Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Back in Traffic; How Do You Alphabetize / File?

So today I became, once again, a legal driver in Qatar, five months to the day from my arrival. Yep, for those of you who never have the joy of trying to maneuver through the complexity of getting a license in a foreign country – you have NO idea. NO idea. There are people who try and try to get a license and never do.

We are really lucky. We have some very good people who help us get things done. Somehow, it’s my turn to be lucky today.

When I showed up at the office, however, one of the HR girls told me “Oh! Flana is not here today! You will have to come back.”

You all know how nice I am. I smiled at her and said “my husband told me to be here today to get my driver’s license. Someone is going to help me.” Smile again, big smile.

Sure enough, someone is going to help me, and it is someone who I like, someone who has helped me before and who is always calm and patient and knows how to persist pleasantly until he gets what he wants from the bureaucrats. In fact, I admire him, because people end up liking to help him. He is low key. He takes me to the driver’s station, where, because of my advanced age (DO NOT ASK) I have to have an eye test. This leads me to wonder. Doesn’t everyone have to have an eye test?

Then I wait, in the special ladies’ majlis:

I had to wait quite a long time, but I was comfortable, and while I was waiting, I read all the driving safety signs they had up along the ceiling. They were all in English and Arabic, and they were great thoughts, but too many words. Like if you are reading that many words: If you are driving too fast you may not get home alive (that is not a real one, but that was the gist of most of them) so I was creating a new driving safety campaign called the equal campaign:

Speed + Texting = (shows a vehicle turned on its side and all smashed

Speed + Weaving = Two or three crunched vehicles

Texting + Driving = QR (enormous fine)

Something simple to read, graphically simple, something you can glance at and get the meaning.

When I got my driver’s license, I was really happy, except for one tiny little thing – it’s kind of my name but not exactly my name. It’s an easy mistake to make, names can be complicated, but . . . it isn’t my name on my license. It’s my face, it’s my information – it isn’t my name. For half a heartbeat, I consider saying something and then Wisdom kicks in and I zip my lip.

So then, driving home in traffic, I got to thinking about names and how we file things, alphabetically, and even Europeans sometimes file us wrong, which has led us to first class seats because airlines can’t find us, etc. It isn’t always such a bad thing.

Then I started wondering about how Arab speaking people file. Like do you have half the files in the “A” drawer, like Al So-and-So and Al Somebody Else, and how do the sun and moon words affect the filing, like Ar Rayyan, or Ath Thalaka, or As Shams, etc. Once you have filed someone, the goal is to be able to retrieve that information? How does alphabetization work in Arabic? How are things filed?

So being stuck in traffic might not be so bad if someone answers my question and I learn something. 🙂

November 1, 2009 - Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Work Related Issues


  1. I’m not exactly sure how alphabetization works in Arabic, but what I know is that having a “sun or moon” word does not really matter since both have the Aleph-Lam (AL-) article in written form. It’s only that with “sun” words, the Lam (L) is not pronounced.

    Some alphabetization might be based on the roots of the words rather than the words themselves (in Lexicons, for instance). Makes things a tad bit easier!

    Comment by kinano | November 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. Interesting. I agree with what Kinano said about the roots and this is what I know about filing in Arabic;
    The “AL” in arabic acts as a determiner, its English equivalent is “the”. So when filing the “AL” is ignored and the word (noun/verb) is stripped from all additions (gender, number and tense markers) until we end up with the root and you base your search on that root.
    In the case of proper nouns like sun, moon, saturday, Al-Razi etc. you ignore the “AL” and the word is filed based on the first letter that follows the “AL”.

    Comment by Noura | November 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. Arabic Filing Alphabet for names is based on first name basis not family name . Most first names in Arabic don’t have the AL ,so it is easy to make lists and files .

    I remember in classrooms when the teacher used to ask questions ,they used to start either from the top of the list A,B,C names downwards or from the bottom of the list Y,W ,N upwards , So the kids in the middle were the last to be asked .

    Did you notice that now they use your mobile number instead of your name , be it family or first , to locate your name on say a supplier data base . How about that for filing ?at least Database-wise !

    Comment by daggero | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  4. Thank you, Kinano, and thank you, Noura. I remember all those roots. I can see how that works in dictionaries, for companies, etc.

    But Daggero – if by first name – half the files are in the M’s! What is the second discriminator? Next name (if you know it), or last name? How do hospitals keep track of patient records? And mobile phones! Kuwaitis I know carry two or three, and they change often. Sometimes they keep the same number, sometimes they change it! LOL, you are right, I love organizing information, and at one time called myself the ‘date base queen’ because I had huge files and could use them to show many things.

    AdventureMan laughs and says ‘and what about the Abd’s? and the Mohammed Abd’s . . . ?’ But then, we have our Johnsons and Smiths and pages and pages in the phone books . . .

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  5. Intlxpatr : I was afraid this discussion turning into an intellectual debate but let me take a stab at it 🙂

    You see there is no discrimination when it comes to filing with the alphabet of the first name .

    You start with First name then fathers name then grand fathers name then great grand fathers name then family name .
    You tell me what about Abdul or Muhammads well we all find that out during the elections because the ballots ( committees in Kuwaiti ) with the Abduls and Muhammads are so crowded and the lines so long that you pray that your name wasn’t lumped with those two voting stations because it will take you ages to cast your vote.

    Now about the medical records, well stuff happens and they get mixed up .No surprise there.

    Once it was suggested to include the Mother’s name as a second discriminator reference but it did not fly because it was considered shameful to have a stranger (like airport immigration officer utter one’s mother’s name ).

    About using the mobile number as a reference for data bases , well lady , do you want your dish washer delivered to your correct address or shall we give it to some stranger , its your call ,after all you paid for the darn thing . But hey if you wanna play hide and seek by your constant switching of your mobile phone numbers , then no skin of our nose , your dish washer is going to a house where it well be loved and appreciated be it some one you never met in your life but they are thankful for the free gift.

    Comment by daggero | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  6. LLLLLOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL! No, no more intellectual discussion!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 2, 2009 | Reply

  7. Cool site, I hadn’t come across earlier during my searches!
    Continue the great work!

    Comment by acid reflux information | August 25, 2010 | Reply

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