In the Middle East, the weekend runs from Friday to Saturday, not Saturday to Sunday. More or less all over the place, there are special opening hours for shops on Friday, you have the day off work (unless you work in retail, or food) … So you just shift your week by a day, right? It’s not as straightforward as that …

Friday — time for some pool lounging after the sun has set

In the non-muslim world, you’re used to a weekend of Saturday and Sunday. Depending on where you live, Sunday is the quiet day of the week. In Germany, more or less all shops are closed. All of the day. There are hardly any cars on the street before noon. The only shops open are at gas stations and bakeries. You do your shopping on Friday evening (to avoid the masses – which never really works out ;-) or on Saturday. Sunday is for the family, for recharging, lengthy gaming or other hobby-sessions.

In the Middle East, Friday is more or less comparable to the non-Muslim Sunday.
Only: Shops do open after 2 PM.
If you’re lucky, you can find a big supermarket that opens from 8 onwards. No bakery with open doors and fresh breadrolls at 7 am! Imagine the shock to a German ! ;-) (Thanks to Carrefour, you can at least get fresh baguette, croissants beurre and pain au chocolat.)

In some places, shops open at 10, but then close over noon, for noon-prayer. (If you want to see scenes straight out of Waiting for Godot, go to the Doha IKEA on Friday at noon. It’s out of the city, so everyone who doesn’t pray just hangs around at the cafeteria, waiting for the prayer time to be over. Cafeteria closes for one hour, too, so you need to stock up hastily before it does.)

The famous Friday-brunches start around noon, approximately.
We aren’t sure how other residents with small children do it. They probably also have breakfast at home and then go out for “elvensies” with their kids. If you have a 2-year old who jumps out of bed at 5:30 am, noon feels about a day away :-)

Both Friday and Saturday start slow here. We managed to have Doha’s famous Aspire park and its big playground more or less to ourselves because we arrived early in the morning. When we left at 10, people were battling each other for parking spaces, almost coming to blows with their picnic hampers. We drove over to Villagio Mall, found a parking spot right away. Left at noon when it got too crowded — and saw scenes out of apocalypse-movies on the parking lot. You’d think Villagio was the zombie-relief shelter and the only one left at that. Cars park on the lanes, up on boulders, block the exit routes … Which is usual for Villagio mall unless you come before the shops are open.

The next day is Saturday. Which is almost identical to Saturday in other parts of the world. People go shopping (people always go shopping, here, though), have birthday parties or other activities for the kids.
What is hard to get used to:

  • you don’t ease into the weekend like you do with the Saturday/ Sunday flow. You first have the quiet day, then the shopping/home-improvement/whatnot day, then it’s already back to work and school.
  • you’re out of sync with friends and family. Their typical “skyping in peace” day is Sunday. Which is a regular weekday for you in the Middle East.

The plus side:

  • a 2-day weekend is a 2-day weekend, on whatever days you find them.
  • you can go shopping every day, even until late at night. Visitors to Germany must go stir-crazy on Sundays there when everything is closed, public transport more or less shuts down, …
  • The week starts with Sunday. But does it really? ;-) There are hardly any organized (mom-)activities on Sunday and driving to the school, you run into a lot less traffic than on any other weekday. I can only guess at the reason. Some parents don’t give their kids into nursery on Sunday? A lot of expats in Qatar don’t work on Sundays? Fact is that Sunday and Monday are both considered “the start of the week” at work and school. Here, they’ve invented a SOFT START to the week. Isn’t that simply alluring when comparing it to our harsh Monday mornings? ;-)
  • So you have a soft start on Sunday and Monday. Then there’s Tuesday and Wednesday as regular weekdays. Only on Wednesday, you already see the weekend beckoning up ahead: the next day is Thursday. Yay.
    And Thursday afternoon is inofficially the “third” weekend-day here. Kids are picked up early from school. There is no homework (at least at our school, at elementary school level) and the kids can watch a movie at school. There’s lots of kids-get togethers later. Often, work lets off early and parents can both join. There’s CRAZY shopping. Driving through Doha, you can see kids on playgrounds at 10 at night, with their families gathered around, chatting on picnic blankets. It’s a very playful, summer-y atmosphere.