When I compare, Qatar today with Qatar of five years ago, there is a notable change in the landscape. Infrastructure, Ikea, more Malls, sure, but the most welcome difference is the increased number of Irish families now living in Qatar. Not only is it always nice to meet someone from home but it is somewhat reassuring to know that people are still emigrating, thus adding weight to my decision to flee.
It’s true my initial plan was to befriend as many different nationalities as possible and someday sit midst my cosmopolitan friends and silently commend myself on being part of such a multicultural group. Smiling smugly at the broad spectrum of people I had collected and forged friendships with, I would host the best parties, and giggle knowingly when taking the sausages away from my Arab friend, the alcohol away from my Hindu friend and the beef away from my Vegan friend. Able to cater for all, there would be prayer mat and an ashtray on the veranda, I would tell them stories of my old life in Ireland and listen with interest to their stories about their upbringing in Sicily, Baku or Nigeria.
The reality however works out a little different. Firstly, you would never serve sausages at such a sophisticated gathering and secondly, birds of feather stick together and the compulsion to draw close to your own is unavoidable. The minute you see the red, skinned heels of a fair skinned lass wearing a pair of Penney’s sandals, your interest is piqued, could it be, could this person be Irish, or better again, could she be from Cork! A Michael Kors handbag, freckles, a down to earth nature and she packs her own shopping, all tell-tale signs, that you’re looking at an Irish girl. You hone in on her, and of course ask the top three questions that everyone asks.
Where are you from? To which she replies, Ireland and to which you reply, but where? Needing the county, the village, wanting to know the parish because it is vital to know that kind of information, what parish you came from can tell an awful lot about a person. Carrig or Bally, could be a make or break point in the friendship.
Second question is what industry is your husband working in? Shocking to know that not every Irish guy out here is involved in the construction industry, some are teachers, accountants, doctors, paramedics, chefs, the list continues, amazingly, as I had just assumed they were all civil engineers. Also shocking that some women reply with, ‘I am working myself’, and alarmingly they are doing the same jobs.
Question three, Children? The friendship between two girls, one with kids, one without, would surely be come under pressure, as the one without would get understandably bored listening to stories about homework, cake sales and afterschool activities and the one with kids would suffer unsurmountable envy listening to which Friday brunch is best.
Even with these parameters being recognised, a friendship may not necessarily ensue. For one reason or other, perhaps the parish issue or maybe one is too sporty or doesn’t like wine enough, the friendship fails to flourish and withers to an animated ‘hello! We must get together soon’, when you bump into them in the mall, which is universal code for ‘we both know, we don’t quite fit, do we, so let’s not bother’.
Luck has a part to play as well, I mean there’s only so many times you can stalk randomers in Carrefour trying to suss out if they’re Irish or not by looking at what they’re putting in the trolley, you can just bump into the right person and right time and before you know it, and you’re fast friends. And she’s just like you, same parish, same marital status (weak but stable), same number of kids, same ambitions (easy life) so you cling to her like a linen trousers on a hot day.
Five years later, you’ve forgotten about your initial plans to become a social multi-cultural butterfly and you sit smugly at your coffee morning, looking around and quietly commending yourself on the fantastic bunch of friends you’re surrounding by. You sip Barry’s Tea and butter the Cambridge’s soda you had stashed away and smile at everyone around the table as they smile back, because guess what, they are ….just like you.