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No Santa, no Irish boozers and no regrets: life in Qatar

A land where kayaking in in the mangroves isn't a naughty euphemism

THE EXPAT FILES In this week's eXpat File, we meet Irishman Russell Clark, who's settled in Qatar.

Russell's loving life there, even if the only Irish pub has closed down and the traffic is terrifying.

Tell us more, Russell, especially the bit about there not being an Irish bar ...

The Register: What kind of work do you do and with which technologies?

Russell Clarke: Officially, I'm an Applications Trainer for an American Medical College (part of Qatar Foundation). In practice, I do that plus supervise the Help Desk. We're using a mixture of OS X, Windows 7/8 and iOS devices (approximately 1,000). We're using Absolute Manage to control everything and Web Help Desk as our ticketing system. Nothing fancy!

The Register: Why did you decide to move to Doha?

Russell Clarke: I wanted an adventure, more money and I thought the heat would be good for my arthritis. Ha, did I ever get THAT wrong! I moved here in 2004 and, frankly, had never heard of the place.

The Register: How did you arrange your new gig?

Russell Clarke: Through a recruitment agency that specialises in Middle East postings. I had sent my CV to a whole bunch of them – two replied, one for this job and one for a post in Prague.

The Register: Pay: up or down?

Russell Clarke: Up. Way, way, up. In addition to basic salary (which is far higher than I could expect back in Ireland), there's free accommodation, free water and electricity and a business class flight home once a year. When I say free, I mean paid for by the college.

The Register: How do work places differ between Doha and Ireland?

Russell Clarke: No crucifixes on the wall! As Qatar is a Muslim country, we're expected to abide by Muslim traditions, such as no public eating or drinking during Ramadan and (really) no Christmas decorations. However, the main difference is that Doha is far more multicultural than Ireland (at least as it was 10 years ago – it may have changed). It may just be MY workplace but it seems to be that there is less lateral thinking and more rule-following in work here compared to home. There's a lot of "... because that's the way we do it" here – it reminds me of a previous job I had in a public service body in Ireland back in the early '80s.

The Register: Will your expat gig be good for your career?

Russell Clarke: I hope so. I'd kind of like to retire and become a consultant after this but we'll see.

The Register: What's cheaper in Qatar? What's more expensive?

Russell Clarke: Petrol is DIRT CHEAP! I can stuff 40L of the stuff in my car for about eight Euros. I'll leave the conversions to US Dollars and Sterling to your devoted readers. There's not much that's dearer than Dublin – even alcohol (yes, it is available) is about the same price but not the same range. What we don't have is dirt cheap airlines.

The Register: What will you miss about Qatar when you go home to Ireland?

Russell Clarke: I've made a small, but close, bunch of mates so I'd miss them most of all. Then there's the GLORIOUS winter weather (it's about 29 C outside right this minute). And there's the sense of being in an environment that is totally different to anything I had experienced before (yes, I've been here 10 years but was in my mid-40s when I moved here).

The Register: Not much chance of tuning in to the gaelic football over there, we presume?

Russell Clarke: Au contraire. The local rugby club shows the All-Ireland finals (including hurling as well as bogball ... sorry, football). Of course, for the other games, we can always stream it - the state telecoms company has been busy rolling out fibre to the home so speeds are pretty good and very little lag. We even have our own Gaelic Football Team (there's an Arabian Gulf branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association. We're Irish – like vermin, we're everywhere!).

The Register: Is there an Irish expat community in Qatar? If so, embrace, engage gently or run like hell in the opposite direction?

Russell Clarke: Yes there is and, for as long as I've been here, they've run the most popular Black Tie ball of the season (Paddy's day, of course). The Irish community has grown hugely since the recession. Although I have a number of Irish friends here, I don't go to the Irish Society events but that's a personal choice. Chacun a son gout, Rodney.

The Register: Please tell us there's no Irish bar in Qatar. And that – sigh – if there is, it's not horrid.

Russell Clarke: There WAS an Irish bar (in the Sheraton Hotel) but it's closed for refurbishment. Was it horrid? Not especially – I've seen a lot worse. It was managed by an Irish chap so I supposed that helped and the Guinness was palatable. Did I go there often? Nope.

The Register: What's your top tip to help new arrivals settle in?

Russell Clarke: Go to everything you're invited to at first. You'll soon figure out what stuff suits you and what doesn't. For example, I joined the rugby club when I arrived, which suited me 'cos I like the game, but I also joined a darts team, despite not being able to chuck a dart to save my life.

The Register: What advice would you offer someone considering the same move?

Russell Clarke: If you've got kids of school-going age, don't come here. School places are as rare as hen's teeth. Do your own research – don't rely on your employer to tell you the real truth about life here. Learn to love traffic. We have plenty of it. Learn patience. The word "inshallah" doesn't REALLY mean "God Willing". It means "this will happen if Allah comes and does it Himself". Arabic culture is based on hospitality, so no one likes to say no. Inshallah can be a way of avoiding that. Smile a lot. It opens doors. Also, if you like reading, bring books. We have crap book shops here.

The Register: Can Qatar really stage the football World Cup?

Russell Clarke: I notice you said "can" rather than "should". Yes, it can. Qatar held the Asian Games in 2006 and made a success of it. However, there will be problems. Presumably, the World Cup will be held in the winter, otherwise players and spectators will die, literally. From the fans' point of view, while the stadia will be spectacular, the lack of freely-available alcohol might cause a problem. Don't expect to be able to buy a bucket of beer and drink it at your seat. There've been hints that there will be fan zones where alcohol will be available. We'll see.

The Register: What can one get up to over the weekend in Qatar?

Russell Clarke: Quite a lot. We do have bars (in the hotels, as well as the rugby club and a few other clubs), we have some great restaurants, there's a number of different cinemas ... But also, there are societies such as the natural history society, there are events such as dune bashing, kayaking among the mangroves, the sea is crystal clear and great for snorkelling. People host barbecues and, if it all gets too much, Dubai is an hour away. So is Saudi! Bear in mind that the summers are hot. Unbearably hot. It's extremely easy to get heatstroke and not pleasant at all, so most outdoor activities happen around this time of year – November to April.

Have you moved to a strange land where the customs are confounding and the locals turn up their nose at your favourite tipple? Tell us your story by writing to me after clicking here. ®


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