Edit: I wrote this post shortly after I arrived in Doha. If you’d like to read a similar post comparing Doha to Dubai written six months later, click here.
As soon as people find out I moved to Doha from Dubai, they want to know all about it. “Which do you like better?” they ask, and I can tell by their expression they’re expecting me to start slating Doha. The truth is, I like it here. I felt in my heart when I got my new job that taking it was the right choice. I decided that I was going to like Qatar, and it was the best decision I made in a while.
In my five years in the Middle East, I had never even taken a weekend trip to Qatar and the warnings from my friends in Dubai were dire. Traffic is awful, the people aren’t friendly, the cost of living is higher, the standard of living is lower, there’s no infrastructure, moving to Doha would be a huge mistake and I’d be back within six months… I have to admit, it was pretty scary, but then I realised that almost all of the people telling me these horror stories had actually never been to Doha. Their opinions were based on gossip and rumour, and for the most part they just aren’t true. Later, I started talking to people who had lived in the city, and their view was a lot more positive.
When I went to see for myself, I found a great little city. There’s a community feel here that you just don’t get in Dubai, which can seem like a concrete jungle in the beginning. I can see why people would rather raise families here. I felt really lonely during my first six months in Dubai, and I don’t feel like that here. That might be more to do with where I’m at in my life than either of the cities, but I think there is a welcoming, open atmosphere here that helps. In Dubai, I felt like I had to fend for myself.
I love seeing the dhows and the fishing boats along the Corniche. Dubai sometimes feels like a city that has no history, and while that’s not totally true, you have to hunt for it. Watching the little fishing boats going in and out of the bay feels like a little bit of history right in front of you. In general, it feels more like an Arabic country than Westernised Dubai, and that might feel like a drawback to some, but I enjoy exchanging salam alykum’s with shopkeepers and greeting my colleagues with ‘sabah al khair’ in the morning.
I also really like Qatar’s focus on museums; the Museum of Islamic Art is the only one I’ve been to so far, and it was a really interesting way to pass a couple of hours. Some people criticise, saying none of the exhibits are Qatari, they’re brought from around the world, but to me this isn’t a problem – in fact, most major international museums do the same. In the same way, huge efforts are being made to turn Doha into a regional jazz hub, with Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, the Oryx, and lots of other places with a focus on live music.
I’ve heard the same criticism in Dubai, that they are trying to import culture that doesn’t traditionally exist in the Gulf, but it’s important to remember these cities have only existed for a few decades – naturally, they aren’t going to be able to compare in historical terms with the centuries of tradition and culture that exist in Europe. If anything, I think it’s great that they are trying, and it should be commended, not criticised.
Of course, Dubai has advantages over Doha – there’s more choice in terms of things to do, places to eat and nightlife, but Doha is making sterling efforts to catch up. And anyone who has gotten lost in the Dubai Mall (or its car park) might argue Dubai has too much choice – so much that it’s almost impossible to take it all in. Doha does need to make strides in terms of public transport and regulating the taxi service, and managing traffic better. It would do the city the world of good if they brought city planners in from Europe or the States to rework the road network somehow.
For now, I’m really looking forward to visiting friends in Dubai who became family while I was living there – I know it’s going to be awesome to go back there for weekends, but I’m really happy to be living here in Doha.