The first time you experience Ramadan in the Middle East, it can be a pretty strange time.
All countries have their own rules, but in Qatar, work hours are reduced to 30 hours a week, eating during fasting time is illegal and all the opening hours of the shops change.
But whilst 30 hours per week sounds great, in some companies you’re still expected to do as much work as usual. Some nice managers therefore will give you overtime, others will simply turn a blind eye.
Eating in public between dawn and sunset is illegal, and punishable with a three-month jail term. I always worry that I’ll forget! The eating ban even includes drinking tea or water at your desk. Most offices will have a little room where you can go and eat a secret sandwich if you’ve brought one with you. It’s not a month to forget your lunch!
The vast majority of restaurants are shut during the day. I can think of about three places that are open, who seem to be able to operate by blacking out their windows. The rest of the cafes and restaurants start serving when the fasting ends, which is about 6:30pm this year, and stay open until about 2am.
The bars that we have in Doha, which are almost all in five-star hotels, are shut for the month. Restaurants don’t serve alcohol either. The only alcohol shop in the country, QDC, also shuts. In short, if you haven’t stocked up before Ramadan begins, you’ll have a dry month!
The larger supermarkets are open all day, but the other shops are all shut between about 2pm and 8pm. If you want to go shopping after work, it’ll be a late night! This is also when the majority of the traffic is on the roads, so expect it to take longer than usual to get anywhere.
If you need to be on the roads just before the fasting ends, you are really taking your life into your own hands. People drive like maniacs, desperate to get to their meal. If you can, you should wait until just after 6:30pm, when there is barely anyone on the roads. This is the best time to go to the supermarket!
Essentially night turns into day during Ramadan. If they can, people will have a siesta in the afternoon, then spend much of the night awake and eating. If you are waiting for a call from anyone, whether it be a doctor’s or a garage, expect that call about midnight.
Just when Ramadan ends, and you’re beginning to think that a tipple in a bar might be the order of the day, another religious festival, Eid Al-Fitr starts, so everything stays shut.
Fortunately, the closure of the shops and restaurants only lasts for one day and, even more fortunately, most people are given 3 days off work! That’s unless you’re a government employee, then it can be up to 10 days.
Which days will be a holiday are only announced about 3 days in advance, so planning a trip abroad can be difficult, but time off work is always gratefully received!