Think you can't find Christmas trees in the Middle East? Think again

I had a debate with a friend yesterday on the merits of buying a real tree over an artificial one. We laughed and said it's the eternal debate right up there with breastfeeding vs. bottle; going to work vs. staying home; stuffing the turkey or not.

She explained her trip to Home Depot for a real tree was a disappointing one so they went to Target and bought a fake tree instead. She asked if I had the choice between a crappy Home Depot tree and a beautiful fake one, what would I pick? First of all, I wouldn't go to Home Depot for a tree. There are so many wonderful places to get a tree. But if I did have to pick, I would have gotten the real one.

Our family is dedicated to the live Christmas tree. So dedicated we went out of our way even in the desert to get a real tree. No, they don't grow them there in Qatar. But they do ship them in. Several years ago, my husband wrote up our adventure of getting the tree. I wanted to include it because every Christmas this becomes part of "remember that year when" stories.

To keep from becoming complacent, I remembered the adventure of buying a Christmas tree in Doha, Qatar in 2003:

[Megamart=one of three local grocery stores in Landmark Mall; it’s ~3.6 riyals to the dollar]

Tuesday. I go to MegaMart, where I’ve heard one can buy a tree. I locate the Indian florist.
Andrew: Do you sell Christmas trees?
Florist: Oh, yes sir.
Andrew: How much are they?
Florist: Sir, we have . . . hold on, I must check . . . (he looks through a notebook) Sir, we have 2.5 meters tree. (sic)
Andrew: And how much does it cost?
Florist: 450 riyals. [this is about $135—ouch!]
Andrew: Do you have any other sizes of trees?
Florist: Oh yes sir, we have 1.5 meters tree (sic)
Andrew: And how much does it cost?
Florist: Hold on, let me call (florist calls Megamart’s nursery). Sir, the 1.5 meters tree is 460 riyal.
Andrew (smiling): Hold on, you have to be kidding. The 1.5 meter tree is 460 riyal, and the 2.5 meter tree is 450 riyal?
Florist: Oh yes sir
Andrew: Ah. . .
Florist: (starting to notice this is highly unusual) One minute sir
Andrew: Sure
Florist: (Florist now calls nursery and has an agitated conversation) Oh sir, the prices have changed!
Andrew: ok
Florist: Our 1.5 meters tree is 400, our 2.5 meters tree is 450.
Andrew: Okay, I’m going to think about it and get back to you.

I return to Megamart to see what the price is, and possibly order a tree. The issue is whether or not we can obtain a Christmas tree stand in which to put the tree.

Andrew: How much is the Christmas tree?
Florist: Sir, the Christmas tree is 450 riyals for a 2.5 meters tree
Andrew: (thinks to self—amazing—the price has remained the same!) OK, do you sell Christmas tree stands?
Florist obviously has no idea what I’m talking about
Andrew: Do you sell Christmas tree pots?
Florist: The Christmas tree is coming!
Andrew: Yes, I know the tree is coming, but what about a pot?
Florist: Only the tree is coming sir (begins to look at me with a slightly sad look—he’s beginning to feel sorry for such an obviously unintelligent person)
Andrew: Right, I understand the tree is coming, but can I get a pot with it, or do you sell pots?
Florist: (Motions to a wide range of pots which would be utterly useless as Christmas tree stands) Yes, yes, we have pots
Andrew: Right, but how will I hold the Christmas tree upright?
Florist: The Christmas tree is coming!
Andrew: OK, I understand, I will get back to you later

I join Linda in the frozen food section and attempt some normal shopping.

Before returning to Megamart, I talk with an Australian lady who bought a large tree from Megamart for QR 450, plus QR 20 for a pot with some bricks in it to hold the tree upright. Thus fortified, I bravely rejoin the battle.

Yet again, I’m at Megamart.

Andrew: Hello my friend, I would like to buy a tree.
Florist: The Christmas tree is coming?
Andrew: Yes, please. I’d like to order a tree.
Florist: I think we are all sold out of the big ones.
Andrew: OK, how much does a little one cost?
Florist: We have only 2 meters tree—350 riyals sir!
Andrew: (gives Linda a very serious look to preclude her from loudly observing that his is, in fact, cheaper than a 1.5 meters tree—which, itself, springs from a long story involving the purchase of a bottle of Tanqueray 10 gin) Excellent, we’ll take one!
Florist: yes sir, let me have your name and address
Andrew: (fills out name and address) And can you include a pot?
(A European store employee whom I have never seen before appears—we’ll call him the Dane)
Dane: I think we’re all sold out of the big trees
Andrew: That’s too bad, but I think I can get a 2 meter tree
Dane: Oh yes, we have some of those
Andrew: And I’d like a pot, with some bricks to hold the tree up
Dane: Oh yes
Florist: The pot is coming!
Andrew: How much is the pot?
Florist: 30 riyals, sir
Andrew: No, I just talked to a lady who bought the pot for 20 riyals
Florist: (looks around for a minute) ok, the pot is 20 riyals.
Andrew: Great
Florist: The pot is coming with the tree sir.
Andrew: Wonderful.
Florist: Shall the tree come at 8:30 or 9:00 tonight sir?
Andrew: 8:30 will be lovely.

There was some more conversation about this and that, but basically the tree, pot, and bricks were to arrive at 8:30 and I was to pay the driver. Linda and I, typically, had no idea what, and at what price, or at what time, if at all, would arrive.

At 7:00, the driver from the nursery shows up.

Driver: I have the tree sir
Andrew: Great, how much is it?
Driver: 375 riyal.
Andrew: And is there a pot?
Driver: The pot is not coming
Andrew: No. This is wrong. The tree should be 350, and there should be a 20 riyal pot with it.
Driver: (looking panicked, calls HQS) laksjflksjdflkasjfl;ksajf;lksadjfk—(then hands phone to Andrew)
Andrew: Hello.
HQS: Sir, the tree is 375 riyals.
Andrew: No, the tree should be 350, and it should have come with a pot for 20 riyals. I was just at Megamart, and that was the price they told me.
HQS: Sir. Hold on, I must call Megamart.
(A few minutes of Andrew and the driver making awkward, limited conversation about the virtues of trees shipped from Europe ensue). . .HQS calls back, the driver hands the phone to Andrew.
Andrew: Hello?
HQS: lkjslkfjsdlkfjal;sfjlaskdjf
Andrew: Hello?
HQS: Hello sir (explaining in a very condescending way) Sir, the tree is 350 riyals, and the pot is 20.
Andrew: (keeping immaculately cool) yes, yes, I know.
HQS: Sir, the pot will come in one hour
Andrew: great.

And so our tree sits downstairs in our mop bucket, as the poor delivery boy has returned to the nursery for the 20 riyal pot. The big mystery is: will the pot be big enough? And will he bring bricks which can stabilize the tree? Only time will tell. . .

Eight o’clock comes. . .and goes
Nine o’clock.
10 o’clock

We head for bead, when all of a sudden, the cell phone rings.

Driver: I am coming sir. I will be there in 15 minutes
Andrew: Great, I’ll be here

10:15 comes and goes. At 10:40, security calls—they’re here. It’s Driver, Mr. X, and. . .The Florist!

Driver: Sir, we have only this pot for you (he motions to a big orange pot filled with bricks.
Andrew: (Seeing a more aesthetically pleasing green pot with gravel, but resignedly) ok, I’ll take it.

I take the huge orange pot with bricks into the house and look more closely at it under the lights. I notice the bottom is filled with holes, thoughtfully drilled to prevent root rot in houseplants.

Andrew: Hey, I’m afraid this pot won’t quite do.
Driver: (now in the house with me): Why not?
Andrew: (I stick my fingers in the holes in the bottom the pot) The tree must be kept in water, and the water will run out of the bottom.

Driver: oh. . . (driver runs outside and swaps out the orange pot for the green pot—the poor sap who was to get the green pot has now been screwed) here, sir, you may have this pot!
Andrew: (now suspicious, I check the bottom of the green pot—it too is lousy with holes) Oh dear, this pot won’t do either—it is filled with holes

Driver heads outside for a conference with his colleagues.

Florist: Sir—you must keep the tree in water. Tree is drinking!
Andrew: Yes, indeed. That’s why the pots won’t work.

Florist to Driver: asdlkfjas;lkjflaksdjflkashfklajsjflaskjdfklja

Florist: Sorry sir. We will come back tomorrow with a different pot sir.
Andrew: Great.

And. . .the story has a happy ending. Driver, Mr. X and Mr. Y returned with a pot which worked. Our Christmas tree had been flown in from the Netherlands and didn’t last more than two weeks, but we still managed to have a Christmas tree in the heart of the Persian Gulf!

The following year we had figured out the system and it was so much easier this time. Plus we had the pot.

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