House Hunters International and the Production of Cultural Stereotypes in Doha, Qatar

Posted by Jennifer Palfery & filed under Pop Culture, Television.

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The wildly popular adjunct of House Hunters, HGTV’s House Hunters International focuses on the expatriate’s experience of purchasing a home abroad in exoticized destinations, demonstrating that international relocation may be a demanding emotional and cultural adjustment for newfound buyers. However, intercultural perspective varies, and as a faithful viewer I am perpetually astounded by the obscure cultural stereotypes that occasionally arise within the show’s context.

In one particular gem of an episode, two Irishmen become enchanted by the Arabian Riviera, choosing to move to Doha, Qatar to further their infatuation with the sun-drenched Persian Gulf in direct contrast to the monotony of grey Dublin weather. Upon arrival in Doha, the Irishmen are shown smoking traditional hookah, immersed in the rich scene of the Souq Waqif. Quick to renounce Qatar’s prohibition of alcohol, the Irishmen utilize Qatar’s lack of bar culture as an outlet for cultural comparison, inevitable complaint, and staged production concept. Exhibiting stereotypes of the Irish’s excessive alcoholic desire in opposition to stringent Middle Eastern law, I can’t help but acknowledge the blatant cultural dichotomy being constructed and displayed in a situation as minor as one’s concern over alcoholic intake (or lack thereof) all for the sake of drama.

From a production value point of view, it is somewhat understandable that House Hunters International would perpetuate a rather Americanized perception of “foreign” or non-Western cultures for its viewers, who may require a relatable platform for differing social and cultural contexts. Yet I repeatedly wonder how the array of my fellow viewers of this television series would consciously – or sub-consciously – judge each cultural differentiation and (often staged) situational struggle. Although concepts of exotification may be used to captivate the viewer, one ought to be mindful of the fact that unfamiliar cultures must not be confined to their ascribed media representations, and that national identities are never homogenous in nature.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but remain a steadfast viewer of this enchanting series. Despite the questionable exhibition of trivial stereotypes that may arise, I choose to view each episode in a satirical light; for nothing connects individuals like a healthy dose of comedic relief. As for the two Irishmen, they eventually come to terms with Qatar’s liquor laws, claiming intercultural harmony after recognizing the truly precious lifestyle that Doha has to offer.

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