A Syrian in Qatar, US, and Italy
Huda, Rome, Summer 2017
July 14, 2017

Since December 2016, I have been lucky to experience studying abroad in different places. My first experience was through a student exchange program at my university’s home campus in Evanston, IL for six months.

I started my second study abroad experience to Rome, Italy with SAI to study Italian.

However, being a Syrian who was born and raised in Doha, Qatar living in USA and Italy has exposed me to a lot of new cultural and social norms. In this blog post I will share my thoughts and curiosity about other parts of the world and I hope it inspires you as well.

Below are some similarities and differences I have experienced first-hand in Damascus-Syria, Doha- Qatar, Rome- Italy, Evanston & Chicago-USA.

Huda B, Rome, Summer 2017

“Cacio e Pepe” at a restaurant near Piazza Campo De’ Fiori (the only piazza in Rome without a church)

Splitting checks

  • Arab generosity and hospitality is a “thing”. It’s normal to go to a restaurant and find two people fighting to get the check. It’s even considered rude if you don’t at least offer to pay the check once or twice.
  • From a technical perspective, it is possible for close friends to split the total of the bill by paying with different cards, for example, but certainly not for a big group people.
  • This concept is somewhat similar in Rome as well. The waiter will not split the check for you and your friend. You can share the bill, but preferably, one person would pay the full amount and their friend would pay them back afterwards.

Tipping/ taxes

  • In Qatar, the taxing system does not yet exist, which is something that took me a while to get used it in the USA. As for Rome, they will not charge you any taxes but there’s a service fee that you pay for at some restaurants.
  • In terms of tipping, both in Rome and Doha is it not expected for a customer to tip. If you felt the service was very good, you’re welcome to do so.
  • On the contrary, it is almost mandatory to tip in USA and Syria as well.
Huda B, Rome, Summer 2017

Morning caffe at a bar near Piazza Trilussa

Coffee culture

  • In Syria, Turkish coffee is a BIG thing. People drink it in the morning as well as serve it to their guests. It’s is the closest thing to Italian’s espresso; very strong and concentrated.
  • In Italy, there are more than ten different coffee types you can order at a café and usually some are more preferred at a specific time of the day than others. The most basic one is espresso, which you’ll get if you order café without specifying a particular one.
  • The typical coffee people in America drink is called an Americano, which is a more diluted version of an espresso.
  • If you ever go to the Gulf, you must try their most prominent coffee, called Arabic coffee. It has the least caffeine in comparison to the other kinds of coffee. What is even more widely popular is their “karak” which is a deviated version of tea with milk. Ordering a “karak” is a must and it is the cheapest and fastest drink to get on-the-go.
Huda B, Rome, Summer 2017

The beautiful side streets of Rome

Means of transportation

  • In Qatar, walking to work is almost never an option, unless it was less than 5 minutes away. Most people drive their own cars every day or take a taxi/Uber. Although public buses exist, they are not typically used by locals. Currently, infrastructure is being built for more metro use, which should be finalized in the near future.
  • Like Rome, in Syria you can take buses, minibuses, taxis, walk, or drive a car.
  • In Rome people mostly walk up to 45 minutes to get somewhere or take a tram, bus, train, or drive their own car or motorcycle/scooter. You can take a taxi but Uber is not widely used.

Weekend days

  • Weekends in Qatar and Syria are actually on Friday and Saturday while it is, Saturday and Sunday in Italy and USA.
  • Restaurants or shops may close on a Sunday before noon in other places but in most Arab regions, that would be Friday morning because of Friday prayer.
Huda B, Rome, Summer 2017

Basil pesto pizza on the go

Packing food to go

  • In most places in the US, you can ask for a to-go container and pack your own food. However, my first experience with that was very strange and I thought it was rude of the waiter to just hand me a container.
  • In both Syria and Qatar, you usually ask for the food to be packed and they hand it back to you fully packaged in a bag.
  • In Rome, the only food you can really pack to-go is pizza. If you have ordered a pasta or risotto, they will most likely not pack it for you.
Huda B, Rome, Summer 2017

The “nasone”

Drinking water

  • Lastly, when it comes to water drinking habits, each region has its own main water sources. In Qatar, although it is said that tap water is drinkable no one ever drinks it. If you order water, it is always bottled water.
  • In Syria and Rome, you can always drink tap water. However, bottled water is always served in a restaurant and you will be charged for it.
  • Just as “nasone” is a big thing in Rome (drinkable water fountains in the streets), in populated streets of Damascus you can find similar water coolers that are free for everyone to drink.

Huda is a current student at Northwestern University in Qatar studying in Rome through SAI during the Summer 2017 term.

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