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Exploring Qatari Culture

by Rita Di Antonio

As expats, we seldom learn much about Qatar beyond the obvious traditions and religious customs. Embrace Doha strives to break this trend by offering authentic cultural experiences to expats, visitors and people doing business in Qatar.

Founded in 2014 by Amal Alshammari, Embrace Doha is not your average tourist attraction—behind the curtains of Doha’s glitz and glamour, it aims to help expats discover Qatari culture and the traditions behind today’s lifestyle.

“The inspiration behind Embrace Doha is also a funny story,” says Alshammari. “Prompted by my brothers, I started wearing a veil on my face at work a few years back and my colleagues started asking me questions, which rapidly went beyond my own attire: they wanted to know why I wear an abaya, why women wear black while the traditional men’s costume is white, and so on. At first, my answers were defensive: if they asked me why I wear an abaya, I would ask them in return why they wear jeans. Then I realised I actually couldn’t answer some of the questions and I wanted to know more myself. I started talking to my mother, reading books, asking old people at the souq—I went to the root of some of the things we do in Qatar today, things I took for granted. Once I had gathered enough information on a specific topic, I would go back to my colleagues with the answer. It wasn’t long till I saw the business opportunity in this trivia.”

Embrace Doha organises public and private cultural sessions for individuals, families and companies to help them acquire a better understanding of the lifestyle, customs, culture and history, as well as the business etiquette in Qatar and the Gulf region.

Embrace Doha events hinge on Qatari hospitality and traditions. “The idea is to give Qataris and expats a platform to meet and exchange knowledge,” explains Alshammari. “We show attendees how to greet and welcome people the Qatari way, in a bid to help expats overcome the awkwardness that can occur when meeting a Qatari for the first time—like whether or not one is supposed to shake hands”.

All events end with a Q&A, which is not always a walk in the park for Alshammari. “I have to prepare and do a lot of reading beforehand, because the Qatari people is made of different tribes, so I cannot only answer from the point of view of the tribe I come from—I must represent all Qataris fairly and at the same time explain this diversity to my clients.”

Embrace Doha also organises two flagship events a year: a Ramadan induction and iftar buffet dedicated to tasting the food, understanding the dos and don’ts, and discovering the Qatari routine during the holy month; and one event in conjunction with Qatar National Day celebrations in December.

During Ramadan 2017, Embrace Doha partnered with the Mall of Qatar and hosted a number of booths in the mall with activities that included henna, Arabic calligraphy, an Arabic coffee stand, an oud band and even a Garangao booth handing sweet treats to the little ones.

“Embrace Doha gave me and my family a unique opportunity to discover Qatari cultural traditions when we moved to Doha,” says Portuguese expat Aldina Fernandez. “I was privileged to attend one of their events and I learned so much about the local culture, gastronomy and history, but also about respecting the local culture and dress code. I was utterly impressed by Qataris’ attachment to their traditions. Embrace Doha truly embodies Doha’s cultural diversity.”

Qatar’s National Vision 2030 is at the heart of Embrace Doha’s mission, and very close to its founder’s own heart. “I believe my business can contribute to solving one of the challenges envisioned by the National Vision, which is striking a balance between modernisation and preservation of national traditions and identity,” says Alshammari. “I see an opportunity for Embrace Doha to raise cultural awareness among expats while at the same time reminding Qataris about our own heritage. The flow of knowledge has to go both ways—I learned a lot myself since the start of my business adventure.”

For more information, upcoming events, or to book a private event, visit embracedoha.net, or follow Embrace Doha on Facebook or Instagram.