Cultural Insights: Qatar


Cultural Insights Qatar

Only 30% of the population of Qatar holds Qatari citizenship. Expatriates make up 70% of the population and many of those work in the oil industry, or in other support roles surrounding the industry. Qatari citizens are mostly Sunni Muslims and the country’s laws follow the traditions of Islam, while allowing expatriates to adhere to their own religious beliefs.

Traditional Arab Worldview

Group Orientation

Identity is defined by group, family.

Harmony within group very important. Concerns or conflicts often dismissed to preserve harmony. “Ma’alesh,” meaning “don’t worry” or “never mind” indicates desire to avoid confrontation.

Relationship Focused

Personal interaction takes precedence over strict schedules; quality of life is important. Heated discussion may show investment in the relationship.

Patterns of rank and authority are well defined.

Need for Certainty

Norms for appropriate behavior are known, held to be “true” and should always be respected.


Requires reference to context. Relationships are given priority. Not all rules apply to all individuals all of the time.

Time is intangible with little structure.

Everyone believes in God and realizes that outcomes depend on God.

  • Only 30% of the population of Qatar holds Qatari citizenship.
  • 70% of the population consists of expatriate workers.
  • 40% of the population is Arab. Pakistanis and Indians make up about 36% and Iranians 10% of the population.
  • Most Qatari citizens are Sunni Muslims.
  • Although in social settings men and women generally remain separated, women are increasing visible in higher education and government positions.

Traditional Arab Cultural Assumptions

  • Family honor is of great importance
  • The sense of family is wide and extended
  • Building strong personal relationships is critical
  • Reciprocation and hospitality
  • Hierarchy and respect for elders
  • Group stability and harmony
  • Understanding that humans do not control events. That is up to God’s will.
Cultural Insights Qatar

Traditional Arab Communication Style

Imply/suggest what is meant. You need to read between the lines. Emotional outbursts and raised voices may feel direct, but finding the “real” message in the words may still be a challenge.

High Context

Background information assumed depending on nature of relationship. Social class determines the type of language and approach used to communicate.

Sensitivity to hierarchy/face saving very important. First names are not used unless one invites the other to do so.

Emotional displays are common and expected.

Message may weave and wander

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Arabs, in general, make liberal use of gestures, especially if they are enthusiastic about what they are saying. Men use gestures more than women. To greet with respect or sincerity, after shaking hands, place the right hand to the heart or chest. Failure to shake hands when meeting someone or saying goodbye is considered rude. When a Western man is introduced to an Arab woman, it is the woman’s choice whether to shake hands or not; she should be allowed to make the first move. Similarly, a non-Arab woman should extend her hand to initiate a handshake. Do not shake hands firmly or pump your whole hand up-and-down. Also, realize that people shake hands and hold hands longer in greeting than in the West; allow your counterpart to withdraw first.

Arabs will interpret your behavior negatively if you behave with too much familiarity toward a person of the opposite sex. Behaviors such as overly enthusiastic greetings, animated and joking conversations, and casual invitations to lunch can be easily misinterpreted by them. The public display of intimacy between men and women is strictly forbidden by the Arab social code, including holding hands or linking arms or any gesture of affection such as kissing or prolonged touching.