Driving, Qatar, Travel

Lost in Translation

March 3, 2015

Watermarked-1088Lost in translation is much more than not understanding the language of the country you are in . It can be a gesture, a look, or a word.  Here in Qatar, this is especially true. Qatar’s population is over 2.3 million and only 250,000 of those are Qatari. Most of the population are expats coming to work here. Given how many nationalities there are,  it’s no wonder we have so many “lost in translation” moments.

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Driving seems to be the biggest lost in translation moment! We all have come from different countries with different driving rules and we are now all trying to drive together in a country with rapidly changing infrastructure and different driving rules. Roundabouts cause the biggest confusion, especially for this American. Here you are supposed to wait until it’s clear to enter the roundabout, but in some countries, the people are supposed to let your merge. In the U.S., we don’t have many, so when I first arrived it was like “what do I do and how do I not get killed doing it!”  This was the only thing that terrified me about driving here. Now I go through them with ease.

Another lost in translation moment that most women can relate to here is staring. People stare at you here. Yes, it is mostly men, but I once had an Arab woman stare at me in the bathroom while I brushed my hair. Local men stare as they aren’t used to seeing women with their hair uncovered. The laborer expats stare as they live with men and work with men all day and I can only guess that looking at a woman is a nice change. The other men stare, at least at me, because I am blond and their just aren’t a lot of us running around in the Middle East! (Yes, I am making some assumptions here, but I am sure I am right to some degree.) When I first arrived, it bothered me a lot. It made me angry. It is not something I was warned about before I arrived. But then I realized, I stared at people when I arrived and they are just looking out of curiosity. Now I hardly notice.

The way to greet people in Qatar is sometimes lost in translation to expats. People in the Middle East don’t just say hello and start talking. They greet you with Good Morning and how are you? They may also ask after your family or your health.  This can take some time to get used to. Even in shops its appropriate to say Good Morning before checking out. It took some practice, but now I am used to it and greet everyone with a Good Morning! By the way, this is even said if you had a car accident on the way into work!

Speaking English with other expats can be lost in translation. We native English speaking people of the world can barely speak to each other some times. Or if we do understand the word, we have a different meaning. This was revealed to me recently when I met a Scottish guy. We were out at the mangroves and we had to wade through water and the legs of my pants got wet. Well pants in the UK, apparently means your underwear! Of course, he didn’t say anything at the moment, as I am sure he couldn’t figure out why this girl was talking so freely about her underwear! He did tell me later that they say trousers. There are so many other English language differences, petrol station/gas station, napkin/serviette, bathers/swimsuit, etc. Of course, the pants/underwear is the most confusing and funny! Although now, I catch myself saying things like shop instead of store and petrol station instead of gas! My English has become international English!

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam . Head on over to any of these blogs to read about their lost in translation moments!


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  • Reply Sarah @ Lady Sadie's Emporium March 3, 2015 at 8:28 am

    The staring thing used to bother me as well. My daughter has white blonde hair and I used to feel very uncomfortable when both men and women stared at her and tried to touch her hair. I got over it thought. I know it’s because blonde hair isn’t so common in their home country or here so now we go with the flow.

    • Reply Tiffany March 3, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Since I am adult, no one tries to touch it! Thank goodness! How does she handle the attention?

  • Reply Sarah @ Lady Sadie's Emporium March 3, 2015 at 9:45 am

    It used to bother her sometimes as a baby as people would pick her up out of her stroller or take her from my arms!! Now she rolls with it, she knows people want to have photos with her. When we went to Hong Kong I’ve never seen anything like it. She literally had about 20-30 people following her around Disney Land taking photos. It was hilarious!

    • Reply Tiffany March 3, 2015 at 9:51 am

      That must of scared you! She’s like a little celebrity! I have seen the photos, she is adorable!

  • Reply Sarah @ Lady Sadie's Emporium March 3, 2015 at 9:54 am

    My first week in Abu Dhabi, a local woman picked her up out of her pram when she was 2 months old while I was looking at which milk to buy. I absolutely FREAKED out and caused quite a scene. I’ve since realised it’s just a cultural thing. Everyone loves kids over here. Back home though if someone was to pick a baby up out of its pram all hell would break loose!

  • Reply Shobha March 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    yikes! If everyone speaks to you to say hello and ask questions, then you need to leave the house earlier to get all your greetings in or be considered rude. I say good morning but never stop when I say it. Usually I’m a rushed mess in the morning and this would definitely take some getting used to.

    • Reply Tiffany March 3, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Oh yes, I spend lots of time speaking to people. Especially in the morning at work. If you really need to get stuff done, stay home! Just kidding, but I know if I have work to get done in the morning I need to go in early or hide in my office.

  • Reply Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi March 4, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I think you’re so brave to drive in another country – I’ve driven the wide, easy highways of Florid but that’s it – and that was stressful enough on the wrong side of the road!

    • Reply Tiffany March 4, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks! It isn’t too bad, but it takes practice.

  • Reply Catherine March 6, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Every time I transit through Dubai on my way back to Australia everyone stares at me, at first it made me uncomfortable too (especially as I was a young girl travelling alone), but now I just ignore it. Like you said, you just get used to it!

    C x
    Lux Life

    • Reply Tiffany March 7, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      It didn’t take long and sometimes it still catches me off guard.

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  • Reply Alex Marsh December 12, 2019 at 3:10 am

    I can relate it with my experience. Loss of translation always happens when you move out of your region. Thanks for sharing.

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