Longtime Qatar resident Glenn McKay, a Canadian expat, recently blogged about the simple spending choices he’s been making during his time here. In this guest post for Doha News, he expands upon that reflection, arguing that not all expats, even if they could afford it, crave a five-star experience while living in Doha.
Recently, I was out at a lounge at one of Qatar’s fancy hotels, catching up with some friends. I was driving, so I skipped the alcohol and just had a soda while we chatted.
When it was time for the bill, I prepared myself for what I knew would be a ridiculous charge. Sure enough, it was QR30 for one soda. Oh well. I chalked it up to the price you pay for having a pleasant time with friends – but that cost is also why I rarely go to the hotels.
As a longtime Western expat in Qatar, I tend to live a “three-star” lifestyle. I live in a small apartment in an older part of the city, like to get my dinners from small Indian or Arabic restaurants, and have owned the same little car for seven years.
I earn a good salary, but like many foreigners here, I am concerned with saving money. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to retire in comfort.
Lots of people in Qatar live more lavish lifestyles: driving expensive cars, living in beautiful villas or apartments in places like West Bay or the Pearl, and enjoying lots of fine dining.
I don’t begrudge them spending their money how they want – it’s their money after all – but a luxury lifestyle is not for me.
For me, it’s the little things, like eating a meal at a table with strangers who sat with you because the restaurant only has five tables, or haggling in a small store over the price of some shirts, or practicing my Arabic with some guys smoking shisha at cafes in the old city that make me feel like I’m experiencing this foreign land. A five-star hotel experience or dinner at a fancy restaurant could be had anywhere in the world.
Surprisingly, I’ve encountered many people here who find it strange that I don’t live like many of my Western counterparts. Plenty of times, I have been asked why I’m not driving a fancier car, or living in places like West Bay, or going out for drinks in the fancy lounges all the time, or why I don’t fly business class when I go on vacation and stay at the Ritz.
Back home in Canada, I knew almost no one who lived like this, yet here the expectation is that I should be. It’s like a luxury lifestyle is the norm rather than the exception, and that you should be spending what you earn rather than saving it.
Such a culture can have its downsides. Not every Westerner or Qatari is making big money. I’ve heard anecdotal tales of many a Qatari who have buried themselves in debt trying to live a lifestyle they couldn’t afford (I believe this is what led the Qatar Central Bank setting limits on retail loans in 2011).
And all the cars that were abandoned at the airport in Dubai during the financial crisis is an indication that plenty of foreigners in the Middle East are one or two paychecks away from being unable to pay their bills. Is this “culture of luxury” creating pressure on people to spend more than they should?
It’s tempting, but it’s not for me. So no, I don’t need a Ferrari, thanks. I’m happy with my little car.