When you live in a foreign country, as distinct from visiting as a tourist, you have to learn to do the everyday tasks that at home are so familiar you just do them without having to think about it. We have been in Qatar for almost 4 months now, and although we are pretty settled now, we often face new challenges and experiences which force us to think about things we have always taken for granted. One such experience is shopping for groceries.

Not everyone loves grocery shopping, and I can understand that. It is one of those recurring chores that just has to be done whether you feel like it or not. In a foreign country, you often can’t get the ingredients you are used to from home, and that can be frustrating and disappointing. However, most of the time I really enjoy shopping here in Doha, and here are some reasons why.

While it is true that there have been times I can’t find a particular product (I haven’t been able to find poppy seeds anywhere) there are many more items that I’ve never seen back home. I love scanning the supermarket shelves and perusing the many products that I am not familiar with. There are fruits and vegetables, tins and packets which I don’t recognise and have no idea how to eat / cook / serve. Even many familiar item appear to have many more varieties. It’s fun to try new things and learn about produce that to me is very exotic but to people from other countries is just normal. Some people get frustrated because they can’t find the things they are comfortable with, but I’m enjoying the adventure of learning new things. And I can buy vegemite here, so all is not lost!

Since this whole country is desert, there is no local agriculture to speak of. Everything is imported, from surrounding Middle Eastern countries, but also all over the world. I love the way each item in the fresh produce section is marked with a little flag showing where it is from.  It is like a trip around the world every time I go to the supermarket.

I especially enjoy seeing how often the Australian flag appears. I was not aware that we exported so many different products. Considering how far away Australia is, and how small our population, it makes me proud to see that we do make a mark on the world stage. I had an Aussie lamb roast for dinner last night and it was delicious.

As I wander around the stores, I’m likely to hear many languages spoken amongst the shoppers, but the common language is English. Even the local people address the staff in English, because the checkout staff and packers are usually ex-pats and don’t speak Arabic themselves. I wonder how it feels not to be able to speak your own language in your own country? It is such a melting pot! I have to confess I have not learned a word of Arabic yet, but fortunately that hasn’t created a problem. It’s fun to eavesdrop on the snippets of conversations you hear amongst shoppers and try to guess where they are from.

I’ve been here long enough now, and have met so many people, that I often bump into people I know at the shops. It makes me feel like a local, and it’s lovely to stop and say hi and make connections.

One of the things that is different here compared to home is the noticeable distinction between different supermarkets. At home they are all much the same. They might stock different brands of some items, but you can pretty much walk into any supermarket in Sydney and you’ll find pretty much the same stock. Here there are very definite differences. I do most of my shopping at Carrefour, which is a French chain. Many of the packaged products have their instructions only in French, or in French and several other languages other than English, so that makes for some challenges at times. On the other hand they carry a great range of French cheeses. Spinney’s, which is close to our apartment, is a Middle Eastern chain, but they stock a lot of products from Tesco’s in the UK, so I feel almost at home there. Megamart is expensive but they carry the widest range of imported goods, particularly from the US, UK and Australia. I’ve heard it described as “like a sweet shop for homesick grown-ups”. It is the place to go for hard-to-find items. There are more, but those are three I visit the most often.

I feel a little guilty about this last one, because I know the staff are on very low wages, which makes this possible, but I am really enjoying having someone (often 2 people) pack my bags for me at the checkout, and even carry them to the car. Add to that full service when filling the car (remember those days?) and I’m feeling very pampered and lazy.

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15 Responses to Blog: Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. Kaye Rhodes says:

    Fascinating blog, Shelley! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us!

  2. adakallen adakallen says:

    WOW!
    I can’t imagine living in a foreign country! I ONLY speak English (the American version), LOL! However, I have always said I would learn the language (just like you I would learn my way around)…ADVENTURE!

    You in Qatar and Justine on a ship…what a life for both of you! and I get to see all of your pictures!

  3. Karen says:

    I loved reading of your experiences doing your grocery shopping Shelly. Thank heavens for the internet to give you translations!. Can’t wait for my stories from Qatar.

  4. Asmaan says:

    khaskhas or spelled khuskhus is pronounced same as busbus

  5. Asmaan says:

    Shelley poppy seeds are called khaskhas in hindi and I think you should be able to find it in any local store or Indian store…you can also say safed (white) khaskhas…:)

  6. Deanna Emmert says:

    You found your chai? It looks like it! So glad! 😉 Great blog, Shelley! So many things to consider and think about. Wow!

  7. Carolyn says:

    What a lovely blog! I appreciate the detailed descriptions, as always, and your photographs are exquisite, as always. And I appreciate especially that baggers at the checkout and carry out to the car is still commonplace here. I won’t take it for granted now!

    • Shelley says:

      Thanks Carolyn. Supermarkets are increasingly moving to self-service in Sydney. I quite like it as then I can pack the bags the way I like them, but I do enjoy being looked after here in Doha!

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