The little things

I’ve been in Doha a little over than 24 hours now, so I can’t pretend to be some kind of expert. But I’m reminded for every wonderful experience I have here – the scenery! The generous people! The air conditioning! – living in a new culture can make smart people feel very stupid. For example, I have been unable to work the following devices:

  • Washer. I put soap in, read the manual, pushed the right buttons, and still the darn thing won’t wash my clothes. 
  • Any appliance that involves me plugging something into the wall. You really have to SHOVE the appliance plug into the wall outlet here. I mean, put your whole weight behind it and risk electrocution or breaking the plug SHOVE. Plus, American appliances need an adapter, so multiply the shoving by two.
  • The lock to the door. This one probably isn’t a cultural difference, since I’m generally inept at unlocking things anyway.
  • Dishwasher. I opened the dishwasher this morning and found this:ImageWhat in the world is this? How is it part of the dishwasher? Is it connected to the fact that there is no clear (to me) place to put silverware in the dishwasher?

I imagine that many international students in American universities are a little like me – well educated, fairly well informed on my new culture, and excited to live a new kind of life. But material realities, like learning (and failing at!) how to take care of yourself, continuously remind you that you aren’t from here and don’t do things the way people living here do things. I know how to walk the walk and talk the talk in other areas of my life, like how well I understood the functions and trappings of my new university even though I haven’t worked there before. However, the changes in everyday living probably unnerve my students, much like they unnerve me. (But, of course, I’m happy for the opportunity to try and learn exactly how Celsius works!)


  1. As I said before, welcome to expat life! 😉 A few hints to maybe help you get going:

    1. Washer: check that there isn’t some sort of emergency shut off on the water connections? I had this problem in my apartment, that there was a splitter on the water connection, and one of them was open (!) so the handy emergency shut off valve wouldn’t let any water through. Or just check that it’s connected to the water and the water is turned on at all.

    2. Dishwasher thingy: at least the dishwashers here in Europe require you to add salt to them (for what, I have no idea, but they need salt). You usually have to pour it into a little hole in the floor of the dishwasher, which is not very convenient to access. This little funnel helps you to pour the salt into the hole without making a giant mess. At least, that’s what I’ve assumed and used mine for. 🙂

    Good luck!!

  2. Also: silverware. Check if there is a tiny thin tray at the very top with a bunch of slots? I’ve seen one like that here, where you have to place the silverware all individually. Like this:

  3. Jenny, you are a genius! I had no idea that silverware thingy was there until you mentioned it and I went looking for it. The error code on the washing machine indicates it isn’t getting any water and, like you, I suspect something has gone wrong on the valve front. I’ll call in the morning and see if I can get any progress. I may also ask about the salt thingy. So many new things to process!

  4. Actually, Amy, I didn’t really experience the real cultural shocks that people talk about in books (the honeymoon phase, sadness, longing, etc.). What I considered “cultural” shocks that I experienced in Fayetteville were like what you’ve in this post. 🙂 After a while, though, I felt happy every time I figured out that vertical handle bars are for doors that we have to pull and the horizontal ones are to be pushed. 😀

  5. Amy Sue,
    I cannot wait to read more about Doha from your perspective. I have been such a fan of Leslie’s blog and now I have your blog and cannot wait to see through your eyes. I did not know that the vertical bars are for pulling and horizontal are for pushing….did you?

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