My first real exposure to the Middle East

I just got off my flight on Qatar Airways from London to Doha and will save my thoughts on the actual flight for the trip report. This is my first trip to the Middle East (great timing, eh?), so it’s a whole new world for me. I remember the first time I went to Asia, thinking that when I had seen one city I had seen them all, only to later realize the huge differences between countries, regions, and even cities, within Asia.

Well, as I begin to explore the Middle East, I start with similar perceptions to when I first explored Asia, not really knowing what to expect. So when I share my impressions, pardon my ignorance, as it’s a new world for me. Eventually I’m sure I’ll be as familiar with the Middle East as I am with Asia, though it’ll take a while. I’m also incredibly tired as I write this, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Anyway, back to the flight today. I had boarded early and was enjoying a glass bottle of Krug pre-departure (I don’t usually drink, but I made a “one time exception” since the flight attendant was so charming and convincing), and for the better part of 45 minutes had the cabin to myself. I’ve come to love private premium cabins, so was hoping that would be the case today. About 15 minutes before departure time the ground staff announced “would all ground staff please leave the aircraft,” and I did an ever-so-slight mental fistpump. Alone again!

Sure enough, a moment later a smell of fresh flowers fills the cabin. Yes, the odor of someone that you know showered with perfume coming out of the showerhead. The first thing I saw were big sunglasses, and then purses that were bigger than my 22” carry-on. “Daddy, where do I sit?” Sure enough, an older gentleman who I assume is from Qatar (or of Qatarian(ish) descent) boards with his three teenage, wannabe Paris Hilton(ish) daughters and wife. Nice to know there’s still rich people out there!

Literally a minute later three ground staff come on the plane carrying bags, followed by an older Middle Eastern gentleman carrying nothing, as they direct him to his seat. They constantly referred to him as “Sheik.”

As expected, these passengers were quite low maintenance. The “Sheik” slept from takeoff till 30 minutes before landing. The party of five was low maintenance as well, given that the three daughters were all clearly very concerned about their figure, probably not consuming more than a few hundred calories a day. And sure enough they had nothing but a tiny salad, all while I had a six course meal. The only thing in high demand was Cosmopolitan, Glamour, etc.

But here’s what I found fascinating about the experience, and what proved to be my first big lesson of the region. All six other passengers (the Sheik and family of five) boarded with pretty modern, flashy clothes. The three daughters were reading modern fashion magazines and clearly idolized western fashion/culture. However, upon landing I felt totally out of place, because prior to landing all six passengers had changed into more traditional Qatari dress. The women (including the teenage daughters) were wearing long black dresses with head gear, and the gentlemen were wearing long white robes with the white head gear.

So that’s my first observation/impression of the region.

I appreciated the crew’s suggestions about things to do in Doha as well — “there’s absolutely nothing to do here.” 😀

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Doha indeed looks a bit boring. Curious how they will entertain the WC crowd in 2022. Having been to Dubai twice, in can concur with your opinion that the ME is very modern, but mostly the rich in the big cities who have travelled alot and can buy western stuff.

  2. Very interesting regarding everyone’s change of clothes — cant wait for the full trip report and pics!

  3. Great report! Keep up the great work! So I think Middle East also has its uniqueness as there is “old” and “new.” Dubai has a very different feel than say a Cairo or Jordan. Enjoy the trip!

  4. Loved the story.

    That said, the Gulf States are *totally* different from the rest of the ME. Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait are predominantly non-Arab: tons of Asian guest workers. Syria and Yemen in particular, and Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Oman to a lesser extent, have what strikes me as the particular Arab feel.

  5. Nice story!

    Its very common for wealthy Middle Easterns to dress in Western clothing upon departure, and then change into tradition ME clothes prior to landing back in their region.

    If one is close friends with a member of a royal family. You can call them by their first name outside of their country, but within their home state you must address them by full or partial title always!

  6. This is one of the paradoxes of life as a member of the wealthy elite in the Middle East: Islamic standards of conduct and dress aim to de-objectify women in the eyes of men, and yet the way these girls dress (and sometimes comport themselves) in the West puts some of my more libertine friends in Beverly Hills to shame. It’s an interesting reflection that confirms my suspicion that there really is one universal human nature, and it just happens to find expression in different ways, conditioned by cultural circumstance. (I remember reading a really interesting in the Atlantic Monthly on homosexuality in Saudi Arabia recently — the Kingdom in the Closet or something.)

    Anyway, the worst is when the women buy up everything in sight at Chanel and Dior on the Rue Royale/Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris while still wearing the niqab (and paying cash). Do they not realize that conspicuous consumption (“la consommation ostentatoire”) is meant to draw attention to yourself?

  7. This is why we need more people to support Obama. These crazy oil people are out of control and need to be stopped and Obama saw this from day one. All they want is money, riches, and control. Profit are everything to them and all they think about is oil. This is why Obama’s moves to stop drilling and drive pil prices high is the right thing to do. These rich people need the price of their product so high that no one can buy it and then their fortunes will crumble.

  8. Great report so far- color me jealous regarding the Krug!

    Keep it up- can’t wait to see pictures of the Royal Suite

  9. I’ve never been to Doha so I’m looking forward to your complete review. Have a fantastic trip!

  10. I really don’t understand why Qatar is not keeping first class, at least on London and Paris flights. Any time I’ve flown LHR-DOH, the first class cabin has been full. Amusingly, I flew back on one of the flights that have been switched from 3-class A340-600 to two-class 777-300ER (albeit with an enhanced business class) – half the people on the minibus I took from the premium terminal to the aircraft were moaning about being bumped out of first.

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