Saturday, 21 December 2013

Where are you, creative, intelligent people? Sadly, not here.

I have realized something, after having lived in Qatar for almost two years now. Quite sadly for Qatar, for whatever reason, it seems to attract a lot of very stupid people. 

I am not sure what that reason is. I have been wondering whether Qataris, despite the notorious generosity, are not particularly keen on spending more on professionals of a higher calibre; opting for cheaper people instead. But then, of course, you get what you pay for. And you end up with a lot of useless, stupid people working for you.

At first, I thought everyone around me was lovely, especially the smiling Philippinos. When we just moved to Doha, I was shocked when a British mum from school, visiting us for a play date with her daughters, got openly annoyed with the waiter in our clubhouse restaurant. She ordered three ice-creams, and was irritated when it arrived in one bowl.

'We have three', she said slowly and loudly, pointing at the girls, 'TH-REE children! I ordered THREE ice-creams! Why do you think I would want all three ice-cream scoops in one bloody bowl???'

Oh, how shocked I was! How quick to judge the woman and label her as a racist, arrogant bitch!
Those poor guys, what if their English was not that good? It was such an innocent mistake to make!

But now I understand. I know how she felt. I know, how every day, from the second you step out of your door and until you return home, you will, undoubtely, deal with a huge number of idiots at every corner, wherever you go. It starts on the roads where stupid people drive in the most moronic ways imaginable, and it continues in shops, pharmacies and hospitals. It is everywhere. And it is exhausting.

At a pharmacy, I was looking for a Vitamin D supplement. I am not a medically trained person; however, having looked quickly on Google, I knew roughly what I should be taking. A pharmacist in the UK is often as good as a GP when it comes to giving you an advice on medicine. But is a different story. 'Here, ma'am' said the pharmacist picking up a 50,000 i.u. dose per capsule bottle.

'That is not a daily doze', I said, thinking that I could still buy it and use weekly…But he kept insisting. 'No, ma'am is ok. Ma'am take daily, is ok.'

Come on, I said, pointing to a line written on the bottle. It read, very clearly, in black print Not for daily intake. How hard is it, if this actually is your job, to read the printed instructions on the bottle? I am not even asking for him to go online.

Next stop- an ELC shop. Would you like it wrapped, ma'am? Big smile, kind eyes. Yeah, sure, I say. You have christmassy paper? Yes, ma'am. Oh, great. We look, we choose the pattern. OK, I say. I am going to do the groceries shopping now, and will pick it up on the way back, ok?

OK ma'am.

On my way back I stop to get the parcel. It is unwrapped. 'I thought...' I say very politely, 'You were going to wrap it?'

-You want it wrapped, ma'am?

-Yes. I. Want. It. Wrapped. Please.

Or there was a day when I was in another shop, looking to buy a bike they had on display, only in pink. One assistant asks another as he is going to the store, to check if they have any more pink bikes left. He comes back.
-Did you check if there were any pink bikes like this left in the store?
-We have?
The guys stare at each other. The end of the conversation. No bike brought to the shop floor.
He checked, you see? But he never brought it to the shop. Why, nobody asked him to bring it. He was only asked to check if they had any left, and he did.

If only we had to deal with silly little episodes in shops or pharmacies, it would not be such a big deal! However, it is not just the servicing personnel, shopping assistants and pharmacists that are so useless. It is professional expats, too. In our search for a good doctor or a dentist or a specialist at any level, we go through dozens of people, looking, trying, discussing on local forums, with a hope to find the best. The best teacher, the best school, the best pediatrician. And, after two years here, you realize. It is not the best you are looking for. It is semi-decent. Someone more or less professional. Someone you can hopefully trust.

I laugh as I remember the email I had received from someone who was helping me make up my mind about moving to Doha. 'It is becoming a very exciting place to live', he claimed. 'Because it attracts some very creative, intelligent people'.

Ha-ha! Are you kidding me? Intelligent? Creative?? Where are you, intelligent, creative, knowledgeable professionals that are supposed to be attracted to this exotic country?

Perhaps, Qatar is not alone in this unfortunate position. Maybe this is just the overall quality of the expatriates all over the world these days. I am looking back at my years working for BP back in Azerbaijan in early 90s and think- were the expats better? More professional? More creative? More interesting? Or was it me, younger and less experienced, thinking that everyone with western education was smart? Was it that my own standards were a lot lower, or did we actually get much better people working for us back then? But, if the latter is the case, what the hell happened since then? Are the overseas packages no longer that attractive to bring in better specialists? And, due to the Financial crisis so many western countries are in, there are more desperate people who would agree to come and work abroad for a lot less? Desperate but not actually any good?

And so, this is the mix of expats you get here. Uneducated Indian labour and drivers, silly giggly Phillipino shopping assistants and some professionals, like that useless Egyptian ophthalmologist to whom my husband had to patiently explain what stem cells were…Mixed beautifully with the worst expats ever-The westerners, who are also often stupid, boring and quite common, yet convinced of their superiority and importance over everybody else. Creative, intelligent expats? Ha and ha again.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Azeris abroad, just like me?

Husband introduced me to his new colleague the other day, a very nice guy from Belgium.

I am getting to realize that expats, some nationalities more than others, tend to gravitate toward and stick with their fellow countrymen. I had seen examples of that before, in the UK, and it always amazed me when people did that; a friend from New Zealand in London used to throw parties where out of 20 people 19.9 would be from New Zealand.

So, assuming the new guy would like to know more Belgian people, I asked my compound neighbour if there were many Belgian activities and societies, perhaps, for this guy to join. Oh yes, she replied helpfully. But is he a Flemish Belgian or a French one?

Wow, I thought. Being Belgian is not enough! For some nationalities, there are not just groups but also sub-groups they divide into. Still, for the Flemish Belgian guy things will be quite simple, once his belonging to the Flemish side is successfully confirmed.

But then there are some of us, who simply do not fit in any group or sub-group this easily.

At a party this weekend, I met a lively Polish lady who recently arrived to Doha. We stood there chatting, when an Irish neighbour asked her a natural question: So, have you found other Polish people here yet? The Polish lady thought about it for a while before answering, but I knew what she was thinking straight away. You see, this Polish lady was only technically Polish. However, she lived most of her adult life in Italy. I asked if she, just like I do, finds it hard to hang out with her fellow country men now. Yes, she said. They often asked her awkward, rude questions. Rude to her, but perhaps, to majority of Polish people quite normal. Like how much her salary is, or how come she managed to secure such a great job.

And there are, thankfully, people like this Polish/Italian, or Australian/Malaysian, or Lebanese/Australian/British friends of mine, or other people I know who happened to be either married to a different nationality, or influenced by a culture different to their own due to other circumstances in their much that they would struggle to be friends with others based on nationality. I am grateful these people exist in an expat world, because, frankly, with the national categorization I see every day, I would be quite lonely.

Of course, I also occasionally try to find a friend from back home.  I have to, right? Everybody else does. There must be certain comfort in it. When you are not quite British, you will never be easily accepted by the proper Brits. Neither are you properly Azeri, not anymore. Neither Russian, despite the Soviet childhood and the language I speak. But I keep hoping that one day, I would find an Azeri abroad who is more like me. Someone I would automatically click with, because we have so much in common.

So, when I accidentally found out there was an Azeri neighbour who moved in a compound next door, I walked over to introduce myself. In theory, we had a huge amount in common. Not only was she Azeri, but she also lived abroad a long time. She was also married to an English guy. She must belong, I thought, to my tiny sub-group. There she is, right next door! And the girl was nice. She was friendly and chatty, and it was quite pleasant to be talking to someone from back home, there is no doubt about that. However, in a few minutes of the conversation, she reminded me of the reasons I don't spend all my time hanging out with my fellow countrymen.

Why, I thought, why? Why are so many Azeris like this? Even those who are married into a different culture, even those who lived abroad for a long time? It happens almost immediately.

Oh, she said, so you live in that compound? We went to look at it before we moved  here, and I really hated it. It is so dark! 

OK, I thought, never mind. Tactless, but let's just move on. We talked about living abroad, we talked about Baku. 'Look, her mother, who was very excited to meet us, pointed out. 'If you lived in Baku right now, would you ever be seen in public looking like this?' She waved her hand in the general direction of my head, leaving me confused whether it was my tied up hair , or the lack of make-up that she found so offensive.

And then there were more comments. 'How old is your husband? Oh, funny. Same age as mine, but he looks a lot older!'

See what I mean?

I walked back home, thinking that the girl was quite nice, really. But…She was not like me. She was really not like me. Not my group, not my sub-group, not the kind of group that any of my friends belong to- wherever they happened to be born, wherever they happened to have lived before, whoever they were married to. Yet, they are all my friends, and we are a group. We are just a diverse group of people who happen to like each other. And maybe I should just realize that some of us don't easily fit anywhere, but that is okay. Because, all around me, there are people who are like me. Just not necessarily Azeri.