Expat Life in Kuwait
After living here for seven years, I don’t get too many questions about expat life in Kuwait. Oh wait. I’ve never gotten a lot of questions about expat life in Kuwait. I have, however, had several requests to post pictures of Kuwait online and they get more views than just about any other pictures I post. This makes me think there are people out there who are actually curious about expat life in Kuwait, especially for a single woman.
Many people have misconceptions about Kuwait and think it is as conservative and restrictive as Saudi. It isn’t. Some people think it is more liberal like Dubai and that there are nightclubs and alcohol and live music available as entertainment. They aren’t. Some people think Kuwait is a city and Dubai is a country! It isn’t and it isn’t. Others think Kuwait is a barren desert (it is) where people still live in tents and that teachers like myself live in some sort of hostel type place while making boatloads of money wearing a burka to work. We don’t. None of the above.
So what is Kuwait like? What is it like living here as an expat? A western expat? I will attempt to explain, but sometimes there are just no words to explain some of the things I see/hear/experience here.
Daily Life in Kuwait
Daily life here, honestly isn’t much different than anywhere else. People go to work, shopping, running errands, paying bills. One difference is most bills can be paid online, but my students tell me not many people actually do this, so people drive to the utility companies, find out from them how much they owe because paper bills aren’t mailed, and pay what they owe in cash. As an expat, I don’t pay utility bills, so this doesn’t affect me, right? Not directly, but indirectly it contributes to a horrible traffic problem where at certain times of day, city streets are more like parking lots.
Yes, I said bills are not mailed. Nothing is. There is a huge post office or two in each area. Huge empty buildings. I dared to go inside one once when I first moved here to mail some Kuwaiti postcards. Ha!! It was huge! Cavernous! And empty! Not even one piece of paper to be seen. There were about six men, all having tea, and three women sitting at cubicles. Every one turned to look at me wide-eyed, eyebrows raised, but no one moved.
I waited quite a while before one of the women came to help me, and she had no idea how much it cost to mail a postcard. She put a stamp of some sort on it, threw it in an otherwise empty bin, and I figured it would never leave. Neither of us even said a word. Four months later, two of them arrived in the US. No one was more surprised than me. If nothing is mailed locally, how do people send/receive documents? They are hand delivered by mandoobs (gophers, couriers), thus contributing to a horrible traffic problem.
Some expats manage to stay quite busy here. They belong to groups like American Women’s League or book clubs. Neither is really my thing. Many help with volunteer organizations which offer assistance to animals and humans alike. There are numerous animal shelters here, all overcrowded. Of course people are here with their families or even start families here. Not everyone is unattached like me.
I’m not really one to join clubs as I don’t have much of a group mentality, but I have other ways of keeping busy. Writing this blog is one of them. I spend a lot of time in the gym, like a lot of other single people here. That’s a real benefit, because I also spend a lot of time eating chocolate and ice cream. I’m not much of a shopper, but shopping is definitely a favorite pastime of local people here and some expats as well. Shopping is common all day every day, but on holidays or evenings, any evening, it contributes to a horrible traffic problem.
Sometimes I get asked if I can buy western products here, like toiletries and food from the US. The answer is an emphatic yes. I can find just about anything I want, except unscented body, hand and face creams. These people love their perfume! As a result, I return to Kuwait after a summer at home with two bags instead of one. The second is stocked with non-glamorous lotions with names like Curel and Eucerin. Not every product can be found in every pharmacy or grocery store. Sometimes we have to drive around in search of certain things, like unsweetened almond milk or English books. And in case you haven’t figured it out, all this driving around leads to a horrible traffic problem.
Another question people ask me, well, used to ask me, is what kinds of restaurants Kuwait has. My response? Anything you want, but there are no guarantees that it will be good. I don’t eat fast food in the US, so I sure don’t eat it here. Good pizza is truly rare, but surprisingly, fantastic Thai food can be found in many neighborhoods. Not mine, but many others.
There is a website called Talabat where you can search for the type of food you want, specify your neighborhood, and voila! You make your choice and it will be delivered in about an hour. Expat life in Kuwait is so difficult, as you can see. It’s like GrubHub. I first lived in Kuwait in 2006 and Talabat was very successful then. I can even get Marble Slab Creamery or Pinkberry or Frost gelato delivered right to my door. Dangerous. But there is one problem with people’s love for the ease of food delivery here. It contributes to a horrible traffic problem!
What is the deal with all this traffic? It’s a wide open desert (not anymore) and a country of only 4 million+/-, depending on how many expats are deported back to India or Sri Lanka or the Philippines on any given day for minor or major violations. So how can there be such a horrible traffic problem? Let’s just say that the roads in neighborhoods were built back when families had one car, not ten.
When their children all went to the same school in the same car, not each child to a different school in a different car with a different driver. When speedbumps at fairly close intervals weren’t necessary because people didn’t drive such fast cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris. There are a plethora of reasons why the traffic is so bad, but I avoid most of it because I don’t leave for work until 11:00AM and I get home around 4:30PM and those aren’t peak drive times. Yeah, long work day, I know. Terrible hours. I think I already admitted that expat life in Kuwait as a single woman is so difficult.
There are a few sights to see in Kuwait. I wrote about some of those here. There are even companies that offer tours of downtown and they are pretty interesting. There’s a link to them in this post. But there is really nothing here to bring in the tourists. I will post more later about the fascinating sights in Kuwait, she says with a chuckle.
I’m curious what you’re curious about. If you want to hear more about Kuwait or international teaching in Kuwait, leave a comment below, or subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss any updates. I don’t live in Kuwait anymore, but I still have more to write about it.