Born into a society that sells alcohol in every local convenience shop and supermarket, every day of the week and that also has designated alcohol stores, like, party shops, wine retailers and of course the run of the mill off-license, it can feel a little like strange living in Doha and not having the same access to the anesthesia to which we’ve become so accustomed. No nipping out to Super Valu for a cheeky bottle of Wally’s Hut midweek, no impulsive bottle of red whilst in the petrol station on a Friday evening to congratulate yourself on getting through another week and no temptation of a chilled pinot grigio with lunch in town on Saturday.
At this point I should clarify that as arid as the landscape in Qatar is, it is not a dry country altogether. To put a bad rumour to rights, alcohol is available in Qatar. It can be obtained for consumption in your own home if you hold a liquor license. To obtain a liquor license you need to apply through the company that sponsors you, they will follow through on the license application and you are given an allowed monthly quota in Qatar Riyals (to be treated as limit not a target). Depending on the religion and nationality stated on your passport, you will be granted a liquor license. You are not allowed to purchase alcohol for anyone else and if you do so, and get caught, it will result in deportation. Interestingly, there is a cut-off point of QR. 4000 salary per month, so those earning below that amount, are not eligible for a license, ironic, that the people probably most in need a drink can’t get one!
As there are no bars in Qatar, alcohol can only be served in hotels and only to passport holders and those that carry a Qatari ID, stating religion and sponsor details. Before you purchase a drink you must first produce all the relevant documentation to the hotel where you are then required to purchase a permit card for that premises i.e. pass to buy alcohol at that hotel and hey presto, you can then relax and enjoy the measly glass of beer that you wanted, Phew!
Having suffered the red tape in my first weeks in Doha, I gave up on the notion of having a social life outside of the sitting room with mugs of tea and Skype and I noticed that most expats in Doha, visit the QDC (Qatar Distribution Company ) just once a month and purchase their quota in one go. I would follow suit. I would visit the QDC, well actually I wouldn’t, because I personally am not allowed to purchase alcohol in Qatar, I would have to ask my husband and sponsor to pick up the estimated month’s supply, I reminded him that any alcohol purchased must be covered over and not visible in the car. My mind quickly thought of the car roof box, we had used in France three years ago, as I pulled out the largest bath towel I had to place over the offending goods in the boot space.
A trip to the QDC is an item on your to-do list, I’m told, and not the enjoyable browse down the ale aisles at home in Tesco as you stray off the beaten grocery track and take a meander through the Valpolicella’s and Chardonnays. A limited selection of overpriced, undervalued bottles is the extent of choice along with a small array of beers. In appreciation, I prepare the fattened calf (Indian take-out in this case) for the hunter’s return with the precious bounty, which has become a monthly ritual and strangely the order decreases each month. Secure in the knowledge that with significant effort and a good dollop of inconvenience that booze is available the taboo lifts and the effort required obtaining it, increases the satisfaction of each glass of wine and so re-born, we enjoy one glass of wine (large) with dinner most nights, mindful of the limited monthly allowance and the happy in the knowledge that there won’t be a glimpse of liquor in any shop or supermarket to whet the appetite. It raises the question, if alcohol wasn’t so freely available in Ireland, right there in your local supermarket somewhere between the milk and the magazines would we drink less and enjoy more?