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Kuwait - Local Customs

Cultural traditions are very important to the Kuwaiti people, and their religious heritage plays a major role in their lives and customs. Religion provides structure to day-to-day living, from pre-dawn prayers to the last prayers of the evening. 'Family' is very important to the Kuwaiti people; it is common for up to four generations of one family to live together in the same house. Networks based on the 'clan' are very strong and provide the basis of social relationships in Kuwait today.


Most men spend their evenings after work in their diwaniya; a room either in the house or purpose-built in the garden. Activities within the diwaniya include talking with friends and family, playing cards, drinking coffee and watching television. During the winter months diwaniyas are often found outdoors (in tents or open areas of a garden). Many important contacts and business deals are made at diwaniyas and invitations are generally for men only. It is customary to remove ones shoes before entering.


Kuwaiti's are very generous people and enjoy welcoming guests to their homes. Should a man be invited to a Kuwaiti's home it is wise to check whether the invitation is for him alone, or also for his wife. Socialising with strangers is very different to socialising with friends and the sexes often socialise separately.

When entering a home make sure to take off your shoes if you notice many shoes outside the front door; this shows respect to your host. On entering the seating area it is customary for everyone in the room to rise and for you to give the polite greeting of ‘Assalam A’laikum (Peace be with you)’ Replies of ‘A’laikum Assalam (and Peace be with you)’ will be made. Always stand for greetings. It is at this time that you will know whether the women will sit apart from the men.
Kuwaitis out of respect say a number of greetings when meeting friends and business acquaintances. These greetings include asking after family although it is considered impolite to specifically ask after women and children, unless one knows the family very well. Greetings will often be said by two people at the same time and tradition usually means that the greetings are repeated. It is customary for Kuwaitis of the same sex to kiss one another on the cheek when greeting; this can be a single kiss or up to four kisses depending on the relationship. A kiss on the forehead is usually given by a junior member of a family to a senior member of a family i.e. a grandson kissing his grandfather. This is a gesture of deep respect. Extremely conservative men will not shake hands with a woman, and conservative women will not shake hands with men, apart from relatives.

Refreshments are served as a matter of course, no matter how long or short the visit and it is considered good manners to partake. Dinner is always served very late in Kuwaiti homes and meals are usually elaborate affairs. Food is eaten using the right hand on informal occasions; on formal occasions Western-style dining takes place. Cleanliness is very important and hands are always cleaned prior to eating and the word ‘Bismillah (in the name of God) precedes the beginning of a meal. Being Muslim, Kuwaitis refrain from eating pork and drinking alcohol of any kind. Chicken, fish, lamb, bread and rice are staples of Kuwaiti cuisine.
At the end of the meal hands are washed and coffee and/or tea, with sweets, is usually served in a separate room. Tea is served in small glasses on saucers. Arabic coffee is served in small china/porcelain cups and is to be finished; should you not wish to have your cup refilled simply ‘wiggle’ the cup between thumb and forefinger to show that no more coffee is wanted. It is very important not to outstay your welcome after dinner. A good host will always try to tempt you to stay; however, this is a gesture of politeness and it is not expected for you to agree to stay on!

At weddings and funerals men and women will sit in separate rooms/areas. Visitors are expected to do the same.

Out of respect for Muslim hosts do not show the soles of your shoe when seated. It is considered extremely impolite to turn your back on anyone.

Female visitors should always dress modestly. Never wear very short skirts, sleeveless outfits or plunging necklines. Always ensure that knees are covered when seated.

Religious customs

Muslims are required to carry out formal prayer five times a day (facing Mecca) according to the position of the sun; before dawn, at noon, during the afternoon, after sunset and in the evening. Calls to prayer emanate from the loudspeakers at every mosque, reminding the faithful of prayer times.

The numerous mosques located throughout Kuwait ensure that all Muslims have easy access for prayer, although women generally tend to pray at home. However, it is not uncommon to see the faithful praying on the side of major expressways/in the desert, and in prayer rooms located in shopping malls, hospitals and offices.

Friday is the Islamic holy day and Muslims make a special effort to ensure that they pray at a mosque for the lunchtime congregational prayers.

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