So, what DO you do all day?

This question drives me insane! I get it quite a lot, and I suppose I take it personally because it sounds slightly judgemental….

The truth is, that I do somehow manage to keep busy all day. I really enjoy not having a normal ‘job’ to go to, but then I have always been quite good at keeping myself entertained and I do enjoy being on my own (it’s an only child thing!).

The sad fact is that expat wife-life isn’t a constant round of spas, lunches and coffee mornings. I’ve never been to a coffee morning, I hardly EVER go out for lunch and the only time I set foot in a spa is either for my monthly waxing torture, or because we have visitors and I want to spoil them.

I spend most days on my own at home. My life revolves entirely around our 11-month old dog, as she requires a lot of work and creates a lot of housework! I have set up a separate blog about all things dog at doglifeqatar.com

Having a dog, I will freely admit, is more work than I ever imagined! It’s very rewarding, but there were times when she was a puppy that I thought I’d never be able to cope, and it wasn’t unusual for my husband to come home from work and find me in a weeping huddle in the corner of the kitchen. I would never take on a puppy again; a fully grown rescued adult, maybe, but never another puppy.

It was partly bad timing; we rescued her from the streets at the beginning of May, just weeks after I’d first landed in Qatar. We never intended to keep her, but didn’t succeed in finding a home for her. Now she is very much loved and part of the family, but being trapped at home by a puppy which needed constant attention was, at the time, very debilitating and difficult to cope with, because I really needed to be out there making new friends to help me settle in.

So, now my life revolves around her and keeping the house clean.

A typical day goes something like this:

7.30am: Get dragged out of bed by my husband, usually involving a cup of tea as a bribe! He has to leave for work, so he will go downstairs and let the dog out of the kitchen, where she sleeps overnight, and I will follow behind and go and sit with her. She normally climbs onto the sofa and goes back to sleep, and so do I! Neither of us are morning people……

8.30am: Dog starts to wake up. I make her and myself breakfast.

8.30am – 9.30am: Dog has a mad hour. Her morning energy needs an outlet, so I do a mixture of short bouts of training and playing with her, mixed with periods when I encourage her to entertain and settle herself with a chew toy. After about an hour, she burns out and goes back to sleep.

9.30am onwards: I might take her for a quick morning walk around the block, if I need to leave her alone later in the day (it helps if she is as tired as possible before leaving her on her own, so I have to plan in advance if I need to leave the house at all). The morning period is my window to either go to the supermarket, get some cleaning done, or spend time on the internet. Most of the time, it’s cleaning – I try and do at least one thing a day (bathrooms, kitchen, upstairs hoovering, bed-changing or downstairs floors). Some mornings are spent preparing a fortnight’s worth of raw food for the dog, or training treats – both involve a couple of hours of prep. If I have done ALL of my chores, I can relax enough to do some writing for my novel, but I very rarely allow myself time for this, which is ridiculous I know.

Lunchtime: I try to grab some lunch, but normally I forget! It’s often 2pm by the time I think about eating and by that time, I have to start thinking about organising our trip to the beach. I struggle to know what to eat for lunch as I spent the last 15 years living off ready-packed lunches bought from canteens, motorway service stations or Boots!

2.30pm: Get everything ready for the afternoon walk including making up bottles of drinks for both me and the dog and prepare a bag of treats for training her. Most of the time, we go to the beach because it’s the only place she can have a good off-lead run without me having to worry about people hassling us. It’s also a relatively distraction-free environment to work on training.

3pm: Load the car up with training treats, poo bags, water, towels and the dog and head for the beach or mangroves (25km and 40km away, respectively).

3.45pm: Arrive at the beach. Sometimes we meet up with other dog walkers, but if not I play some training games and hunt for crabs with her, and generally try and make myself as interesting as possible to keep the dog focussed on me (she is a saluki mix, and therefore prone to being quite ‘independent’ – I have to constantly work on her focus). This can be quite challenging, and often involves me running around a lot with my arms in the air and wooping. Thankfully, it’s a quiet beach….

5.15pm: Dry myself and the dog off, give her some water and leave the beach.

6pm: Arrive home, and hose the car and dog down to remove saltwater.

6.30pm: Dry the dog, feed the dog.

7pm: Jump in shower while hubby supervises the dog and cooks the dinner.

8pm: Relax with the hubby. Dog is normally asleep by now.

10.30pm: Quick walk around the block with the dog for a final wee and poo.

11pm: BED! This is quite late for Qatar as most people here seem to get up at 5am or even earlier, but my husband has an unusually late start-time at work of 8am.

About the cleaning.

People warned me about all the cleaning before I came. I didn’t believe them. It’s the dust – it gets EVERYWHERE. And in such quantities! I was used to rarely picking up a duster back in England, in fact it would be unusual for me to do it more than once a month. Over here, it’s at LEAST a twice weekly job. I know this sounds unbelievable; I didn’t believe it myself until we moved here.

Of course, it’s not just all over your bookcases and bedside tables, it’s all over the floor as well. Having vast expanses of shiny floors means that you soon notice it accumulating. We get through approximately four times as many hoover bags over here as we did in England (thankfully they can be ordered online as not many brands are available in the shops here).

As an experiment, I went a whole FOUR days without dusting cleaning the downstairs floors this week. (The following photos were taken on Wednesday and the last time I had done any cleaning was on the previous Friday.)

This is what the coffee table looked like:

And here is the product of a quick sweep of the floor in the kitchen, most of which has been shed from the dog’s coat during the night:

Lounge floor:

This is from the other half of the lounge:

Dining room floor:

The office floor:

As you can see, most of it is dust and sand, although the dog is responsible for a lot of it with her thieving of random tissues/destruction of toys! She is also shedding fur at the moment, which is contributing to it.

So, the moral of this story is, if you’re thinking of moving to Qatar, DON’T get a dog, but DO get a maid! And if you have the former, definitely consider getting the latter!

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Raw diet for dog update

Please note that I have started a new blog for dog ownership in Qatar and all of my previous posts about raw food diets can now be found at dogblogqatar.com

Feeding a raw food diet to your dog in Qatar

Please note that I have started a new blog for dog ownership in Qatar and all of my previous posts about raw food diets can now be found at dogblogqatar.com

Is cheap labour sustainable?

I know I’ve not been great at updating this blog, but I am going to try and update it more frequently now I’m settled in Qatar. We are very happy here, life is good and we’ve made lots of good friends and have a lovely house.

Of course, not everything is perfect, as you’d expect. I have the occasional ‘Doha Day’, as they are affectionately known among my friends, when things don’t seem to go well and everything can get on top of you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the underlying cause of these Doha Days and they all seem to have one common root – the way people and jobs are valued in the Middle East.

Across the Middle East, labour is cheap and people are almost seen as disposable commodities. This applies to Westerners too – although we take home what are perceived to be higher salaries than we would otherwise be accustomed to, in a country with the highest GDP in the World and an almost universally wealthy population, we are still cheap! There are plenty more people who would take our jobs, should we choose to leave, and turnover of staff can be high.

But, for this article, I am mainly talking about the people on very cheap salaries, who have what would be considered to be ‘working class’ or ‘blue collar’ jobs in the West; Shop assistants, medical staff, construction supervisors, hairdressers, administration staff, beauticians.

In my opinion, these jobs are hugely undervalued here. These workers are the cogs in the wheels of society. In day to day life, you might not ever interact with a Geotechnical Design Engineer, but you will almost certainly deal with shop assistants, call centre staff, office managers and waiters.

The ethics of paying such low wages is a separate debate altogether; it’s not black and white, as I have met people here in pitifully low wages who are very grateful to have the opportunity to work overseas and send money home every month.

But regardless of the ethics, low wages contribute to a culture where few people care very much about the work they do. It is not worth their time or effort to try and help you any more than they need to.

As someone paying for services, you can often feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, and that’s one of the reasons you might have a bad Doha day!

It also means that it’s harder for us expat wives to get a nice simple job, of the sort you might take in England after having kids; nothing too taxing, but something you can fit in around the kids’ school times that brings home a bit of extra money for treats every month and keeps you busy.

Traditionally ‘working class’ jobs over here are pretty much exclusively given to people from developing nations. That’s partly as a result of the very low salaries, partly because the jobs might entail working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week, and partly, I believe, because of legal restrictions over which nationalities can do certain jobs. Part time working is also illegal in Qatar, as I understand it.

The problem with this is that candidates for such jobs often have no, or little, relevant experience. It’s easy to undervalue shop assistants or call centre staff; anyone can pick up a phone or open a till, right? But then all you end up with is robots who sure can open a till or answer the phone, but ask anything more of them and things start to become difficult.

The low value of staff can be witnessed over here, just by observing how OVERSTAFFED many restaurants and shops are. I’ve sat waiting 20 minutes for a menu in a cafe before now and watched no less than ten waiters and waitresses milling around doing nothing. With responsibility diffused across so many people, none of them take the initiative to come over to your table. You will see a lot more staff on duty in most establishments, compared to the UK, but much lower standards of service.

It would be great if I could join one of these teams and shake things up a bit. Many British people, including myself, have some good retail or hospitality experience behind them, as it’s almost a right of passage to do such work to see you through your school or university days. But I’m not signing up for the kind of treatment I know I would be subjected to over here in such a position.

I was talking to a beauty therapist a couple of weeks ago, from the Philippines. She does intimate waxing (any body hair is frowned upon among Middle Eastern women). Not something you would trust to an untrained or inexperienced therapist, right? She told me to make sure that I asked specifically for her for future appointments, as they were about to bring in four more staff from the Philippines who had no experience at all in waxing, and they were going to be trained on the job. This is in a top-end international hotel spa group! Back home, I used to get my waxing done at a delightful French salon in Oxford, where fantastic French women came to work for a year at a time, and they took a great deal of pride in the service they offered.

My Filipino beautician told me that she works 12-hour days, six days a week, for the equivalent of £400 a month. I have no reason to disbelieve her; it wasn’t a sob story as she was quite happy to be able to send money home each month to help towards her daughter’s education. Her daughter was living with her grandmother.

The other reason for having bad Doha Days is usually on account of the terrible driving, coupled with congested city centre roads.

I can’t help but think that the number of people living in Qatar could easily be halved, taking into account the issues outlined above. This would have a knock-on effect on the traffic, especially when you consider that one of the factors which has such a negative impact on driving over here is because of the melting pot of different cultures all bringing their own rules of the road to Doha’s streets.

So what’s the alternative to cheap labour, and can it go too far the other way? I guess you only have to look at Britain to answer that.

In Britain, an egalitarian society is considered to be something to aspire to. Although Britain still has a very long way to go before it even approaches this ideal, the culture has led to standards being set for the treatment of workers, including the Minimum Wage and the European Working Time Directive.

The problem is that this has left us wide open to being undercut by countries with no such values. As a result, Britain has pretty much lost its entire manufacturing industry to China and India, ships arrive into port fully loaded, but leave completely empty and we have an almost insurmountable national debt to tackle.

So, what’s the answer, and has any society managed to strike the right balance? What will happen to Middle Eastern economies in the longer term as a result of this reliance on cheap labour? And will cheap labour always be available in the future as Asian economies grow?

Shopping in Qatar

Thankfully, you can get pretty much anything in the shops over here. The only things I’ve really struggled to find are detergents and fabric conditioners for sensitive skin – everything on offer is highly perfumed, and even the familiar brands such as Persil and Ariel are too much for my skin to cope witha. I ended up buying Ecover in Megamart (QR29 for 1 litre of fabric conditioner, which equates to about £5 – ouch) and also the ‘Sensitive’ range in Marks and Spencer (QR20, or just over £3 for 700ml of super-concentrated washing liquid, and QR11, or just under £2, for 750ml fabric conditioner). I’ve also had difficulty finding tissues for sensitive noses, such as Kleenex Balsam, but again M&S came to the rescue on that front.

They’re the only things I’ve had problems with, but grocery shopping is always a challenge, so here are my golden rules!

1. Look at the prices. I’m not used to doing this, but you really have to be careful here. The supermarkets do their best to import goods from all over the world, to satisfy the various expat populations, and the prices vary hugely. For example, if you dig around the bags of prawns in the Lulu supermarket freezer, you will see that they vary from a couple of pounds to ten pounds a bag. Trying to reconcile which price label applies to which bag, and how the prices work out on a per kg basis is very tricky, so I am often to be found staring gormlessly at a shelf trying to work out which is the best value. In Megamart, we found bags of spinach for £10(!) near other bags which cost less than £3. You will see identical tins of Heinz baked beans on the same shelf at very different prices – it all depends where they were imported from. In some supermarkets the prices aren’t shown at all on some products, and you have to take a gamble on what you’re buying.

2. Don’t assume that because an item is not in a logical place, the store doesn’t have it at all. For example, look for tinned tomatoes in Carrefour and you might expect them to be near the racks and racks of tinned tomato paste. You might see the closest thing to tinned tomatoes, which is an American tinned ‘tomato sauce’ and pop that into your trolley as a compromise. However, if you keep your eyes peeled around the store, you may well find other, better brands of tinned tomato hidden in the most unlikely of places! You might think you have found all of Lulu’s chocolate selection, but carry on down another couple of aisles and you will come across more types of chocolates in the sweets aisle!

3. Don’t expect to get everything in one shop. This is probably the biggest whinge for expats. If you go around a store with a list of ingredients, the chances are that you won’t get everything. It’s incredibly frustrating, and nearly drove me to tears last week as I wondered around Carrefour with a meal plan in hand, and didn’t manage to get all the ingredients for a single meal on my list. It’s stupid things which let you down, such as creme fraiche or chives. It completely baffles me as to why this happens, as the supermarkets over here are huge and stock a very diverse range of goods. I would like to adapt my cooking to suit the local food, but the reality is that there is no such thing as ‘local food’ over here and the supermarkets spread themselves very thinly in trying to satisfy all of the immigrant populations – but they can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time!

4. Give up on ethical shopping. This has been quite hard for me, but there are enough barriers to getting a decent supermarket shop done, without adding to the stress. You can get some European organics and free range eggs (especially in Carrefour), but when you’re having to keep such a close eye on prices, it is usually beyond our means to buy as ethically as we did in Britain. Nearly everything is imported, and some shelves have boastful slogans on them such as ‘imported by air from Britain’ to let you know how fresh the goods are! A bottle of Heinz organic ketchup is ten times more expensive than the equivalent non-organic version on the same shelf. Organic items will often be imported from Europe and you have to weigh this up against the non-organic versions which may not have been imported from quite so far afield.

5. Keep a close eye on the ingredients. I’ve started checking ingredients lists thoroughly, since discovering bread which has sugar in it (!) and tins of foul medames which were stuffed full of artificial nasties. There is enough choice for any given product such that you can find a better alternative easily enough.

6. Don’t forget to get your veg weighed! This is such a stupid system which is ubiquitous in every supermarket I’ve been in. You have to queue up in the fruit and veg section to get your items weighed and priced up, before going to the checkouts. Why they don’t have self-service weighing points I don’t know (actually, I do – it’s because the locals don’t like to have to do anything themselves), or why they can’t weigh it at the checkout as they do in England, is beyond my understanding.

7. If you see something you like, buy loads of it! Because the supermarkets here are so focussed on importing items to satisfy their hugely diverse customers, their stock can be somewhat erratic, so if you see something you like and it won’t go off, it’s advisable to stock up.

Our food bill is around the same as it was in Britain – we tend to spend about £100 per shop, although in Britain that tended to include more ready meals, whereas we tend to cook from scratch more now. I’ve experienced most of the supermarkets here now, so here’s a quick round-up:

Carrefour: This is where we did most of our shopping at first, but I hated it from the minute I first set foot in the place. It reminds me of a big Tesco in Britain and it has a cheap and nasty air about it, with hideous crowds if you go at the wrong time. There are branches in Villagio, Landmark and City Centre, but they’re all equally hideous as far as I can tell. I can rarely get everything I want in Carrefour and the fruit and veg is just awful, as many items will already be rotting in the shop and the herbs are thrown together in damp, saggy bunches in big piles for you to root around in to try and work out which is the right herb that you want. However, Carrefour is good for magazines, electricals and any outdoor goods where quality isn’t an issue. It’s also good for French food and European organics or ethically-sourced eggs. It is BAD for clothes, unless you like walking around in badly-fitting nylon.

Megamart: This is a small supermarket in ‘The Centre’ which most British/Australian/American expats visit as an occasional treat. It’s very expensive, but they specialise in importing the most eclectic and wonderful selection from our home countries. If you are craving something from home, the chances are that you will find it in here. Strangely, there are lots of Waitrose-branded products scattered among the shelves, although at eye-watering prices! They also have a nice in-store bakery and meat counter. It is quite a pleasant shopping environment too, which makes a change! Fatally (for the wallet and the waistline), there is a Megamart Express just around the corner from our new villa, and it’s the only shop for a couple of miles around….

Lulu: I love Lulu and this is where I do all of the shopping now. It’s an Indian chain, apparently set up by an Indian immigrant in Dubai to satisfy his craving for home goods. They are also really good at importing things to satisfy other immigrant populations, most notably us Brits, and you can get all sorts of familiar brands in here at very good prices. Many of the things which Megamart sells can also be found in Lulu for much better prices. At the moment, they have a great range of Cadbury and Nestle easter eggs, for example. They also stock quite specific things which I have had cravings for, such as Snickers flapjacks. I don’t know who their buying manager is, but he must be bloody good at his job, as they really seem to hit the nail on the head in getting the right balance of available products. I usually manage to get everything on my list in here as well, even though it’s a smaller shop than Carrefour. The fruit and veg selection is amazing, and I love looking at all the weird and wonderful Indian imports which I have never heard of and wouldn’t have a clue how to use!

Giant: This is a sprawling place in the Hyatt Plaza mall which has a distinctly old-fashioned and cheap feel about it. I haven’t shopped there for groceries, although I did check out the pet supplies section (crap) and the electronics department upstairs, which is like going back in time to 1975! It is quite useful for electronics – we got our router there. There is a big camping section, but most of it is cheap tat of similar or worse quality than Carrefour’s selection, and their selection of better brandedcamping  items such as Coleman is not as good. The fruit and veg selection is quite good, but I don’t fancy doing our regular shops there as the store doesn’t have a very nice feel to it and it’s not as well located as Lulu.

Family Food Centre: I’ve heard good things about this place, especially in terms of price, but haven’t been yet. There is one by the airport, and one in Al Sadd.

There is a really useful review of all of these shops in this month’s Time Out.

Driving in Qatar

Driving over here was my main concern before we arrived, and it was justified!

The roads are absolutely insane. When I got my car, I decided to keep driving until the fear wore off…..6 hours later I was still driving around with sweaty hands and the shakes!

Back in England I was a very confident driver and probably among the more assertive people on the road. Looking back, although I didn’t realise it at the time, being so assertive was something of a defence strategy as it gave me space on the road. I certainly found that bombing along motorways at 85mph gave me a nice space around me which few other cars penetrated, and I used to find driving more stressful on occasions where I was forced, for whatever reason, to stick to motorway speed limits. (I should add that I don’t condone speeding, and don’t speed on other types of roads in the UK).

I was also an advanced driver, and member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and had been taught and practised many defensive driving strategies, which I consolidated with a more agressive driving course  through a private tutor to prepare me for Qatar.

I’m not boasting, but trying to paint a picture of how confident a driver I was.

Over here, none of that counts. If I wanted to be the most assertive person on the road in Qatar, I would have to lose all sense of my own fate and drive way beyond my capabilities, so I am left fairly near the bottom of the food chain as a result.

Outside my comfort zone, I am reduced to a bit of a jibbering wreck, although I am getting more relaxed! Only in the past week have I been able to listen to music in the car – before that my concentration was too intense to cope with any more stimuli!

Here are some specific examples of why it is so stressful to drive over here:

Impatience

The first example which springs to mind is one which I have just witnessed out of the window. Our apartment overlooks a French school. At this time of day, the road grinds to a halt as hundreds of cars descend on the street and try and parallel park outside the school.

I just heard some hooting, which isn’t exactly unusal in Qatar, but this was particularly frenetic, so I looked out of the window to see two Landcruisers getting VERY impatient with the traffic in front of them.

As one of the school mums dared to let a car out of a space ahead of her, the first Landcruiser finally lost whatever shred of patience he had left, and pulled out onto the ‘wrong’ side of the road, with the other Landcruiser behind him following suit.

There was oncoming traffic, but this didn’t stop them. Neither did the fact that kids were pouring out of the primary school straight into the road (did I mention that this manoeuvre took place just behind a pedestrian crossing outside the school?!).

There then ensued a Mexican standoff between the Landcruisers and the oncoming traffic, while kids scattered for their lives all around, and naturally, the Landcruisers won – they have right of way over here- before they sped off into the distance.

I say sped off, but actually for some reason the locals seem completely unable to navigate speed humps without stopping dead in front of them, so it was more of a crawl and didn’t actually get them past the school any quicker than the traffic next to them on the right side of the road.

In another example of impatience, I have a habit of taking my foot off the gas if there is a red light ahead of me (approach hazards slowly, leave them quickly). In Doha, this doesn’t go down well. Everyone, regardless of nationality, approaches hazards at high speed and leaves their braking until the last minute. Yesterday, I witnessed (with a wry smile on my face) as a bloke behind me went absolutely ballistic at me for going so slow on the approach to a red light. He was cussing and shaking his hands at me. If I could work out why, I would have adjusted my driving accordingly to let him do whatever it was that he wanted to do, but I could see absolutely no reason for his desire to go faster, so I just watched him with amusement in my mirror (and of course left him for dust when the lights turned green).

You can have some fun with this. As you approach a red light, ease off the gas and show a brake light to the cars behind you, and watch them scatter like mad into the other lanes. You will end up gently cruising to a halt in one of the shortest queues, while the other drivers, in their impatience, will have joined much longer queues in neighbouring lanes.

I am still trying to weigh up the best way to deal with this culture – I am reluctant to start accerating towards slow traffic and hitting the brakes hard and late, as is the done thing in Doha, but I am also conscious of the need to adapt my driving to local conditions and not to wind other drivers up. Sometimes you do need to leave your braking quite late, otherwise any gap you leave will get filled by other cars, so it’s a case of assessing the road conditions and driving accordingly, although this can make for an uncomfortable ride for your passengers.

A mix of cultures

The main reason for all of the problems on the road here seems to be the clash of cultures, so there are no unofficial rules to get you through. For example, in Italy, the driving is insane, but nearly everyone on the roads is Italian and therefore you can at least predict how they will behave in any situation, according to their unwritten social code.

Here in Qatar, I could cope  a  lot better if the only other cars on the road were Qatari. Yes, they are absolutely mental as drivers, but they are actually quite skilled; they have to be to pull off some of the high-speed manoeuvres you will witness. I suspect that a lot of their frustration stems from their country being invaded by so many immigrants with different driving styles anyway.

But the reality in Qatar is a melting pot of different driving cultures. Some immigrants come from remote areas where they will have had little experience of cars or traffic, let alone city environments.

The Europeans struggle because we are used to a culture of rules and orderliness, and our lack of flexibility in this respect can make us as much of a hazard in this environment as any other cultural group.

Thankfully, and this is going to sound horribly racist, but it’s generally true – you can predict a driver’s nationality and therefore driving style by the car.

Landcruisers are top of the food chain. They are generally driven by locals, and you learn pretty quickly to get out of the way, or let them in the queue ahead of you. They are driven at exceptionally high speeds, generally, and they will come up behind you flashing their lights and hooting at you if you don’t let them pass you. They have no qualms about taking an offroad route to cut out a traffic jam and barge their way in front of you, or use the wrong lane to pull off a traffic lights manoeuvre, or drive across kerbs to get to where they need to go. If you have an accident with a local, I have heard that you don’t stand much of a chance of proving that the accident wasn’t your fault.

Europeans tend to drive other 4WDs – if you need to break your way into a queue, I always pick on a white person, as they are sure to let you in!

Tata buses, construction trucks, and Nissan pick ups need to be given a wide berth, as the driving is nearly always completely erratic and unpredictable and I have yet to see an exception to this.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts here are absolutely terrifying, especially when turning left or going straight on. Thankfully, the Government is aware of the accident stats and is gradually removing them and replacing them with traffic lights.

I know someone who was taught to drive over here, and apparently they actually teach you to take the ‘lane of least resistance’, regardless of which direction you intend to take off the roundabout. As you approach the roundabout, everyone is shuffling lanes trying to find the shortest queue. For those who wish to turn right, this will involve a last minute dash across the lanes to get to the right-hand feeder lane, if there is one – otherwise they will just join the roundabout anyway, and barge their way across to their exit once they are on the roundabout.

For turning left, I will usually take the left hand lane, but on busy roundabouts this can lead to a big stress in trying to get back over the right again to take your exit. I have been almost forced into an underpass wall by a Landcruiser intent on trying to block my exit. Many cars in the right-hand lanes will be going further around the roundabout than you, so you might end up circling a roundabout twice or more in an effort to try and make your exit.

The middle lane on a roundabout is always stressful, because you will have people on your right intent on getting all the way around the roundabout and preventing you from making your exit, but you will also have people on your left trying to cut across you to get to their exit.

If I am taking the first or second exit, I stick to the right hand lane, as I then only need to keep an eye on one wing mirror. If I am turning left, or making a u-turn, I take the left hand lane and take any opportunity I can on the roundabout to try and move over for my exit, but if I fail I just keep going around it until I am successful, watching both wing mirrors intently!

If all fails, I just get off at a different exit and revise my route – Doha is built on a grid system (just like Milton Keynes!) so there is always an alternative route…….. if only the other drivers on the road would realise this, instead of trying to force their way across lanes of traffic to get places!

Traffic lights and u-turns

Doha’s roads are all at least 3 lanes wide in each direction. There are no single-lane roads, apart from the back streets behind housing complexes or shops.

I can see the logic behind this, but I do wonder if in reality it actually has a negative effect on traffic flow.

There are no refuges in the central reservations for getting across oncoming traffic into side roads, so if your destination is on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, you have to progress to the next traffic light or roundabout and make a u-turn. This increases traffic at junctions, and it also means that traffic lights have to be sequenced carefully to allow u-turns, so only one flow of traffic has a green light at any one time. As a result, you can easily wait 10 minutes at traffic lights waiting for the full sequence to run through.

There is no amber light, so the lights go from red to green very suddenly. After 10 minutes of waiting, you can be half asleep by this point, but you will soon be woken up by the cacophony of hooting horns behind you if you dare be as much as half a second late in hitting the gas pedal. I’m not being frivolous – half a second is all you will get!

If you go across a traffic light junction in the right-hand lane, you have to run the gauntlet on the other side of the lights of traffic joining your lane from the right, at very high speed from the right-hand feeder lane of the other road.

Another perilous situation can arise if you turn out of a side road onto one of Doha’s triple-lane roads, and need to be going in the other direction (so you need to make a u-turn at the next junction). You may need to have your wits about you in order to get across to the left hand lane before the next roundabout/traffic lights. Sometimes you will fail and end up having to go to another roundabout/traffic lights to make your u-turn.

Quite often at traffic lights, the left hand and u-turn lane is separated from the other lanes by a solid kerb. This is no obstacle to a Landcruiser driver and they will fight their way into their lane of choice with little regard for minor obstacles such as kerbs or Nissan Tiidas.

Children.

I can forgive any of the above situations, but one thing I will never get used to seeing is how children are carried in cars over here. Europeans seem to be the only group on the road who strap their children into their car.

I saw a chap yesterday driving with a 2 year old on his knee. I also saw a lady in the passenger seat of another car with a 3 year old on her lap.

You will witness these sights in almost every car around you. Kids can normally be spotted climbing around the back seats, if they’re not loose in the front.

The stats speak for themselves. The roads are more dangerous here and you are 6 times more likely to be involved in an accident than in the UK.

The death rate is much higher too, but I suspect that this is due to the number of people not wearing seatbelts. When I went to get my visa processed, I was in a people carrier with 4 or 5 Indian and Bangladeshi women and I was the only one who put my seatbelt on.

I am all for trying to avoid forcing British values on other cultures, but this is one area which does make me want to scream. Fair enough if adults want to put themselves at risk, but I do not understand how people can put their children in such danger. I can’t explain it. Do they not understand the risks, or not care? Is it part of an Insh’allah culture? But even if you believe that it is God’s will whether or not your child lives or dies, surely you want to help stack the odds in their favour and save yourself from unimaginable pain?

Changing habits

It is easy to try and impose British values on the driving out here, but you have to be careful in doing so. Yes it is nice in England where there is an unwritten code which we all stick to in a predictable way, but that’s been ingrained in over 100 years of driving culture, and it doesn’t mean that those same unwritten rules could work elsewhere.

The Qataris wouldn’t appreciate arrogant Brits telling them to do things their way, any more than we would appreciate being told off for our drinking culture going against Muslim values.

I will continue to use my indicators and exercise good lane discipline, but I’m not expecting anyone else to follow me! You also have to keep in mind that many of the nationalities driving here do not have 100 years of driving culture engrained in their psyche.

The World Cup is probably going to have some effect. Kim Clijsters publicly criticised standards of driving here after being injured on her way to a tennis match in Doha last year.

Given that the culture can’t be changed overnight, I think the Government is going to have to take the lead by clamping down on things. There are already plenty of speed cameras around, but they could honestly do with more, especially hidden and average speed type cameras. I wouldn’t say this in England, but over here it’s hugely important, as the speeds that some cars travel at is absolutely terrifying and they need to put an end to it. These are big cars which can do a lot of damage if they hit you.

And, unlike Britain, I do feel that the speed limits need to be LOWERED here – 80kph is too fast for built-up areas.

It goes without saying that they need to crack down on strapping children into cars properly.

The major, planned public transport projects will also get some more cars off the road (especially the less confident drivers who cause a lot of frustration to the Landcruiser types).

Social iniatives and campaigns, such as this student project, are widespread, but seem to be having little effect.

At the end of the day, we have to recognise that this is a culture where being pushy gets you what you want (not patient queueing!) and this is not going to change, so the best that can be done is to enforce driving regulations more stringently to try and manage it, especially when ‘soft’ techniques such as educational campaigns will not cut the mustard in a country with so many immigrants from all over the world, many of whom are illiterate and/or don’t speak either Arabic or English.