By Lynda Higgs
After a year of living in Kuwait, I can confirm that living in the Middle East is an exciting and truly foreign experience for a Westerner. After adjusting to the relentless heat and glaring sunshine, which came as a bit of a shock arriving here from the gloomy depths of so-called spring in Northern Europe, we have adapted to a lifestyle that is both familiar (school run, supermarket trips, dental appointments) and very different (the call to prayer interrupting the latest annoying pop song on the radio). So, if you’re newly arrived in Kuwait and aren’t sure what to expect, here are a few more signs that indicate you might be living in the Middle East:
1) You become a morning person! OK, only just, in my case, and then only on weekdays, but the last time I saw 05:30 was decades ago.
2) You feel that the weekend is never long enough and not because there’s never time for a lie-in. When you’re used to Friday being a weekday it always feels a bit like skipping school when Friday’s suddenly a weekend day. Saturday is kind of Saturday, but also a bit like Sunday, and then suddenly it is Sunday morning, except you’re stuck in rush hour traffic en route to school/work/whatever. Before you know it, it’s Tuesday and you’re halfway through the week whilst friends/family/colleagues in the West still haven’t replied to your urgent email sent on Sunday morning. The result is that even a year down the line I still feel like my week is missing a day.
3) A breakfast of slow-cooked fava beans, scooped up with pieces of freshly baked flat bread and accompanied by salad, isn’t weird. Ful/foul medames, a Middle Eastern breakfast staple, a bit of a marmite thing (for those that aren’t British, that basically means you love it or hate it) and it’s so easy to make yourself, although why bother when you can pop to your closest Egyptian café or the Souk Mubarakiya and scoop it up with just-baked flatbread?
4) Shawarma is the healthy option when choosing take-away – seriously! It’s generally fresh and probably better for you than pretty much any other fast food option (scary, I know!). It also tends not to come in the Supersize-Me portions found at practically every global brand take-away.
5) When doing the groceries you play your own version of “Supermarket Sweep” (sorry, this is another British analogy – Google it to see what I mean). Whenever I spot my family’s favorite coffee/tea/pasta/cookies, I quickly scoop half the packages on the shelf into my trolley, because I know that even if I return later the same day, it’ll be gone and who knows when it’ll be replenished. Shipping schedules are so unreliable!
6) You quickly learn to sip tea from small glasses without burning your fingers or lips and actually prefer the roasted nuts served with black tea.
7) Your “go to” option for hostess gifts is a beautifully packaged selection of fresh macarons, bought at one of the many patisseries that look more like chi-chi boutiques than cake shops.
8) A regular (at least fortnightly) pedicure at one of the many nail bars and salons is de rigeur. It must be experienced at least once whilst living here.
9) Ordering bespoke clothes or furniture, or having pretty much anything made to order is THE canny way to shop. As a friend observed: “In Kuwait you can get anything made… although you can’t always find the materials with which to do it.”
You’ll know you’ve settled in when you find yourself showing a newbie ex-pat around and you suddenly notice their white-knuckle horror at the traffic into which you blithely throw your large, gas-guzzling, V8, and you think to yourself: “The expression ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room’ must have been coined for life in Kuwait!”.
Photographs by Lynda Higgs