This is a collection of the questions I have been asked about Kuwait via this blog or in person or they are questions that were passed along from friends, family or strangers. You might find some of it enlightening, entertaining or just plain silly!
Is Kuwait the capital of Dubai?
Look at a map please. Dubai isn’t a country, Kuwait is. Kuwait City is the capital of Kuwait.
Can women drive?
Only on camels.
Do you have to wear hijab/burkini/chador/abaya if you’re a lady?
Only when you’re parking your camel in the garage.
To be blunt: No. I don’t have to wear underwear if I don’t want to. Muslim women in Kuwait are wearing the hijab by choice. They are proud of their faith. The veil is a symbol of their modesty and their privacy. They don’t feel oppressed by it.
Expat women do not need to wear conservative Islamic dress and providing they do not dress provocatively, they are free to wear what they wish. In Kuwait you will see women wearing headscarves, veils, abayas right alongside women in jeans, dresses and open hair.
Do all Arab men all have like, 5 wives? Don’t you find that weird?
Let me clear this up once for all: Most scholars agree that passages in the Qur’an state that Muslim men are permitted to have a maximum of four wives. But they are not required to take more wives, or forced in any way. If a man chooses to have multiple wives, there are certain conditions such as, he is required to split his time and resources equally. All of the wives are entitled to homes, food and money. The average man, Arab or not, cannot afford to have more than one wife so it is far less common than you would think.
However, with that being said, it does happen here and it is quite the norm when it does. Do I find it weird? No. Growing up in South Africa meant that I learnt to accept polygamy at an early age (nearly everything is accepted in liberal South Africa). This is one of those things that you learn to accept or you don’t. It actually plays a very small role in your day to day life.
My boyfriend is coming to visit me from the USA/UK/Jamaica/Ghana. Will he be able to stay with me?
Yes it’s ok in most buildings unless you have an annoying building manager. Nobody seems to care about that stuff here unless you fall pregnant and you’re unmarried.
Do “they” speak English?
“They” speak English very well and can be pretty helpful if spoken to politely.
What do Kuwaiti men look like? Are you allowed to look at them?
Well when they look like this, I challenge anyone to stop me looking at them.
They’re a diverse bunch of guys with varying skin tones and features. I am unsure what else to add to this answer?
What are Kuwaiti people like? Do they talk to you?
Yes they exercise their vocal chords. They’re flesh and blood just like you and me. Yes they all look very different. Some are kind, some are arrogant and some are uninformed. I think it takes all sorts to make a society function and this one is no exception.
Do people survive the heat?
Yes. I’m still alive. If you come visit me in summer, I’ll make you a certificate to say you survived summer in the Middle East.
Can you eat normal food?
There is a social branch of police that check that you conform to the governments menu regulations- hummus for breakfast, falafel for lunch and shawarma for dinner.
No really, there is such a diversity in the available cuisine here, it’s unbelievable. Up to this day I’ve never seen anyone policing what people eat but if a particularly handsome policeman tried to instruct Bee and I on what to eat, we would just invite him to sit with us.
Are you allowed to be around men who aren’t your husband/father/brother?
Yes. No one cares who you hang out with over here. Except maybe your husband or father but that’s a different story.
How do you survive without alcohol?
Easily. If you come visit me in Kuwait, I’ll make you another certificate to applaud your sobriety. Seriously though, alcohol is available on the black market if you really want it. Don’t message me and ask me for details because I’ve never purchased it.
Do they hate the West?
They drive American cars, wear European fashion, send their children to study in England and visit Canada for holidays. Doesn’t seem to me like they hate any Western countries. But if I were you, I wouldn’t mention Israel…
Are you safe? Aren’t there bombs being dropped every now and then?
Now and then I hear a fast car driving past that sounds like an exploding bomb. But other than that, I’m utterly safe. Maybe the safest I’ve ever been in this country. No really. I couldn’t be more carefree about my safety here.
Is it easy to travel in and out of Kuwait if you work there? Do you need an exit visa from your sponsor/employer?
My employer couldn’t possibly be bothered about where and when the 256 teachers employed at my school choose to travel in and out of kuwait. Once you have a residency permit in your passport you can come and go as you please with no ‘exit visa’ or any questions being asked by anyone.
Is everyone rich?
Oh yes. There are swimming pools filled with dinars and gold bar vending machines.
What kind of question is this? There are people from every strata of society here. Their earnings vary. Considering the high cost of living here, it would be very difficult to be “rich”. Are all Kuwaitis rich? No. Yes they receive grants from the government but that doesn’t make them exceptionally wealthy by their standards.
Is Kuwait part of Saudi Arabia?
Wait, what? NO.
Can I go out at night?
You can go out at night, during the day, at dawn, dusk or twilight.
Do I have to live in a compound with other Western males/females?
Goodness no. There are no expat compounds here. You can live where you like.
Is Kuwait a modern country? Like are there actual roads and shops or is there just sand?
It’s just sand. Our classrooms are on the dunes and we live off dates and water in the desert.
Look this country has more shops than in all of Southern Africa and the roads, while not perfect, exist and function for their purpose. Despite that, yes there does seem to be sand everywhere!
Can I practice my own religion or do I need to pretend to be a Muslim?
You are absolutely free to practice your own religion. I would advise not to go around trying to publicly convert Muslims to your religion and in the same way, nobody will try to convert you to Islam. There are a large number of Hindus and Christians here in Kuwait due to the diverse expat population so you should be able to connect with a network of like minded believers if you want to.
Is pork really banned in Kuwait?
Yes. You cannot buy pork from anysupermarket and any “bacon” products you see on menus are actually beef. Pork can probably be purchased on the black market or maybe via your embassy but again, I have no experience with such procurement procedures.
What does Arabic sound like?
Um… foreign words?
Will I be happy if I move to Kuwait?
Look, if its your first time moving abroad, you need to know that you will feel lonely and you will feel guilty. This is inevitable. However, setting realistic expectations is key to a successful integration in your new home, and those who move as a rash decision rather than a carefully examined choice may end up unhappy. So if you’re hoping the move to Kuwait will solve all of your life problems, you may be setting yourself up for failure. On the other hand, life is what you make of it and there are many advantages to moving to Kuwait. If you can adapt to new surroundings, take advantage of new opportunities and make the most of what you have, then you can be happy with your life in Kuwait, or anywhere else.
Although there are similarities between the GCC countries, they are all pretty different too. For example you can get alcohol in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman relatively easily however Kuwait and Saudi Arabia do not sell it at all. Qatar and Saudi Arabi are much more conservative in the way they expect women to dress however Kuwait and Bahrain are pretty relaxed. There aren’t any nightclubs in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia but you can get wild in certain Emirates or in Bahrain. Do your research before you move, ask people who already live in the place for the most honest answers and don’t assume that all Gulf countries play by the same rules!
Let me conclude this post by saying these 2 important things : Islam is not a hateful religion. Middle Eastern people aren’t violent people.
But frankly, I should not have to say that. Because you, as a person living in a global world, should know that. I shouldn’t have to go into every reason. I shouldn’t have to debunk every myth and lie you’ve ever heard.
Go to Middle Eastern communities. Mingle with people who don’t look like you, live like you, or speak like you. Visit these countries. Ask the people about their culture. But, do try to ask smart questions.
Next time you are planning a holiday, take your heard earned cash and ditch a trip to Disney World; instead, come visit us here in the ‘Muslim’ world. Choose knowledge over Middle Eastern stereotypes. Choose empathy over ignorance.
I would love to hear some of the questions people have asked you if you live in the Middle East. And oh, yes feel free to ask me any questions… even if I laugh at you inwardly, you will always get an honest answer!