspire Park. This might be the most “only in Doha” place I’ve seen so far. Aspire Park is Doha’s largest park – a completely man-made area with cultivated grass, a man-made lake with imported ducks, man-made hills, and imported trees. It’s a beautiful and fanciful effort to bring a green oasis to Doha, imitating the natural parks of many American and European cities have natural park. But the imported trees look odd, scattered randomly throughout the park and bottom-lit like art pieces, never clustering together.
There’s an odd coolness in the park which can only be explained by hidden air conditioning in addition to carefully stationed misting towers (see photo). The pathways in the park were built as a running track and spring up with rubber to meet your step; while unusual, it does feel much better than pavement. There are a couple rows of shiny, new exercise bikes, but they have no resistance and wide seats (I tried them!), so they’re difficult to use. Despite the effort to encourage exercise, the park has a set of free golf carts, driven by employees, to carry park-goers. There are two small buildings that lead to underground prayer spaces, one for men and one for women. The trees have hidden speakers that emit sounds of birds and crickets; the track is so perfectly ambient and realistic that I wouldn’t have noticed the lack of real birds or real crickets had my friend not pointed it out. Overall, Aspire Park is beautiful and well-done, but it grates against my ingrained definition of a “park.” It’s not an area of nature that was conserved, but rather a manmade attempt at nature; it’s not environmentally conservative (using lights and AC! Outdoors!); and it’s not as exercise-focused as it should be. People drive to Aspire Park, ride around in golf carts, eat at the restaurants there, and drive home. Amazing.