By Yasmine Dalloul
“Something that people from Kuwait do all the time is travel because they have the means, and they only target what they like and make it bigger and better according to Kuwaiti standards.” That’s how an unnamed local café owner and close friend of mine put it, and she definitely hit the nail on the head.
Those of us who leave our western pied-à-terres miss the creature comforts we’d grown accustomed to while living abroad. We miss them so much that we end up drawing up business plans and calling backers to bring certain chains we’re convinced we can’t live without back home, so we can enjoy them in the peacefulness of our own scorching backyards.
But in between all the fun franchises that we love to boast about having to our foreign friends, we have to remember that wanderlust should not only result in specialty popcorn stores and Fro-Yo cafes. It’s a beautiful thing to see more local businesses pop up, and to see people actively trying to better the country in any way they can. The country has already drastically changed in the past twenty years. From a fitness perspective, for instance, extensive yoga classes that go beyond conventional hatha yoga are abundant, and yogi gems come to our houses to help us practice twice a week. A variety of zumba classes and CrossFit dedicated gyms have spread to almost every neighborhood, making fitness more accessible than it has ever been in the 965. We’ve also opened our minds to expand community projects such as Qout and Shakshooka markets to discover independent small business owners, and non-profit organizations such as the Nuqat Creative Conferences provide workshops for the community to learn and gain inspiration to create outlets that cater to the craftier side of Kuwait. Many people are supporting emerging social justice warriors and tactfully fighting for human, animal and environmental rights. And of course, we are all having a blast with Kuwait expanding its palate and welcoming different cuisines and comfort foods with open arms. It’s great to live in a country where you can eat your way around the world in the span of a full day, having breakfast at Dough in Miral, a light lunch at a classic favorite like November in Kipco, and ending your day with a sweet note at Before Chocolate in Salmiya.
But it’s also enjoyable to have the excessive conveniences of internationally known franchises in Kuwait. I, for one, am extremely grateful that as I move back home from living abroad, I don’t have to worry about stocking up on my soy-based facial cleanser from Sephora. I take comfort in the fact that a drive to Lush for my essential Dream Cream body conditioner is a mere 15 minutes away (without traffic). It’s also amazing to know that I don’t have to book a 14-hour flight to JFK and wander to Columbus Avenue just to have a Magnolia cupcake or a burger at Shake Shack. By having these international outlets nestled within our local malls, the economy is boosted and more employment opportunities are available for locals and expats alike. Also, they make people happy and by having them so accessible to us, we’re able to prioritize and explore what we don’t have in Kuwait when we travel.
I must say though- while I love the idea of sharing a mutual appreciation for a Grande Caramel Macchiato with the rest of the world- (Or, if you have an affinity for the Great White North like I do, a Double Double with a single chocolate Timbit on the side) in my opinion, we need to cool it with the franchised eateries, and focus a little more on the positive concepts we bring back with us as we return to the nest. It seems that open mindedness and willingness to explore provides a breath of fresh air within different pockets of the country and different types of people with different interests and tastes are slowly feeling accommodated. Maybe more musical outlets should be the next big concept, instead of so many people anxiously anticipating when somebody will bring an In-N-Out to Kuwait.
“They only bring back what they think will work in Kuwait, and it seems to be the same thing that’s recycled- it’s about what makes them feel comfortable” -Anonymous
Bil a’afiya, Kuwait. Sit back, enjoy, and have a comfortable meal at Red Lobster (come on, who doesn’t love those Cheddar Bay Biscuits?). But don’t forget that franchised indulgence is not all we’re good for, and it isn’t the only thing we have room for. Kuwait has certainly grown and changed a lot in the past couple of decades, coming a long way from rebuilding our war-torn streets, questionable dining spots and imitation Hungry Bunnies that littered the streets of Hawalli. But we don’t need to excessively fill the country with random chains from Europe and North America. We can continue to find comfort, culture and creativity through our own ideas and concepts, whether they’re inspired by travels or not.
Image courtesy of Nuqat.