Friday, June 12, 2009

We’re Not in Doha Anymore

By Armand Emamdjomeh

Walking into the Irish Harp bar in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, we stepped into a wall of smoke, sound and the sense that we weren’t in Doha anymore. Instead, we entered a world where despite the multiple nationalities present in the club, the languages were the universal – sex, dance and alcohol.

I knew it was going to be a long night when three Englishmen asked our group who performed the song “Creep,” played by the bar’s live cover band. This was instantly followed by the jovial cheers, whoops and display of general machismo that comes with winning a bet.

Despite the bar’s rule of women, couples and guests only the bar’s makeup was still about 80 percent male, of the international cheeseball variety complete with shaved heads, striped button down shirts and tight polo shirts meant to emphasize well-cultivated biceps. Perched at the bar was what must have been the last of Morrissey’s famous international playboys – complete with striped blazer, slicked back hair, cigarillo and tinted glasses behind which he could not so covertly scan the crowd.

(Disclaimer – this blogger was also wearing a striped button-down shirt, but was pretty sure that his Joy Division t-shirt underneath saved him from falling too far in with the crowd.)

I thought of a few days earlier, when we’d heard Professor Andrew Gardner of Qatar University speak of how the country compartmentalized different societies and cultures, with the goal of protecting the insular Qatari culture from Western influence.

Inside, drinks flowed freely – using the term loosely given drink prices – and the women donned the miniskirts and tight dresses that would never pass muster on the streets. Many of them – the “single women” allowed by the bar’s management – had the tad too much makeup and an eagerness to make eye contact that indicated they weren’t here just to drink and dance and wouldn’t be leaving alone.

Opposite the bar a crowd of male wallflowers silently sipped their drinks and watched the crowd. Some hunted to meet the eyes of the women, others seemed content drinking alone.

The bar-jam cover band, a couple notches above the karaoke pros that seem to dominate other bars in Doha, drove the crowd to a euphoric chorus during a rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Unfortunately this gave way to pop dance, then the sort of European techno dance music that no one has any business listening to without the aid of further recreational assistance.

While certainly not my preferred drinking scene, I resigned myself to my preferred corner spot and bided my time with $9 beers, generating an alcohol and cigarette-fueled discussion on the global culture of drinking, and the urge to just have a good time. One of my colleagues put it best.

“We’re all just *&%^$$# human, and we’re all just !@$&@#$ drinking.”

I guess he’s right.

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