Let’s not kid ourselves, the population of Kuwait is nowhere near the population of Texas. However, there is a pretty significant amount of Kuwait expats. No matter the time of the day you’re always likely to run into someone walking around outside. With the size of kuwait in comparison to the populations of Kuwaitis and expats, no matter where you live, there’s plenty of opportunities to meet people in your area. Living in Kuwait as an American, I will say there is a significant culture shock that will take some time to get past.
I’ve lived in Kuwait for a little more than 2 years now and I can say it has been a very interesting experience so far. In my short time here, I think I have experienced a lot of Kuwait that many other westerners have yet to experience due to all of the things I’ve had to accomplish and choosing to do it without any external help. It definitely wasn’t an easy journey but at the end it’s all been worth it.
I know many of my friends and colleagues haven’t experienced half of the things that I have. I’ve learned a little of the language, become well acquainted with the traffic, and learned the process of getting certain things done while discovering where many of the important places are located. I won’t go into of the details of the traffic in here. I wrote a post discussing the traffic in detail. You can check that article out here.
The first thing I will say about being an expat in Kuwait is it’s very important to be respectful of the local culture. This goes for any country you find yourself a visitor in. I like to live by the saying, treat others as you would want to be treated. No one wants their way of life disrespected. Kuwait is a muslim country, and they take their religion seriously. They don’t expect you to convert to islam, or anything like that, just be respectful of them in their religious practices and you will be fine. This respect can take you a long way in Kuwait. I’ve met some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my life in Kuwait. From my experience, Kuwaitis are very hospitable and don’t mind going out of their way to help a friend or a friend of a friend without expecting anything in return.
Just as in most countries, Kuwait has several holidays and significant observations. One of the most important of these is Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is a period of fasting in which all Muslims refrain from activities such as eating, drinking, and smoking in observation of the ninth month of Islamic Calendar and the month where the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During this month of fasting it is very important to be respectful of the Muslim’s observation of Ramadan. Making the wrong choice that can come off as disrespectful, such as drinking water or smoking in public, can land you in a lot of unnecessary trouble. I have been told that something that may not seem like a big deal to you can land you in jail until Ramadan is over.
Learn the language
I can’t stress enough how much easier it makes living in Kuwait if you know the language, at least on a basic conversational level. I only know a few words and my wife has learned a little due to working in the food industry. This limited understanding of the language has helped us out tremendously when trying to figure things out, getting help from people who only speaks arabic. As expected, the locals are much more helpful if you can communicate with them in their local language. I’ve been passively learning the language, as I’m more interested in improving my Tagalog (for obvious reasons).
Learning how to speak and understand the spoken language isn’t really difficult, but learning how to read it is a completely different story. I haven’t put a lot of effort into learning the written language yet but I can tell you learning how to read and speak arabic will put you at a major advantage in Kuwait. For things such as buildings and streets, the majority is written in arabic and english, but there are some ministry related buildings where their signs are only written in arabic. If you don’t know how to read arabic the only way to find these places is to ask someone who knows.
Also, typically contracts, such as a rental lease, are written in both english and arabic, however only the arabic writing will be valid for legal purposes. It’s not unheard of that contracts can be written were the arabic writing is different from the english writing putting you at a major disadvantage if there’s ever a problem where you have to seek a legal resolution.
If you don’t speak the language, it’s nothing to lose any sleep over. There are plenty of other expats in Kuwait that can speak english to where you should never have a language barrier problem in common areas, such as a restaurant or retail store. It’s always a good idea to make friends with locals or other foreigners who can speak arabic. This has helped my wife and out tremendously with getting certain things done. For the documentation part there are plenty of translation offices all over Kuwait that can translate just about any language into arabic on paper. Check out this article for locations of translation offices in Kuwait. (link to article about getting married to direct reader to more information about translation offices)
Fun in the Sun
Now for the fun stuff. Kuwait, as small as it is, has just about everything (aside from drinking) that any other country has in terms of entertainment. Shopping is a popular pastime here, as well as hanging out seaside at one of their many beach areas. There are plenty of places to shop as well as places to eat. There’s also plenty of other things to do in Kuwait for people who have a more active lifestyle. Some of these things are scuba diving, fishing, sports, museums, parks and activity centers for kids, and there’s even a gun club. Ok, that almost sounded like an infomercial. (LOL) Sorry about that.
One of the biggest adjustments many expats have to make is getting used to the no alcohol law. Alcohol is strictly prohibited in Kuwait… For me this wasn’t too hard as I lost the alcohol requirement to have a good time a long time ago. Then again, I’ve always been more of a social drinker. Even without alcohol, there’s still a decent social life, day and night, in Kuwait. A lot of people have social get togethers at one of the many locations that has shisha (or sheesha). House parties are pretty popular here in Kuwait, as well as social events at a public venue where people of all ethnic backgrounds come together to meet.
This is only a brief mention of the things to do in Kuwait. I will make a separate article later getting into more detail about this. Stay tuned…
But Isn’t it Dangerous?!
One of the major concerns I hear from people stateside is with safety. Even though Kuwait is next door to some countries infamously known globally by their media attention, I would say it is a pretty safe place to live. I would go as far as to say it’s probably one of the safest places I’ve ever lived in or visited. No country on this planet is 100 percent void of crime, but Kuwait does a pretty good job of keeping criminal activity a rarity. The most dangerous thing about living in Kuwait in my opinion is the traffic. Too many people lose their lives in Kuwait due to an avoidable traffic accident on a regular basis. Other than that, you don’t have to worry too much about being kidnapped, shot for no reason, or anything like that. However, no matter where you are, you should always be aware of your surroundings and travel in groups whenever possible.
To Sum it all Up
As you can see, living in Kuwait can be a very interesting culture shock to an expat coming from a completely different way of life. Through all the ups and downs in my experience here, I can honestly say I have enjoyed living in Kuwait so far. I’m definitely glad I took the opportunity to spend a portion of my life as an expat in Kuwait. It’s not something many people get the chance to do. For people who are interesting in learning and experiencing a different culture outside of their own, I would definitley recommend living in Kuwait if you get the chance. I have met some very interesting people here and saw some things I would have never got to experience in any other part of the world.