I lived in Kuwait because I took a job there and moved to an area known as Abul Halifa in 2016 then moved to Mangaf in 2017. Before going to this country, I had only ever been to Dubai and four military bases in Kuwait. Only seeing Dubai and hearing the stories of the fabulous consumption of middle-eastern people, I imagine Kuwait would look precisely like Dubai. Moments after leaving the airport, I was faced with the reality that was Kuwait. It was a hot and dusty place with very few sidewalks, un-aesthetically pleasing buildings, and questionable drivers. When I saw the infrastructure of Kuwait in areas such as Kuwait City, Riqqa, Salmiya, Fintas, Mahboula, Mangaf, Fahaheel, I couldn’t believe how lacking it was for an oil country. What is interesting about Kuwait is the fact that it has the highest valued currency unit, but there is a lot lacking infrastructures such as roads.
Driving and Parking
Parking was an issue almost everywhere because it seemed like when they designed the towns and cities, parking and sidewalks were never considered. Often you will go to an apartment complex, and there will be designated parking, but it wouldn’t be enough for every tenant in the building. Driving in Kuwait is a dangerous activity if you are not careful. In my opinion, everyone drove like maniacs, as during my first month there, I witnessed a fatal wreck on my way to work. Kuwait drives on the right-hand side of the road, and like other countries, they have traffic laws, but that does not stop road-rage and distracted drivers. I witnessed people trying to Facetime and drive at the same time. I often saw kids sitting up front in the laps of adults without seat belts, hanging out of passenger windows, or standing up through the sunroof of moving cars. As a driver in Kuwait, you have to be proactive, careful, and not be as distracted as the other drivers. Another area I was often warned about was accidents, they can be a long messy issue, especially if you hit a Kuwaiti or they hit your car. Kuwaitis are said to always be right even if they were the cause of the accident so foreigners should automatically expect to assume all the blame.
A good example of this is in Mahboula, Mangaf, or Fahaheel and other areas where there is a high concentration of EXPATs living. On any given day, you can see dumpsters bubbling over with trash, animals removing the rubbish from the cans, and dumpster divers making the matter worse by pulling trash onto the ground. There is also a habit of throwing trash from vehicles, especially when it comes to the locals.
I would say construction is a sign of continuous improvement, but in Kuwait, it’s obsessive, dangerous, and an annoyance. When I moved to Abul Halifa in June of 2016, they had recently started building another apartment building next to my building, and by September, it was completed. There is an on-going joke about construction in Kuwait, especially those involving apartment complexes, malls, offices…etc. It’s said that buildings go up overnight! Reading between the lines, this comment has to do with the cheapness of labor, the number of hours they work, and the willingness of companies to skimp on accuracy and safety. Buildings going up overnight partly references the safety of these quick structures as we always assume that if an earthquake hit us we would all be gone for.
Lack of Common Courtesy
Outsiders will notice that Kuwaitis may seem to lack common courtesy. Manners, social etiquette, and what we perceive as such is a cultural norm we inherit from our society. Many EXPATs have complained about Kuwaitis and other UAE natives jumping lines with no regrets or stepping on toes without saying sorry. While this may grind our gears, its something that seems to happen very often that I would encourage everyone to ignore. I don’t know why they do this, but trying to reason with them seems pointless.
On the surface, there appear to be no real leisure activities in terms of nightlife. Kuwait is a dry country, which means that alcohol is illegal. This is no drinking in private or public, and if you get caught, its prison time, lashes, expensive fines, or deportation. This does not mean that people do not drink in Kuwait. While this country doesn’t have a flourishing nightlife that involves alcohol. If you make friends in the right places, especially with elite Kuwaitis, you may find yourself at Great Gatsbian inspired parties. Even in the EXPAT communities, you can find people will always have their means of procuring drinks and having their own nightlife.
Regardless of these things, by the time I was slated to leave Kuwait, it had grown on me. Once I learned how to maneuver the country, I started to find it more accessible and logical to park on the sidewalks, speeding down the highway over 130mph was acceptable, and spending an outrageous amount on grocery for my monthly food shopping trip didn’t faze me. What I came to love about Kuwait boiled down to the fact that looks can be deceiving. I was privileged to be a westerner living in Kuwait because others were having a hellish time there, while all I could complain about was lack of courtesy. People stepping in front of me in lines is tiny compared to domestic servants being beaten or committing suicide. I detested many aspects of Kuwait when it came to the treatment of EXPATs, but at the core of it, I had very little to complain about. This became my main reason for trying to treat everyone I encountered in Kuwait with respect because I couldn’t rely on the negative stories people wanted me to believe. The locals whom I would describe as anyone who has been living there for more than three years were welcoming and sympathetic to the plight of newcomers. The few Kuwaitis whom I encountered were kind to me, and deep down inside, they liked foreigners even if they were mostly the western groups. While there was no legal nightlife that mirrored Dubai, I found socializing easy if I didn’t elevate my expectations. I don’t know who determined that a nightlight must involve lots of drinking, dressing up and trying to impress people we don’t know. I was never a club “goer,” but there are a lot of fun things to do such as going bowling, jet-skiing, eating out, visiting markets, and walking around Kuwait City to discover tiny ecosystems of foreign communities such as Turkish or Ethiopian groups who bought elements of their culture to Kuwait.
By proxy, Kuwait became a launching pad for learning about a variety of cultures, experiencing different culinary delights, and other worlds.
I would say that there are downsides to living in Kuwait, but it is up to you to make the best of it and use it as a place to propel your curiosity. After reflecting on my time there I can honestly say its really not that bad after all.