DOHA, Qatar — The questions spilled out almost as soon because the automotive doors closed.
Was it crowded? How was the choice? And what concerning the prices?
The taxi driver, who went by Shaj, then peered into the rearview mirror and politely asked to see my receipt. I passed it forward, and he scanned it up and down as we swayed through traffic.
Shaj had picked me up along a side street on the southern fringes of Doha, contained in the razor-wire-topped partitions of the Qatar Distribution Company. The Q.D.C., because it is widely known, is the only importer and distributor of alcohol in Qatar, a Muslim country where the sale and consumption of booze is heavily regulated. Cocktails, wine and beer are served at a smattering of luxury hotels within the country, however the Q.D.C.’s two branches are the one places that sell alcohol for home consumption.
“It’s probably one among the happiest places in Doha,” said Rachel Morris, who’s originally from Australia but has lived in Qatar for 15 years.
The Q.D.C. has stood for years as a colourful example of a broader, delicate dance inside Qatari society that predated the World Cup: The country’s effort to balance its conservative values — including, on this case, a faith that forbids alcohol consumption — with its desire to open itself to the world. That line between tradition and accommodation rarely seems fixed in place.
“Everyone seems to be welcome to return to Qatar,” Hassan al-Thawadi, the top of the World Cup’s local organizing committee, said in an interview in the course of the future as much as the tournament. “What we ask is that when people come, simply to respect that we’re a comparatively conservative nation.”
For international residents in search of a taste of home, then, the Q.D.C. offers a boozy lifeline. Access to the shop is granted through a state-run application process. The privilege was prolonged in recent weeks to groups, sponsors and news media organizations here for the World Cup. (Fans weren’t allowed to use.)
On a visit one recent morning, three employees of the US national soccer team were pushing around three shopping carts piled high with bottles and cases of beer — and wondering aloud in the event that they should grab a fourth.
They were presented with a world collection of drink options: aperitifs from France, sake from Japan, wines from Chile and Australia, beers from Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. There was even a separate room filled with freezers and devoted entirely to pork products, that are otherwise unavailable in restaurants and grocery stores across the country: frozen pepperoni pizzas and shrink-wrapped pork chops, cans of Spam and cocktail wieners, overstuffed packs of bacon. An indication above the door was each a label and a warning: “Pork Shop,” it read, “For non-Muslims.”
Signs across the constructing announced special deals tied to the World Cup. Artificial stadium crowd noise filtered out through speakers near the doorway. A German journalist in loafers examined a bottle of Italian wine.
A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup
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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits one of the best national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:
Where is it being held? This 12 months’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the US and Japan to win the best to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.
When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games shall be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.
Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar might need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.
What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified routinely because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the best to return and play. Meet the teams here.
How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.
How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament shall be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s how one can watch every match.
When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Latest York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there shall be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the US for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.
Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.
However the U.S. Soccer staff members needed to be sensible. Each individual permit holder is granted a monthly quota of two,000 Qatari riyals, roughly $550. And the Americans were on what amounted to a supply mission: They needed enough alcohol not only for his or her colleagues traveling with the team but additionally to fulfill the needs of the big group of players’ family and friends. That group, one among the staff members said, had been peppering them with desperate requests. Even with multiple permits, the Americans were attempting to find bargains.
“This isn’t, like, sipping wine,” one among the U.S. team staff members said. “That is survival wine.”
It soon became clear, though, that the happiest place in Doha (for those inclined to drink) was also one of the vital exclusive.
Within the automotive, Shaj, who’s Muslim and from Sri Lanka, told me he had never been contained in the Q.D.C. despite living in Qatar for 12 years. The shop’s permit requirements include a minimum salary of three,000 Qatari riyals a month (about $825) to even apply for entry. That puts legal alcohol essentially out of reach for the tons of of hundreds of immigrant laborers who make up nearly 90 percent of Qatar’s population; a lot of them make near the minimum wage of $275 a month.
While the Q.D.C. has been hailed as an oasis for thirsty visitors, others, including Shaj, see its strict restrictions — and its limits on access — as unfair. To them, the foundations are merely one other example of the type of structural inequalities which are part and parcel of every day life for them in Qatar.
Unable to access alcohol in the identical way as white-collar residents and high-end visitors, he and others as a substitute depend on a black marketplace for it. His beverage of selection, he said, is vodka, which he buys at a substantial markup and only drinks contained in the room he shares with three other employees. “This double standard,” Shaj said, “I don’t like.”
His sentiments were echoed on a recent Friday night in Asian Town, an area of Doha populated by tens of hundreds of foreign employees from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The neighborhood is barely two miles from the hidden bounty of the Q.D.C., however it feels in some ways like a universe apart.
“Muslim, Hindu, who doesn’t drink here?” said Hari, a heavy goods vehicle driver from Kathmandu, Nepal, who was headed to a World Cup fan zone after having just a few glasses of whiskey at home. Like Shaj, he asked that his full name not be revealed out of fear of running afoul of the authorities or potential employers. “Everyone seems to be scared to speak about it since it is forbidden here.”
After nine years in Qatar, Hari said that he has eked out enough money to buy brand name alcohol on the secondary market. But he knows most other employees do not need that luxury. Some in Asian Town buy amateur brews created from fermented fruit. Others turn to homemade, chemically enhanced, hard spirits.
One popular number of local moonshine, nicknamed Sri Lanka, is sold in plastic water bottles for around $8, Hari said. It’s potent and possibly dangerous: Medical officials in Nepal consider such concoctions might need resulted within the deaths of migrant employees in Qatar and elsewhere within the Gulf.
The scene in Asian Town was a far cry from the state-sanctioned bonhomie of the Q.D.C.
Shoppers last week were weaving their carts around pyramids of stacked beer cans. A 24-pack of Budweiser was selling for 188 Qatari riyals, or roughly $52. Nearby, a bottle of Cristal Champagne was listed for about $489.
There are strict rules for people allowed inside. Apart from income restrictions, customers cannot come from member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Regular customers pay membership fees but cannot resell the alcohol and even give it to someone as a present. And upon leaving, buyers must keep their purchases concealed until they make it home.
Overall, though, the federal government lately has been making the Q.D.C. experience more customer friendly. Throughout the pandemic, the shop has introduced perks like online ordering and residential delivery. Customers nowadays get text messages promoting special sales.
Because the U.S. team members shopped, a Q.D.C. worker sidled over to allow them to know that their individual quotas had been doubled for the World Cup. That will surely make their lives quite a bit easier.
They thanked her and rolled their jangling caravan toward the money registers.
Tariq Panja contributed reporting.