Inspired by Ro Lee from The Travel Captain I decided to do some myth-busting of my own. Below you find a selection of the most frequently asked questions about Kuwait.
Do you have to wear a veil?
Absolutely not! There are only two countries in the world where veiling is compulsory, and Kuwait is not one of them. There are many non-Muslim girls living in Kuwait, and they do not veil. Neither do a substantial amount of the Muslim girls. I know quite a few Muslim girls from Egypt, Lebanon or Palestine who do not wear veils. Most of the local girls do though, and the niqaab is not an uncommon sight in Kuwait either. But neither is seeing an unveiled girl in the streets.
Can you drink alcohol?
Like Saudi Arabia Kuwait is officially a dry country, which means alcohol is outlawed. In countries like Qatar, Bahrain or the Emirates non-Muslims can sometimes buy alcohol using a special license, and it is also available in top class restaurants or hotels. This is not the case in Kuwait: alcohol is not sold anywhere. But of course one should only open the local newspapers to know that theory and practice are not always the same.
Can you eat pork?
For pork the same applies as for alcohol: it is officially forbidden. Many Muslims draw the line here. Whereas some might enjoy the occasional glass of wine (or two, or three…) abroad, pork is an absolute no go and finding pork is very difficult if not outright impossible.
What about drugs?
Another no go. Sufficient here to say that unless you’d like to see the inside of a foreign jail, it’s better not to do this outside of the Netherlands.
Can you go out at all?
Unlike places like Dubai or Bahrain, Kuwait does not have night clubs. Instead people get together at private homes. ‘Going out’ in Kuwait is restricted to cafes or restaurants, but thankfully there are plenty of those! But for clubbing the Kuwaitis have to go abroad. Which they often do. Dubai is just a 1.5 hours flight away, which is good enough for the weekend!
What is it like to live there as a non-Muslim?
Personally, I have never really felt restricted in living in countries that have a Muslim majority, other than that pork is not always available and Ramadan requires some adaptability and flexibility. For the religious non-Muslims Kuwait has a number of churches, and services are held in many languages. Trying to spread Christianity is not allowed, but neither do Islamic organizations make many attempts at converting the country’s expat workers. In day to day life religion plays a much smaller role than you might expect in such a conservative country.
Do people speak English?
Absolutely! In fact, English is the second language of the country. Unofficial of course, but as an English friend once told me: it is much easier for her to get around knowing only English than it is for her Arabic-speaking father-in-law who doesn’t speak much English. Expats make up the majority of the population in Kuwait, and certainly not all of them come from Arabic-speaking countries. Currently Indians top the list of expats in Kuwait, for example. There are also thousands of Filipinos, Bangladeshis and other non-Arab expats, and although many speak a bit of broken Arabic English is still their preferred language of communication.
Is everyone rich?
Kuwaitis come in many different varieties, from extremely rich to merely well off. Some have 100 sports cars, others not one. But relatively speaking yes, people are rich and the state takes good care of them, by supplying them with grants to study abroad, a government job and a piece of land or a house when they get married. Everyone shares in the fortunes of the oil, and for this reason the Kuwaiti passport is in high demand. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to get one though, as this welfare state cannot continue to exist if thousands and thousands of newcomers would apply for citizenship each year. In the Netherlands and Germany after a certain amount of years it is possible to get a local passport, Egyptian families can live in Kuwait for 30 or 40 years and still be excluded from this.
Is it safe for women?
I have never felt safer in the Middle East. People are usually very respectful and getting bothered on the street was not a common occurrence for me, unlike in some other places. People like to start conversations, but not without asking you multiple times whether it is really okay that they talk to you. In general Kuwait is a very safe country, with little criminality. And despite bordering Iraq, you don’t really notice a war going on there either.
Do they hate the West?
No way, they love the West! Especially the US, since that country came to Kuwait’s rescue during the Gulf War, when Iraq invaded and went about its business in Kuwait in a pretty bad way. The results of the occupation are still visible on Falaika Island, for example. Kuwaitis wear European fashion, drive European cars, furnish their house with European furniture and eat at Western fast food chains as Burger King, Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Many travel abroad whenever they can, and the youth often studies in the US, Canada or in Europe. Does that sound like a Western-hating nation to you?
Do they have regular food there?
Define regular please? Most of Kuwait’s food is imported (it’s a desert, remember?) and includes most you’d want to get from the supermarket back home. Okay, it does not include stroopwafels or hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles, for non-Dutchies), but other than that most food is readily available, especially if you’re talking big international brands like Nestle, Twinnings and what have you.
What is Ramadan like?
Ramadan is probably the most boring time of the year, especially when it takes place in summer. As it gets up to 50 degrees, it means that everyone only wants to be inside where there is air-conditioning. Life slows down. People work limited amount of hours and many places close during the day. Only at night Kuwait awakes again, and the streets are suddenly full of life. But for the non-Muslim this is merely a time you have to survive. You are by no means required to participate, but eating and drinking in the street is forbidden (you can actually go to jail for this) and co-workers might not appreciate it much at work either. No doubt the end of Ramadan is greeted with relief by both Muslims and non-Muslims!
Is it always hot there?
Not at all! Yes, it does get very hot in summer, but winters can be pretty cold too. In January it might reach 20 degrees during the day, but during the night a winter coat or a warm sweater is quite useful indeed. And usually at least a few weeks a year people do turn on the heating. Last year it even snowed. For the first time in history, that is.. hello global warming!