What You’ll Find in This Post:
The definition of “TIQ”
Some examples of TIQ experiences
The concept of “Arab Time” (compared to “CP Time”)
My experience embracing TIQ
The bright side of TIQ
The hangout corner of the seniors’ studio, complete with television, game system(s), snacks, kettle, area rug, inflatable chairs, and panty game controller holders.
A wise woman—a black American expat with 10 years of experience living in Qatar—told me before I even came to the country that I should get accustomed to “TIQ”, “This is Qatar”. In saying that, she was referring to the fact that some things in Qatar are just . . . slow.
At first, I didn’t understand; how can a whole country be summed up to “slow”?
Well, I gradually learned that “slow” meant a lot of different things. It meant that others could take longer than the usual to respond to emails (even the important ones about funds, housing, enrollment, and residency status), and that’s not even factoring in time difference or their Sunday-Thursday work week. It also meant that when they did respond to emails, they may not really answer your question. It meant that getting the runaround was commonplace. It meant that people would often show up late to damn near any event, even the ones where timeliness seemed objectively important.
It meant that plenty of people would take extra days around holiday breaks, and those people always seemed to be the only ones around who could answer your question or perform a certain task. It meant that some of the websites were seemingly barely managed and probably not updated when you’d expect them to be. It meant that communication was often subpar. It meant that dates could be based on last year’s calendar and deadlines for most things were soft. It meant that instructions could be terribly vague, and expectations were at times pretty low.
This was in great contrast to the U.S. because, like many Western countries, the U.S. socially expects things like punctuality and timely communication, to the point where we get offended when someone doesn’t follow through with those social cues. We also have a tendency to assume that the rules (when it comes to minor things, like getting into a full class) can’t be shifted, a belief that isn’t entirely unfounded, because attempts to work around preestablished rules are often met with a metaphorical secretary dismissively pointing at the “Rules & Regulations” list posted on the wall. In short, the U.S. isn’t known for its social or regulatory “wiggle room” in most circumstances.
That wasn’t the case in Qatar, though. Instead of inherent timeliness and a “rules are rules” mentality, there was a low sense of urgency and more focus on the issue at hand (as opposed to the rules surrounding it). Qatar felt very laid back all the time . . . for better or worse.
Let me just list some examples:
Here’s some of the things I experienced in 2018 as an exchange student:
Class: Always started late because students always showed up late. They weren’t a hurried, flushed, phew, I made it! kind of late, they were a casual Frappuccino-sipping kind of late.
Syllabus: Don’t get me wrong, syllabi usually shift a bit as the semester goes on, but I had never gotten a syllabus that became obsolete after the first month.
Ads for school events: Gallery shows, midday uni celebrations, discussion panels, community get-togethers—whatever the event—I wouldn’t see an ad about it until somewhere between two days and two hours before it was set to start. At first, I thought it was just me, that maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention to announcement emails or posters, but the lack of attendance at some of these events suggested perhaps I wasn’t the only one who got the memo late. It makes me wonder what events I never heard about, and thus, completely missed out on.
Photo ID: Before arriving in the country, we exchange students were told to send in a portrait of us with a white background, however, no one mentioned it was for our government-issued Qatari ID. That said, I didn't send them a professional passport-esque photo, I sent them a general photo of me with white background (in which I looked pretty goofy: Glasses on, bright yellow shirt, huge earrings, mini buns, and a big smile on my round apple face). Well, apparently this photo didn't fly, as was the case with the other exchange students's photos (except for one). So, we were told to go retake our photographs at the mall . . . thing is, they didn't tell us what exactly was wrong with our original photos, so we didn't even know what to do differently in our new photos. Either way, we took them, paid for them, and turned them in to our sponsor, and when we got our ID cards, lo and behold, they used our original photos anyway.
Graduation: As graduates, we were supposed to be there two hours before it was set to start, but most students got there about 30 minutes before it was set to start. I gotta be honest, though, a part of me regretted arriving on time; I would have been a lot less hungry, been a lot less stressed, and used a lot less data if I’d stayed at home a while longer.
Returning from break: Imagine, winter break ends on, let’s say, January 3rd, but a fifth of the student body doesn’t make their way back to class until January 11th. And imagine that when these students’ friends simply explained to the teacher that “So-and-so is still in London [on vacation],” the professors were like . . . “Okay.” This led to my first week of Spring Semester at VCUQ was slow to pick up, slower than I was accustomed to at VCU-Richmond. In Richmond, by the end of the first week—and sometimes even before break is over—you’ve got your “required materials” list and first assignment, all the while trying to gather enough information to determine whether or not a class worth dropping.
Housing: Their office was only open from 9am – 1pm throughout the week, which made email correspondences extra slow (and walk-ins near impossible to attend as a full-time student). Even still, asking them direct questions about, for example, costs and deadlines would usually prompt them to say, ask the housing liaison at your university, who also wouldn’t have the answer (because they were waiting for an answer from Housing).
QF Finance: You know, the people who you turn in your money to when you need to pay for things like tuition and housing. Yeah, they never responded to emails . . . ever. And finding them proved to be a little tricky because they had moved from some obscure trailers to a real office behind a coffee shop in the QF Building, but not everyone had gotten the memo (which meant a lot of misinformation kept crossing my path).
But why was it like this?
When it came to punctuality, people usually referred to this sort of lackadaisical vibe as “Arab Time”, which was immediately comparable to the concept of “Colored People’s Time” in the U.S. Basically, both terms suggest that the demographic in question is expected to be late for any and all events.
Home in the States, “CP Time” is considered offensive, stereotypical, and a term that falls into the category of “things people who aren’t black definitely shouldn’t say” (if you’re ever in doubt). Remember, since the end of slavery, blacks in the U.S. have been trying to prove that they are just as capable, reliable, intelligent, and motivated as their white counterparts and the belief in CP Time (as well as the occasional acceptance of CP Time within the black community) really works against the argument that black people are up to snuff.
Qatar was different, though, in that it was the dominant culture that was known for this stereotype and everyone seemed to agree, including Arabs. The term “Arab Time” didn’t seem charged for Arabs in the way “CP Time” can be charged for blacks in the U.S.
But still, what’s the deal?
One of many impromptu feasts between classes. Perhaps this was all about people valuing relationships, community, and nourishment . . . even if it meant being late to class.
That said, it seems like the concept of “Arab Time” is an extension of Arab cultural values. For example, in this Wordpress article, the writer expresses that perhaps Arab culture simply values other things, like family and relationships, before punctuality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an aspect of their culture, like how all cultures value different things over others.
I thought it was funny, though, that whenever someone asked, “Are you coming to the thing tonight/tomorrow?” the other person would respond “Yeah, inshallah!”. Technically, they’re saying, “Yes, I will come, god willing.” However, socially “inshallah” just seemed to be a nice way of saying “no” or “I’ll probably get there eventually maybe”.
Try to embrace it
Stop and smell the flowers. Breathe. You’ve got time.
It can benefit you
Let’s face it, no matter how motivated and punctual you are, having wiggle room for an assignment, event, or meeting is a good feeling. It eases anxiety, it adds a sense of comfort, and it gives you some unanticipated space to breathe. Even though the punctuality problems, communication gaps, and lack of responsiveness may initially drive you crazy, don’t be too upset.
This is especially useful when the unpredictability of life suddenly throws you not only a curveball, but knocks you over hard in a foreign country with no WiFi.
Let me explain.
I was in Istanbul the week my final exam papers were due. My exams were finished, and I was going to turn them in when I got back to Qatar, but—long story short—I got stuck in a Turkish airport with no WiFi to email the documents to my professors before the deadline. However, the go-with-the-flow attitude of Qatar made it so that my professors essentially said, “No problem, just send it when you get back.” I know, there were probably a couple of variables at play that made them okay with my late submission (like that I was genuinely couldn’t send them my papers, grades didn’t need to be officially submitted until a week a later, and the fact that I was a responsible student otherwise), but this was the first time I had never run into any hurdles when it comes to something like this. I can’t help but wonder if Qatar’s general chillness had something to do with it.
Other expats embraced it
It’s true that most of the people who tended to show up on time and communicate quickly (and effectively) weren’t Arab. However, it still wasn’t uncommon for non-Arab expats living in Qatar to seemingly lack a sense of urgency. Perhaps it was from living in the country for so long—the effect of falling in line with dominant social cues—but it’s proof that it wasn’t strictly Arabs who were on “Arab time”.
Everyone is different!
Not everyone in Qatar was chill when it came to time, and not every event waited an extra 30 minutes for the bulk of its audience to show up. There were still plenty of punctual people in the mix because that’s just who they were. People who showed up on time, people who expected you to show up on time, people who responded to emails, and people who answered questions directly and did their best to minimize runaround. So, don’t walk into the country with a big proud bucket of stereotypes; I tell you these things just to let you know that this is what I experienced and an experience that a lot of other expatriates could attest to.
That said, even though embracing the TIQ vibes seemed beneficial to me at time, I still did my best to show up to gatherings on time, turn in work when it was due, and let people know when I was running late because that’s how I functioned best.
So, in conclusion
The hangout corner made a deconstructed guest appearance at our senior showcase.
Look on the bright side
Though this makes the vein in my realist-borderline-pessimist head bulge, just look on the bright side, you guys. Deadline moved to next week for the third time? Great, now you've got some free time (to hobby, side hustle, explore, or get some other work done early). No one has responded to your emails within the week? Is the person you need on vacation until Tuesday? Alright, email them again, or call, or do a walk-in, or just wait, because that’s 100% out of your control.
And if you’re worried about penalty, well, the people in Qatar seemed to recognize situations where you, as the student/question-asker, have done nothing wrong. And when random, out of your control things happen to you, people seemed to genuinely understand, more so than the people I’ve experienced in the U.S. As hippie-dippie as this sounds, people in Qatar seemed more understanding of the human experience. People were more compassionate, more willing to make things happen, and less strict about the rules when it came to helping someone out, especially students with simple requests like sending mail, or turning in assignments, or participating in graduation.
If you're a crazy ambitious, overly inquisitive, compulsively proactive, obsessive time manager who loves clear and timely communication, the vibes in Qatar may drive you up a wall. It drove me up a wall for the entirety of my predeparture and for the first three weeks of me being in the country. Then . . . I let it go. It wasn’t an easy task, but I realized that at the end of the day—even if that day was a week later than anticipated—things got done. Even if that thing was technically late, even if that thing was mega important biz about finances or immigration, and even if I had been given the runaround for a bit, when that thing was finally dealt with, it was dealt with. No problem, no penalty, no stress . . . everything was fine.
I repeat, for all my fellow anxious overachievers: Everything was fine.