Kuwait sits happily at the top left of the Persian Gulf and much of its economy is based on ample oil supplies. Its neighbours are Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but one of its closest friendships is with the USA. Part of this Emirate is known to have the driest and most unforgiving desert in the world.
There is a distinctly Arabic feel to Kuwait, and with its culture, traditions and history, this can be a fascinating place for travellers.
There is much to learn about the culture of Kuwait, their traditions and acceptable standards whilst in the Emirate. Above all, respect for the Kuwait culture is paramount. Read on to learn more, and visit our Kuwait eVisa page to apply for your travel pass ahead of your trip.
Guide to Kuwait Traditions, Customs and Lifestyle for Travellers
As an Islamic country, many residents wear traditional dress which covers most of the body. While visitors are not expected to follow suit, you are expected to dress modestly and should always avoid skimpy, revealing and short clothing whilst in Kuwait.
During your stay, you will most likely be offered refreshments while you are out and about, and it is considered a sign of respect to accept these. However, you should always do so by accepting with your right hand, as Kuwaitis consider the left hand unclean for eating and drinking.
Similarly, a Kuwaiti resident may invite you into their home and, again, it is considered good manners to accept. As well as being polite, this is a great way of learning about the culture; just avoid controversial topics such as politics or religion to avoid inadvertently causing offence!
During Ramadan, visitors should avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public. Also, although alcohol is available in Kuwait, this should be avoided in public at all times.
Religion is incredibly important in Kuwait, and visitors should only enter a mosque with permission. You should never walk across somebody’s prayer mat or stare at worshippers as they pray. Gender segregation is operated during prayer.
What Is Kuwait’s Cafe Culture?
Aficionados of coffee will be perfectly at home here. Kuwait is known for its excellent bean roasting culture, with a huge selection of cafes to sample coffee and delicious pastries. You’re sure to enjoy it!
Coffee houses or cafes are most popular with the age 18-27 age group. The beverage is made whether with milk or strongly brewed and simply black; however, caramel is frequently used to sweeten the slightly bitter taste!
You will find that most adults prefer to drink their coffee ‘in house’ rather than a takeaway cup. If you are visiting Kuwaitis in their own home, the first thing you will be offered is coffee, with some sweet pastries or dates.
Kuwait cafes are at the top of the list for social gatherings and are one of the most popular meeting places for locals. Quite often, business deals are concluded over a cup of coffee.
The brewing of coffee is thought to be unique to the region and has been in existence since the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. Kuwait cafe culture is one of the most important things in the social and cultural history of the country, as well as in present times.
Try one of the unusual combinations, particularly offered in the southern part of Kuwait. Cardamom, saffron or cloves, anyone?
What Is Kuwait’s Food Culture?
The diverse population and high proportion of migrant workers affect Kuwait’s food culture considerably. Whilst traditional Kuwaiti food can be found, so can a huge range of other food cultures, such as Indian, Egyptian, Lebanese and even Italian and French.
Whilst Kuwait’s food culture can offer your plenty of hamburger shacks, you will find that the true locals tend to stick with a ‘chicken shawarma’, as opposed to a McDonalds special quarter pounder. This is mainly due to the costs involved – a burger might set you back around 6 USD, whereas a full-of-flavour shawarma would only cost around 1-2 USD.
Spiced and grilled chicken and lamb (never pork) along with fish are the most popular foods, usually accompanied by flatbreads or similar. Sweet and savoury ‘machboos’ (a rice dish with sweet raisins and spices such as saffron) will often accompany a meal.
For snacking, the locals tend to go for hummus with khubz (the traditional flatbread in Kuwait), along with dishes of pickles made from carrot, cucumber or turnip, known as ‘turshi’.
You can say that the food culture is a fusion of Persian, Indian, Mediterranean and Turkish!
What Is Kuwait’s Chocolate Culture?
The chocolate culture is thriving, to say the least. Everything from bars to boxes, fondues to frothy hot chocolate drinks, the locals simply love it.
There are chains of chocolate houses offering chocolate gifts, which are a favourite to take when visiting any Kuwait household.
Kuwaitis do make chocolate, but a vast amount is imported from Switzerland, France, Italy and Belgium. Statistics show that over 1 million USD per day is spent on the consumption of chocolate!
Chocolate is abundant at social events, including weddings, parties and christenings. In fact, if this were a ‘no chocolate zone’, the nationals would have something to say about it!
No souvenirs when Kuwaitis travel – just oodles of chocolate to bring back!
What Is the Culture of Doing Business in Kuwait?
Doing business in Kuwait always tends to be formal. This includes clothing, which should be smart (preferably a suit) and look the part.
Whilst most businessmen in Kuwait speak English, it is wise to learn a little Arabic so that you do not say anything wrong and show your respect for your counterpart and their business culture. A good idea is to have some business cards printed in both Arabic and English.
A handshake is expected, unless you are a woman. The woman must extend her hand first and, even then, a male business colleague may not respond. Women are not expected to wear a hijab or an abaya but covering up bare flesh is wise. No plunging necklines or short skirts – you will certainly not gain the respect that you need.
The working week is Sunday to Thursday, with a business weekend being Friday and Saturday in line with Islamic law. A working day can be anywhere between 8 am and 6 pm, other than during Ramadan.
It is rare to give gifts in Kuwait business culture and, if you do, appreciation will be shown but the gift will be opened in private. During meetings, alcohol consumption is a ‘no-no’, so do not expect a liquid lunch or dinner with your new business partner.
Short and sweet meetings ending in a result are rare. There is a business hierarchy and you may need to go from the bottom to the top over a period of time before you achieve success. Time and patience are of the essence, so go with the flow that the Kuwaitis practice.
What Is Kuwait’s Culture for Clothing?
Kuwait is not a country for fashion trends, due to its respect towards the Islamic religion. Only a small percentage of inhabitants may choose more westernised clothing, but within the parameters that are acceptable.
For men, a dishdasha or suit, shirt and trousers are regarded as conservative clothing. On more formal occasions, they add to this with a white cap (known as a ‘ghafiya’ to prevent the cloth headdress falling off). For weddings and celebrations, men often add a ‘bisht’, a loose cloth that hangs down from the shoulders.
As previously mentioned, women do not have to cover their heads, if they are not of the Muslim creed. Revealing clothing is frowned upon in any social or business situation and skirts or dresses must cover the knees.
For women, a ‘niqab’ is the whole outfit which includes the head covering and a full-length robe. However, underneath, Kuwait women will often have more westernised clothes! Women believe that makeup should be worn daily, and this is accepted in Kuwait’s culture for clothing.
About Falcons in Kuwait Culture
Falcons appear in this culture in many ways and are highly admired. The more opulent Kuwaitis will pay thousands of dollars to own a prestigious falcon. Therefore, the falcon tends to be a demonstration of wealth.
Such is the admiration for falcons in Kuwait culture, owners will even pay for airline tickets so they can sit with their precious pets.
Primarily though, falcons have been used as predatory birds for hunting down other bird species, one of which is the bustard, regarded as a great delicacy.
For those not rich enough to own falcons, but with an element of disposable income, Kuwaitis will spend up to 200 USD for a day’s hunting.
Falcons are seen in books, magazines, newspapers and even on the Kuwait coat of arms, such is their respect for them.