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What to Expect When Visiting the State of Kuwait
Kuwait City Skyline
So You're Going To Kuwait huh?
Whatever the reason may be, you're apparently on your way there. The State [not country] of Kuwait, where U.S. Dollars turn to Dinar or KD and prayer time is at least three times a day. But, you can find out the easy stuff on Wikipedia. You're here because you want to know what it's really going to be like. I'll try to do this in order.
Welcome to Kuwait
You've just landed in Kuwait International or KWI in hopefully what was an Arab airline because, let's face it; their airlines are just typically better than ours. At the airport you will need your passport and depending what the nature of your trip is, a few KD for a temporary Visa. No worries, there are ATM machines all over to dispense the local currency [Kuwaiti Dinar] for usage. I suggest getting plenty more for your taxi ride and incidentals.
After you've received a Visa which will last for either 60 or 90 days you will breeze through Customs and on to baggage claim where hopefully no one has lost or taken your luggage. While gathering your luggage there will be TCNs [third country nationals] there who will try to assist you in taking your luggage off the carousel and placing it onto a cart and toting it around for you. This of course for a small fee which 1/4 or 1/2 KD piece of folding money is more than enough. You will then move through another X-ray checkpoint and now you're finally in Kuwait!
Money, Money and more Money
Now that you're moving through the Airport to the ground transportation area outside, depending on where you're from you'll start to notice some things that are familiar to you but with some strange additions. A Burger King, Cinnabon, Jewelry and sunglass shops with your favorite name brands but all with Arabic translations next to them. The only necessity I see on the way out to ground transportation aside from Cinnabon [which is more of a personal craving] is grabbing a pair of sunglasses. Pretty much no time of year is safe from beaming sunlight. If you weren't inclined to bring a pair I suggest buying some. Maybe even some sunblock.
Also, if you do want the use of your phone here in Kuwait but don't want to pay international rates, if your phone is unlocked you can purchase a prepaid card from Wataniya or Zain in the airport. Plug it into your unlocked cell phone and you have a Kuwaiti number and can call anywhere you like. Top up plenty of minutes if you'll be calling abroad or using internet.
The items you find in airports world wide are going to be over priced. But you'll notice later the over priced items never seem to stop. Finally making your way out of the door into what will be a blast of hot day or nighttime air if it's spring or summer time or a cool but not cold dusty breezy air in the fall and winter. Taxi drivers will be ready to take you to your next destination. There are city taxis and airport taxi's. The city taxi's are pretty similar even though they're from different companies, but the airport taxis are all larger, American cars which are white and green. They are the priciest but they tend to know a lot more about Kuwait than everyone else. The city taxis drivers even though you'd think they know more about the state, they really don't. Even if you have an address they might not know where they're taking you. I suggest unless you're going to an extremely well-known place or you know exactly where you're going [which you don't] you'll want to pay the extra charge and take an Airport taxi.
Extra charge is something you'll just have to get used to while you're in Kuwait.
Cinnabon in Kuwait
Unlocked Cell Phones
What to not do While You're Here
So you've heard the rumors about Arab countries. Sharia, Islamic moral code being infused with the law. You are somewhat on the right track. As compared with the other regions of the middle East I'd say Kuwait's strictness sits between that of Bahrain's and that of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is very extreme with the things they allow women to do or better put; things they're allowed to do in public or in mixed company with men. Whereas in Bahrain things like pork and alcohol are still served in certain places and it's legal.
One will see women wearing westernized clothing, and men walking around holding hands with women in the open. However, the police can and do stop women of other nations for wearing clothing that is too revealing for that police officers taste. I've seen it myself. Now, this is a big deal. To a woman, any Arab man is an authority. Especially police officers. Your TCN women [Sri Lanken, Indian, Chinese, Filipina etc] are especially wary of being in sight of police officers and mainly wish to maintain a low profile because they've been rumored and at times proven to be bullied, even kidnapped raped and murdered by some locals. Please don't allow this to deter you from coming to Kuwait, every place in the world has it's wrong-doers. This is just a warning of what can happen here.
To avoid even being bothered or looked at keep yourself a distance from your companion of different gender until behind closed doors. Females should not wear clothing that is too revealing outdoors. Including the beach.
Do not drive a rental which is available to pick up at the airport if you are a scared of reckless driving. You will lose your mind. Kuwait has paved roads, highway systems and everything any other country with working roads has but people still drive like there are no lines on the road, speed limits or laws of the road. You will see anything from Ford Festiva's to Lambourghini Gallardo's zipping past you at extremely high rates of speed and switching lanes at the last minute to get to their destination with absolutely no regard to you or anything else on the road. This is not an exaggeration. Even though Kuwait is only a bit larger than the State of Connecticut, it has the largest amount of vehicular accidents and deaths in the world. I repeat. In the world. Again, do not drive here unless you can handle yourself well behind the wheel.
Do not come to Kuwait during Ramadan, the holy time which last for a month from the end of July to the end of August. Not only is it painstakingly hot, but there's nothing to do, you [this goes for everyone] can't smoke, eat, drink water, sing, curse or basically anything outside during the daylight hours. However, Hard Rock Cafe does tend to have great specials on food during Ramadan... I'd wait til another time. If you happen to break any of these rules you can and will be arrested, taken to Kuwaiti jail possibly for the entire duration of Ramadan. They do not feed you in Kuwaiti jail. The only way you'll eat is if someone you know brings you food. Again... just don't visit during Ramadan.
Females should not roam around alone at night. Sadly, I believe this rule should be followed by women worldwide.
What TO do in Kuwait
Now that I have the seemingly negative things out of the way. On to the reason why we came!
Kuwait is a shoppers dream. If you have money, and good taste in anything. You can get it here. I'm a Wal-Mart shopper so I don't care much for the higher label name brands but I'm a minority. Most people enjoy things of a certain quality no matter if it's clothe's, shoes, or jewelry. Kuwait still remains one of the best and cheapest places to purchase gold. And people still do, on a wide scale. Anywhere from the local bazaars, hosted by TCN's which boast great prices for mostly well done knock offs to the many malls across Kuwait which have authentic made things that one would probably have a hard time finding in stores anywhere else. The typical Kuwaiti person has plenty of money to blow on things like this which is why while you roam malls like Avenues [my favorite] Marina, and 360 you'll see women dressed in black burka's [the traditional Islamic covering for women] with red bottom heels poking out from the bottom.
There are many recreational events to undertake in Kuwait. Namely, Water/Jet skiing, tournament style paint ball, bowling, go karts and many indoor sports. Also for people like me, the occasional car show!
If it's upscale lodging you're into, you don't need to look far. From the southern area of Fahaheel to Kuwait City the capital, there are many world wide brands such as Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott and others. Others that are well known in the Arab countries are sometimes even better than the ones we're accustomed to. If there's one thing they know how to do here, it's pamper the wealthy.
If eating is something you do for fun, like me you'll also have your choice of cuisine you'll only find in this part of the world and [depending where you're from] a lot you're accustomed to. Restaurants such as Johnny Carino's, Chili's, TGI Friday's, P.F. Chang's, Texas Roadhouse and Johnny Rocket's. Another thing you'll find yourself spending more money on than usual. Being waited on by what's usually an all Filipino staff is pleasant for most and tips aren't expected because it's something people don't do here. But Westerners such as myself still do so.
What is REALLY Going on in Kuwait
I was reluctant to write this section but I'm being 100% honest in my writings as always. Just like any other place in the world, things aren't always what they seem. The somewhat strictness of this and other Arab/Muslim nation should not lead people to believe that there isn't activity that would be considered wrong by some, yet fun by others.
As you may've noticed, I didn't mention much about a nightlife scene here in Kuwait. That's because with the exception of Shisha [Hookah] bars, there really isn't one. Since Alcohol was banned here some time ago because of some unfortunate events, that sort of put a damper on things such as night clubs and party's. Also the unwritten yet highly recognized policy's of women and men sharing damn-near anything here; have pretty much put a stop to having any legal fun of this type. But they still go on.
Just like any trouble, you'll just have to know how to find it. There is alcohol in Kuwait. Not just the made-up hooch, but the real stuff. How it gets here, I don't know. Even if I knew I probably wouldn't publicize it.
As far as finding male companionship; for females, I don't know if that's a problem anywhere in the world for a woman. Just be careful who you're approaching for it. However for men it's a bit more tricky. Everything here is run on money. Much like everywhere else in the world. But how people are treated is openly racial. Ones nationality automatically dictates their status in Kuwait. The hierarchy for lack of better words would go as such: The Embassy people and Kuwaiti Government officials such as the Sheikh Kuwaiti's, Egyptians, Americans and other Westerners, then the TCNs Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipino's, Ethiopians and so on. As far as I'm concerned, under Egyptian, we're all just hired help. Yes, that includes Americans. We were hired to save Kuwait from tyranny, and since we've done so we've just been a pain in Kuwait's side and they've wanted us out every since they figured our job was done. Everyone else is here to do their dirty work. Which is why the only capacity you'll see a Kuwaiti working is in that of ownership or a stereotypical higher level trade such as Dentistry, other medical professions and law enforcement/military of course.
I know it's a bit harsh but that's the way it is. Back to those looking for companionship. Courting or trying to gain the attention of an Arab woman is not a task. So much so, I've never successfully done it. I've been approached by Kuwaiti women before, but it was always at night and it never went any further than a conversation. I've seen use of Blackberry Messenger and "Bluetooth Fishing" as I call it for people to get to know each other in person. However, I know for certain that unless a woman is married which is best noticed by "cat-eyes" or a woman wearing a burka that only exposes her eyes; one may go and speak to them. But always in a discreet manner. Whether she see's fit to speak back to you or not is all her decision. These women are glamorous when it comes to make up and fashion. And if one is lucky enough to ever see them in person they'd know why wanting to get to know them is such a big deal.
Not taking anything away from TCN women. They can also be beautiful as well even though they're not respected as much as the Arab women of the country. Mainly because they are there as hired help. Getting to know these women is the same as anywhere else. However even if successful in gaining their attention and interest, realize that these women are in my definition just above slave labor. They're barely paid to do what they do, and they work long hours. Most work 5-7 days a week and have curfew. Their passports are also being held by the people who hired them. Which is why there is such a large exchange of money for female companionship here.
There is also prostitution here in Kuwait. It's pretty much out in the open. Unfortunately, mostly Chinese women are the ones walking the street handing out numbers to what I've seen mostly is American males. It seems we Americans typically have the right combination of money and lack of morals to deal with them on a regular basis. Not saying the Arab and TCN men don't partake, but they know other TCNs can't pay what Americans will and Arab men possibly could get them deported.
With the fact that there is prostitution, and alcohol in Kuwait still, that means that there are still parties. These parties are mostly thrown by Kuwaitis/Egyptians or Americans. The Kuwaitis of course know of and own the most discreet and remote locations to have parties. They also have the money and the connections to attain the things [ie. Alcohol, drugs, Shisha/hookah, women] one would need to have a regular party. So, even though you may not ever hear of one happening, the do happen. If you plan on being here for a long time, just follow the money as always. If they like you, you'll be able to come along.
Kuwait in Summary
Overall, I like Kuwait. Would it be my first choice for a visit to this region? Probably not. But since I've worked here for a few years I've learned the ins and outs and I can't complain too much.
My suggestion, learn as much Arabic as possible. Don't come here if you have self control issues with women, money or over eating. Those issues will be tested.
Have fun, and now that you know what to expect...
Scream at me