Tag Archives: Qatar

It’s easy to hate soccer

So it’s the World Cup, where third-world nations and Euro-trash get to rejoice at their superiority, in at least one realm, over America (and the politically-correct media like the New York Times and ESPN get to lament how uncouth Americans are for not getting with the program, at least until immigration takes its toll and we come to cherish mamacita and fútball and empañadas).  Fine, let ’em have their diversion.  We loathe soccer:

1. It is utterly corrupt at every level, from selection of the World Cup hosts to officiating in matches to recruiting players. This is not surprising when you give huge sums of money to unaccountable bureaucracies staffed by hacks, Eurocrats, and self-styled dealmakers with third-world values. We are certain that every purchasing and hiring decision make by FIFA and national organizations is completely corrupt. In fact, the entire enterprise is an embodiment of a third-world mentality.  One has to love how Sepp Blatter, the blowhard head of FIFA whose tone deafness makes Hillary Clinton seem like Zubin Mehta, talks about how he wants to be re-elected so that he can clean up the corruption in the organization.  Memo to Sepp:  you’ve been at the helm for 16 years.

Countries and individuals that can ill afford it spend way too many intellectual and economic resources pursuing soccer. No doubt productivity will be even lower in Brazil during the World Cup than it normally is (to the extent that that’s even possible), as rabid followers care more about the game than about feeding their families.  Dictatorships like Russia squander national wealth just for the ego-boost of hosting the tournament. Rich third-world countries like Qatar import players from war-torn countries and give them passports to play on the national team. Yet, amusingly, these teams still lose, because they fail to grasp that to build a culture of success requires strategic thinking, long-term planning, and patience—virtues that such countries are incapable of adopting—by building an infrastructure to identify and cultivate talent from a young age. (We suppose it’s reassuring that soccer victory is one outcome for which money cannot buy quick-fix success.)

Of course, all of these follies parallel those of the “Olympic movement.”

2. It inspires thuggery. “Soccer hooligan” is a redundancy. If only fans would devote as much energy to intellectual pursuits—or to going to work—as they do to following their teams at the pub and the stadium, world GDP would be higher. Crazed fans murder players who make mistakes. Riots at and after games ensnare innocent bystanders. Players shamelessly and comically “flop,” and get away with it, as an epidemic. The cringe induced by a grown man diving to the ground, clutching some body part and wailing in faux pain, then popping his head up to see if a penalty was called if he is brushed in the slightest by an opposing player is enough reason to turn the TV off right away.  Players adopt the same banal celebration every time they score:  running wild, with a grin like a five-year-old who just stuck his face into a huge bowl of chocolate pudding.  We prefer the advice from our little-league coach:  Act like you’ve been there before.

It’s amusing—though parallel to the priorities of universities, government agencies, and similar politically-correct bureaucracies—that FIFA cares more about fans chanting “racist” slogans than about corruption.  They even punish national teams or federations for their fans’ words, as if they are responsible.  It’s a convenient distraction from the real rot wrought by FIFA.

3. The formats are stupid. In the World Cup and Olympics, the first round is round-robin (three games per team) and the successive rounds of the tournament are single-elimination. This is contrary to every other sport, in which a team has to win the same number or more games in later rounds (e.g., baseball, in which the first wild-card game is single-elimination, then the division series is best-of-five, then the league championship and world series are best-of-seven). Soccer’s format makes less sense because a good team is less likely to lose in a fluke in a longer series, and you’d think that you would want your better teams to battle it out in a more legitimate test of superiority.  Not to mention that it would seem preferable to have more games when the quality of play is higher and when the teams at that stage have earned it.  (As an analogy, we have an infinitely higher probability of defeating Phil Mickelson in a single-hole golf match than in an 18-hole round.)

Many national and international series are best-of-two. Who ever heard of such a thing? The series invariably go to some absurd tiebreaker, like whichever team has the most natural-born citizens wins (actually, that would be a good one).

It’s the only sport in which the clock moves forward, not backward. Instead of the obvious logic of stopping it when there’s a break in the action, they keep it running and then add an arbitrary, and approximate, amount of time at the end to make up for the delays.  Meanwhile, the team that’s ahead stalls for time.  One never really knows how long the game will go. And there seems to be no mechanism to add more time in a second instance if time during the first extension is squandered.

When a game cannot end in a tie, such as an elimination game, each team gets a number of “shootout” kicks against solely the goalie.  This is also a silly way to end a game; 75% of such kicks are successful, so—speaking of flukes—the winner is basically the beneficiary of random chance.  Our solution would be to just keep playing until someone scores; perhaps remove one player from each team every 15 minutes.

They use stupidly ambiguous, unique, and highfalutin terms like “pitch” (for field); “match” (for game); “fixture” (for future game); “friendly,” which is supposed to be an adjective not a noun (for exhibition game), etc. ESPN.com seems to be trying too hard in calling the standings “tables.”  (ESPN, an American site, even writes its World Cup recaps in pretentious British English, with a healthy dose of overwrought floridity.)

4. It’s boring. Most “strategy” seems to involve keeping the ball away from the other team and hoping for a miracle goal, many of which come by own goals. Almost every game seems to end 0-0 or 1-0. The over/under on number of goals scored is two for every single game. (Betting the over and paying referees to gift goal opportunities is how fixers usually succeed—it would be simple to obviate this process by making it impossible to know in advance who the referees will be for a given game, but they don’t bother). When one points out the obvious tedium of the game, a self-righteous fan will inevitably respond that “you just don’t understand it.” These same pretentious lemmings call it “the beautiful game”; we prefer Steve Czaban’s moniker: “the dreadful game.”

But it’s true that we don’t understand soccer.  We actually don’t want to.  We don’t understand why coaches never replace a player with a yellow card (if he gets a second yellow card, then the team has to play short-handed for the rest of the game and the player has to sit out the next game), or why they never replace the goalie with a striker when they’re down 1-0 at the end, or why they never seem to play with any urgency even when they’re behind.  We don’t understand why, after the goalie gets possession after a stopped goal attempt, he usually launches the ball three-quarters of the way down the field—giving his team a 50/50 chance of picking it up—instead of dumping it off to one of his own defenders and ensuring that his team keeps possession.

Soccer is an animalistic affair. The game’s premise is to nullify one of the key evolutionary advantages—manual dexterity derived from bipedalism—that separates humans from other land mammals. Feral thug Luis Suarez exemplifies how the game turns men into lower animals by repeatedly biting his opponents.

Very few states of affairs console us about United States culture to a greater extent than do our poor soccer results and indifference about the game.

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Open letter to a professional considering a move to Qatar

Dear Professional Expatriate,

Congratulations! You are a Western mid-career or senior professional who has been offered a job in Qatar. As someone who has reached a high position for a non-Qatari in a Qatari company, I can offer you some advice to help you consider whether the life is for you.

1. Business values are not like what you are used to

Qatar society does not believe in the “golden rule.”  In America, you can assume that most people in business believe in integrity and fair play.  Of course there are exceptions, but, in general, business in the Western, especially Anglo-Saxon, world is based on shared values of mutual respect, egalitarianism, and a dedication to foundational ethics.  This is simply not true in the Gulf Arab countries.  Society is inherently opaque and corrupt (more on that later).  You will see this in the workplace every day.

Qatari society, like other eastern cultures, is insular, collectivist, and conformist.  You can see it in superficial ways, such as the way people dress and the cars that they drive, but these values will also manifest themselves in the workplace.  Whereas back home, your boss appreciates it if you challenge his conclusions or get him to think in new ways, this is not the norm in Qatar.  The concept of “face,” as in east Asian cultures, is paramount.

The society has difficulty in abstract thinking—expect blank stares when you present your proposed strategy or long-term business plan, but expect a lot of feedback once the product is produced and the owner demands changes that should have been addressed in the design phase.

2. The economy is driven by the state

Qatar practices a form of state capitalism, with the corresponding healthy dose of red tape.  Almost all economic activity falls into three realms.  In both extraction of petroleum and construction of infrastructure, the state joins with foreign companies and takes royalties and creates jobs for locals.  The third pillar is the service sector, characterized by highly uncompetitive companies with low productivity sapping up state-originated cash and credit to try to diversify the economy.  You will see that the economy basically consists of oil-and-gas money sloshing around on vanity projects, with healthy cuts taken by Qataris at every step in the value chain (such as it is).

There is almost no foreign direct investment in Qatar outside the petroleum industry, and Qatari companies hardly produce any other products or services that can be competitively exported.  However, to a greater extent than any Gulf country, Qatar’s petroleum reserves are practically unlimited, so there is a vast pool of money to be invested domestically.

This “investment” is probably why you were offered the job.  The elite class is smart enough to know that it needs foreign help, to a degree.  You will enter with some measure of respect from your bosses, but they will invariably remind you on occasion (implicitly and explicitly) that they are the bosses and that you are a guest in their country.  (Perhaps the West could learn from Qatar in how to manage immigration.)  Foreigners operate on the so-called sponsorship system, under which their sponsor (employer) must give permission to change employers, open a bank account, import personal effects, get a driving license or buy a car, or, most importantly, travel outside the country.  Your job will likely be “Qatarized” eventually, perhaps in abrupt manner.  All companies are mandated to hire Qataris, who will generally be unproductive because they are not held accountable for anything.

Due to all of these dynamics, one of the most important pieces of advice that I can give you is to not invest any of your own money in the country.  You will have no rights if you invest in a property or a commercial venture.  The stock market is completely rigged.  In fact, you should transfer most of your cash flow to a bank outside the country.  Cases of expatriates’ bank accounts being frozen, for accused malfeasance (which are often spuriously initiated by their bosses to distract from their own malfeasance, or to express their frustration at some other perceived grievance) or for no reason at all, are numerous and predictable.

3. Social ethics are not like what you are used to

You will also experience surprising cultural norms outside the workplace.  Experiencing how other cultures live should be one of the benefits of taking a job abroad, and you will find this one of the more intriguing parts of your experience should you move.  Qatar society is defined by Qatari culture, of course, though because Qataris make up only around 15% of the population, there are other influences too—imported largely from Iran, the Levant, and the Indian subcontinent.  There are many benefits of this cultural milieu, but unfortunately there are also many facets that will frustrate you as an American.  The social structure is crudely hierarchical; Qataris are at the top, naturally, though there is a hierarchy there, too, with a few elite families at the very top, followed by the middle which gets fewer privileges, and then Qataris with Iranian or African heritage, which is discernible from their names or skin color, often looked down upon and bestowed with fewer privileges from the government.  Next are Americans and other Westerners, who inherently benefit from positive prejudice in the job market as well as the marketplace for goods and services.  Arabs from Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan (though not if they are Shiites) enjoy high status economically and socially; many of your upscale business colleagues will be from there.  Egyptians followed by other North African Arabs tend to get fewer opportunities.  Filipinos are ubiquitous in retail and hospitality, but rarely in white-collar jobs.  Indians are a wild card—they can be CEOs or laborers or anything in between.  (In fact, Qatar culture is tied closely to that of India; Qatar used the Indian rupee as its currency until the 1960s.)  Most other South and Southeast Asians are represented much lower on the job scale.

Even worse is the social discrimination.  Friday is “family day” at the mall, which nominally means that no unaccompanied men are allowed.  In practice, this means “no Indians”—as an American, you will waltz right in.  You will encounter Nepali and other South Asian “security guards” all over—at office buildings, residential compounds, and parking lots, as well as by the door to the mall on Fridays.  Don’t worry, as an American you will just tell them that you are passing and then do so.

When people ask me to describe the culture in Qatar, the best word I can think of is “coarse.”  Qataris, as well as the rest of the culture, are generally impatient, aggressive, and discourteous.  They have a reputation for hospitality, which is well-deserved, but this is usually superficial and only prevalent on their turf.  In public, you will be shocked at the lack of respect that most people in Qatar show toward others—this is especially true when driving or parking, or standing in line at the ministry or the market.  If you stay in Qatar long enough, you, too, will become more impatient and aggressive.

This region, like all Arab Islamic cultures, does not value the pursuit of knowledge, the challenge of conventional thinking, or self-reflection in general.  You won’t find any bookstores like back home.  The annual book fair mostly features Korans.  The media, through self-censorship and strict regulation, only parrots the government line.  The internet is heavily filtered. I suggest that you bring your Kindle with you to Qatar.

4. There is no rule of law

You read the news, about the progress that Qatar seems to be making to develop its economy and please the world.  You have probably been offered a professional-looking employment contract.  Make no mistake—your chances of ever enforcing that contract in a court are nil.  The chances are even less if your adversary (employer) is a particularly influential Qatari.  There are entities to which you can turn—the Human Rights committee, Labor department, police—but engaging them will inevitably lead you to a black hole that will do you more professional harm than benefit.  The country is sensitive to its reputation these days, with all of the media reports about worker abuse leading up to the World Cup, but, fairly or not, a low-level laborer is more likely to get a remedy than a professional Westerner.  In any event, the legal system is not predictable at all.

Qatar is a corrupt country.  Most private wealth is generated by nepotism, inside dealing with the state, which basically controls all economic activity, or outright theft.  Every project takes much longer and costs much more than it should, or never gets completed at all.  You will be frustrated at your lack of ability to get things done in your job.  You can expect your Qatari boss to hire and give contracts to family and friends, or people connected with influential Qataris whom he wants to cultivate.  You can expect him to receive kickbacks from suppliers large and small; in some cases he will even force you to choose suppliers that he owns.  You may have the opportunity to reap such “benefits” yourself; I would of course discourage acceptance.

In dealing with the government, too, you will see corruption, though hopefully not directly, as your company will have a “fixer” to take care of the myriad licenses, permits, approvals, and inspections that your company must endure in order to operate.  There are no set rules behind any of these regulations, at least that are enforced uniformly.  Your company’s fixer will have a trunk full of prepaid phone cards, iPads, TVs, and smart phones to dole out to government functionaries—as if the generously overpaid Qatari at the ministry counter needs another one.  I think that they demand such gratuities as much to demonstrate their power as to enrich themselves.

5. It’s their money

Remember, it’s their money, so they can do whatever they want.  An owner of a private company has the prerogative to run the company any way he wants.  Indeed, I wish that our governments back home would impose fewer regulations on the conduct of a private organization toward its employees.  If an owner wants to operate in an unethical or non-commercial way, running the company for his short-term private benefit to the detriment of the enterprise, it’s his right.  (It gets murkier in a publicly-traded, widely-held, or state-owned enterprise, but not in Qatar.)

You can choose to take the job or not.  If you come to Qatar expecting to really make a difference with highly fulfilling work in a vigorous capitalist system, you will likely be disappointed.  If you want to earn a good salary and contribute a little bit to at least sleep at night knowing that you’re not cheating your employer, then there is a moderate chance that you will find such a situation.

Best of luck.  Please let me know if you decide to go!

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How to Drive Like a Qatari

1. You should always be either accelerating or braking.

2. If you want to move multiple lanes at the same time, for example, if you are in the right-most lane but want to enter a left-turn lane just ahead, then you should calculate the minimum distance needed for your car to move over and initiate your turn accordingly. It does not matter whether there there are cars in the lanes in between your current position and your destination; they will swerve or slam on their brakes if necessary to avoid you.

3. If you are in the leftmost lane on the road and desire to move ahead of the car ahead of you, the proper procedure is to pull to within 50cm behind him and flash your high-beam headlights repeatedly. If this doesn’t achieve your objective, then repeat the procedure while honking your horn. If the driver doesn’t hear the horn, then you should clench your fists, pivot your arms at the elbows, and oscillate your forearms rapidly and repeatedly above the steering wheel, while moving your lips, all in view through his rear-view mirror of the driver in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you and the car in front are travelling at well over the posted speed limit, or if there is another car 50cm in front of the car in front of you, or if there is another car in the lane on the right directly aligned with the car in front of you—the car in front is expected to give way to you.

4. The seatbelt is only necessary in the event you get in a crash, and only bad drivers get in crashes. Ergo, wearing your seatbelt is an indication to others that you are a bad driver.

5. On the left-hand side of the steering column on most cars, a post juts out behind the steering wheel. This is known as a “turn indicator.” Lifting or lowering it causes small lights to flash on the front and rear of the car on the right side or left side, respectively. Since this device does not impact your operation of the car, and its primary purpose is merely for courtesy—to alert oncoming traffic or pedestrians that you intend to turn—there is no need to ever use it.

6. There are posted speed limits on most roads in Qatar, and radar devices in many places that may issue automated fines and demerits against your driving record if you exceed the respective limits. However, you have a friend or family member at the traffic department who can relieve the fine, so no need to worry about this. In the event that you are unable to remedy a fine, you can bring a friend with you to the traffic department and tell the official there that your friend was driving your car and the demerits should be issued to him instead of to you. This also works if you receive an impertinent fine for proceeding through an intersection when the traffic signal is red. If your friends are not available, then you can engage an Indian or Nepali laborer (it is not necessary that he speak English or Arabic) and compensate him nominally for his time and his assistance in accompanying you to the traffic department.

7. Leaving the plastic wrapping over the seats, the factory decals on the side windows, or the dealer invoice hanging from the rear-view mirror are ways to signal to other drivers that you are prosperous because you have a new car. This tactic can work even if you have had your car for years.

8. Praying at mosque is your duty and your pleasure several times per day. To facilitate this objective, you are free to park your car anywhere in the vicinity of the mosque, even inside the boundaries of a traffic lane.

9. Remember, you are the most important person on the road. Your time is of immeasurable value. Everyone else on the road is just a guest in your country. You must get to your make-work job, or your shisha outing with your friends, or your shopping trip at the mall, with the utmost urgency. Even if there is a long queue at the left-turn lane at an intersection, it is perfectly acceptable to cut into the queue from the right at the front (please see above for the technique), even if it blocks those unimportant motorists who are attempting to proceed straight through the intersection. By the same token, you can use the superfluous shoulders or sidewalks if they offer a more direct route. Similarly, if you are running an errand or retrieving a friend, it is acceptable to stop anywhere you like, even if it blocks traffic. Switching your hazard lights on in such a circumstance is optional. “Laws,” “etiquette,” “courtesy,” and so forth are abstract concepts—all of which are transcended by your mandate to get to your destination.

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