One of the things that assaulted me when I first moved to Qatar was the prevalence of high-end cars.
Granted, the majority of vehicles we saw were Toyota Landcruisers, not necessarily luxury, but a favorite amongst the locals. And at +/- 60,000 $ Canadian they certainly don't come cheap.
But beyond that it seems I was surrounded by Range Rovers, BMW's, Mercedes, Porsche Cayenne's, Nissan Patrols, Suburbans, Lexus, Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, the occasional Ferrari or Lamborghini, and most recently, countless Rolls Royce Phantoms.
Cars are a big deal in the ME, and it's easy to get caught up in the wave of enticement that provides for interest-free car loans, 2 years no payments, and 0.33$ (CA) a liter gas prices.
Cars that your common Canadian would not dream of owning, not only because of the purchase price but also because of their gas guzzling drain on finances. Movie cars, Hollywood cars, Joan Collins cars. Not what you'd imagine as "get you to work and back driving through potholes in the desert"-type cars.
I'm not much of a car person. But I must admit I was initially impressed by the chrome and rubber. When we first moved here, I was surprised to find myself gazing longingly at the bevy of sexy rides stationed side-by-side in the parking garage of our temporary accommodation alongside our rental vehicle. I would watch unshaven offshore workers sidle out of their Escalade, flustered moms of four drag groceries and snotty-nosed kids out of Volvo XC90's, fresh-faced 25-year-old's hightailing it in a Camaro. Cars are a BIG thing in Qatar.
We were driving a rental at the time. A very discrete white Toyota Corolla. If you are living in Qatar and not driving one of the above luxury rides, chances are you own a white Toyota Corolla. Ours set itself apart only by the persistent smell of gasoline that pervaded every single square inch of fabric. Obviously it had previously been driven by a refinery worker.
But otherwise it was a fine car; by Canadian standards it would be considered a perfect starter car, or a very reasonable, fairly environmentally-friendly, gas efficient city car. But driving around in the midst of Landcruisers, Suburbans, Escalades, and Patrols, I couldn't help but feel really, really short.
Two months after we arrived, we decided it made sense to buy rather than rent. We started looking around for the best possible buy. After shopping around for a bit, we opted for a Hyundai Sonata. After all, we weren't here to impress, we were here to earn a living, put away what we could, travel when the opportunity presented itself, and try as hard as possible to maintain the lifestyle that we'd enjoyed in Canada, no more, no less. So we settled for that very reasonable, perfectly affordable, fairly environmentally-friendly Sonata.
But I admit to occasional car envy. I admit to feeling really short in traffic. Try as I might, I have never managed to achieve coolness factor in that Hyundai. I wear my shades, and turn the radio up real loud, but I have no CD player. So at 3:00 p.m., stuck in traffic, you will hear either Edit Piaf belting it out on the QBS French hour or some Arabic rhapsody booming from my busted speakers.
At one point I thought hanging a dice from my rear-view mirror, tinting the windows and adding some big rims and color might give me some street cred. Nothing came of it; it's still a pipe dream. But who knows? If I drive this car long enough, Smilin' Vic might be willing to let me paint it matte charcoal, slap on some big rims, tint those windows black as night and install a killer boom box on the rear dash in my final months in the desert.
We've bought a second car since. It is a decidedly cooler 4x4, but definitely not the super-butch, alpha-male, hormone-driven Ford F-150 Smilin' Vic pictures himself in. It is a mid-sized, sedate, family-friendly, affordable 4x4. I admit, there is some gratification in knowing that he hasn't got me totally beat on the coolness factor.
If you're thinking of moving to the ME, stay focused on your objectives. If purchasing a super-cool, really big, or extremely expensive ride is a part of your five-year plan, you've come to the right place. But if it's not, be wary of the temptation and desire to fit in with the big boys here. I know more than a few expats who went out shopping for a sedan and came back home with a Hummer! Cars are a big deal in the ME. It's easy to get caught up in the hype. But if you put your mind to it, it's not impossible to resist.
Me? I still drive a 7-year-old Hyundai in the ME!