Article – Culture Shock Kuwait Comments 12018-04-24T06:21:53+00:00

ISR Readers Respond to Culture Shock: Kuwait

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After three years also in Kuwait, I can attest to what this person has written to be true. I loved my students, tried to guide them, but experienced witnessing terrible abuse. I had the misfortune also of living in an apartment building where my next door neighbors were Palestinians, where they regularly screamed and hit each other. When I called the police to come, they never did, but sent an ambulance that waited outside the building until I insisted they come in to check on the married women and who had been beaten so loudly that I could hear the beating through the cement block walls.

I volunteered at an un-named shelter to work with run-away maids. All of the above descriptions are true. There were several hundred living in the embassy. I witnessed broken arms, legs, depression, mental illness too often to accept.

Censorship is a real issue. Be prepared to “learn ” that the Holocaust never happened, that Israel doesn’t exist, that Israelis have no right to protect themselves, that young men and young women should never be alone, that all is Allah’s will so drive like a maniac, run stop signs and signals, drive up on the sidewalk if others are in your car’s way. If you are hit by a Kuwaiti who has run a stop sign, it is your fault for being there. Make sure you get everything in Arabic translated. We were lied to as to what we were signing. Once signed it is legal whether it violates Kuwaiti law or not. Once your Civil ID is cancelled you have NO, –NO, –that’s right, NO! rights for anything, and that includes being paid money or even being able to leave the country should a Kuwaiti parent press charges. Teachers and assistants have been “whisked out of the country” for their own protection in the night after a simple incident not of the teacher’s/assistant’s doing because to wait would mean they could NOT leave the country


Having worked several years at several locations around the Middle East (but not Kuwait), I have to say that the above is sadly, and to varying degrees, true of most of the nations around the Gulf. If you want to know why, read a number of economic, social and political studies and they cite the same common characteristics over and over again: monarchies, heavy dependence on foreign labor, small indigenous populations, sudden extreme wealth, welfare economies, etc.
However, don’t assume the entire Middle East is like this. The Levant is so different than this it might as well be on another planet. Ditto Turkey.

Rule of thumb: In each of the Gulf countries there are two, maybe three very good western private schools, and dozens of others. Of the others, some are merely mediocre and some are scandalously bad. To sort them out, the job seeker should rigorously apply these discriminators: (1) accreditation by western accreditation agencies including CIS, IBO; (2) high diversity in student nationalities (genuine, not just passport holders); (3) large majority of western faculty and administrators, with reasonably low turnover rates; (4) reasonable success rates for IB, AP and other standard assessments; (5) high proportions of graduating classes admitted to good western universities.

In the Middle East, you absolutely MUST ask about these numbers and if you get poor, vague, hesitant or inconsistent responses you should nod politely and move on. Of course, they are good data with which to judge employment at any international school.


I taught in Kuwait and I do not see any untruth in this story. The people of Kuwait are not very nice as a whole. I did meet a few that were liberated and forward thinking—but truly they were in a small minority. Human rights groups would have a hay day of the abuses of young women in Kuwait.


I have been teaching in Kuwait for six years and I have to agree with the fellow who wrote this article. It is a very accurate portrayal of what to expect for teachers considering working in Kuwait. It wasn’t negative or one-sided, but revealed ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ side of working and living in this country.

I have to agree with everything said above. I lived in Kuwait for two years, and made many good friends, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anybody as a good place to go. Many of the schools are nothing more than money making machines. They care little to not at all about the staff or students of the school. Many call themselves international schools, but they’re not. They have international staff, but all Kuwaiti kids. They’ll promise you something entirely different from what you’ll get when you arrive there.

In general, the Kuwaitis have no respect for anyone or anything but themselves. They are VERY self-centered, and going to the front of the line is but a minor offense in the list of things they feel they are entitled to. I am a single female, and when I reminded Kuwaiti men about the fact that I’d been waiting, they treated me worse than a pesky bug. BUT, I was insistent, and they usually backed down, however, NEVER gracefully, always with a lot of muttering and telling me I was rude. Kuwaiti men following and propositioning women is NOT confined to Filipinas and Indonesian women, trust me. They think just as lowly of western women, and frequently try to “buy” you. The airport is always a hit and miss situation for single women. You MIGHT get through with absolutely no problems, or you might get detained, held in a small room for hours, with absolutely NO reasons given, other than that they CAN. One security guard at the airport might be very kind and helpful, and the next rude to the point of treating you like less than an animal.

One of the things not mentioned above is that if you are ever in an accident involving a Kuwaiti, the Kuwaiti is ALWAYS right, and you are ALWAYS at fault. Kuwaiti society is, itself, divided into three tiers, and the police and military are in the bottom tier. Therefore, most Kuwaitis will have superiority over the police, therefore, wasta. A piece of advice from a friend who works for the US military police: If you are in an accident, IMMEDIATELY get out of the car and start taking photos with your cell phone (even if it doesn’t have a camera in it, ACT like it does!). This tends to scare them a bit, and MAY give you a fighting chance. Secondly, IMMEDIATELY call your embassy for a translator and a backup person, or you stand NO chance whatsoever, of being cleared of responsibility of the accident.

This lack of respect translates into lack of respect for ALL living things, and animals suffer greatly in Kuwait. The “in” thing is to “order” a pet that someone on TV or a famous movie star has. Muslims typically do not keep pets in the house, but many of them see it as some sort of “status symbol” to own one of these pets. They have the money to buy anything they want, remember? So they order these dogs (and cats) and then when they get them, realize that they have to be taken care of. That’s just too much work, so they either abandon them to the streets, or just abuse them until they die. Seriously. I became involved with animal rescue shortly after my arrival in Kuwait, and many of the animals we rescued were purebreds, tattooed, and hideously beaten and scarred. Many were starving, dehydrated, and had been left out in the 50 degree heat with no shelter or water, tied up with a 6 foot or shorter chain, for weeks. Inhumane treatment.

As for the abuse of the maids, I will personally attest to the fact that it is RAMPANT, and to an extent that most westerners would never believe humanly possible. I seriously tried NOT to become involved in rescuing runaway maids, as it is a very dangerous undertaking. But, near the end of my stay in Kuwait, I became involved with another friend who had been rescuing runaway maids for a couple of years, and taking them to their embassies for “safekeeping”. Some of the things we saw first hand, and heard of second hand, were shocking enough to make me physically ill. I’d heard the stories, just like everybody else. It’s no secret. But to actually see these women, so brutally beaten as to be almost not recognizable as human, is something you can’t imagine. Many of them have been raped repeatedly by the men of the house (including boys as young as 12) and become pregnant, so need to be “taken care of”. Disposed of is more likely. The embassy basements are FULL of runaway maids, who have nowhere else to go. But the embassies can not house or protect them all. And they can not afford to send them all home, either. Their “owners” have their passports and their sponsor papers, and without them, they are illegal residents, and can’t get out of the country. The embassies try to negotiate with the “owners”, but often to no avail. There is a network of women (and some men) who collect clothing and food to help these maids, stuck in the embassy basements. The saddest part is that the Kuwaiti government is FULLY AWARE of the situation, and does nothing about it.

Now, having said all of this, I, too, have to say, that I met a few wonderful Kuwaitis. But yes, most of these were either raised or educated in North America or Europe. And THEY are appalled at what is happening in their country. One friend, a university professor, sent his class of Chemical Engineering students home one day. Told them he was tired of wasting his time on spoiled Kuwaiti little boys who didn’t want to learn anyway. When I saw him later that evening, he was furious with his countrymen for raising their kids to be so disrespectful and arrogant. He said that Kuwaiti parents spend little to no time with their children, and then try to “buy” their love. They think that money means everything, and this is what the children are growing up with. He and his friends told me that they are afraid for the future of their country, because the Kuwaitis have become so lazy and arrogant. They said what the writer above said, and what I frequently said. If the expats pull out of Kuwait (and they WILL when the oil starts to run out or things get too radical), the country will implode. There will be nothing left of it. There will be nobody to do the work, to keep the country going.

So, if you decide to go to Kuwait, DO be prepared. There is quite a good social scene going, with many opportunities to meet other expats, but underneath the glittering facade, it’s a terribly ugly country.


sounds like a bitter,jelous,sucks at his job person whoever wrote this review. first he says they are horrible ppl,then he goes,they are fun to hang out with.and then he makes fun of the ‘Filipinas’,whos being racist??.I am Kuwaiti,and yes i have help in the house,which im not ashamed to admit,but the differance is,not only is she respected and treated like a human being(and she’s christian..what a shocker!!),her feelings and wellbeing comes first and then mine,because she is helping take care of my children while im at work(another shocker!Kuwaity actually working)from 7am till 4pm.The reviewer,actually this whole site is soooo racist its beyond silly.I hope your ‘teachers’ do take head and dont come to Kuwait,cuz all they do is take money without paying taxes,feed off of Kuwaities generosity and hospitality,suck at their job and leave.I studied in the states and in Kuwait.Lets compare,the reviewer says here we dont respect ppl.OK,in the school ive been to,in Sacramento,California,the student would shout at the teacher,be totally rude to her,and even ignore her.I would pray every day to get back home to Kuwait, I literally feared for my life living in the states,seeing ppl abused infront of me,and having my car stolen so many times.Im truly blessed to be born Kuwaiti,where we dont have to live in fear like in the states.The reviewer says hes used to ppl being respected? Like your mexican housemaids or gardeners?Where racism still exists and thriving in the states??Our only fault is that we’re too nice,thats why you shouldnt come to Kuwait.You dont belong here,or your beer belly.Americans are uneducated,uncultured,and full of themselves.Dont believe me,ask anybody in Europe,Asia,South America,Africa…i think you get the picture.


Ditto for Qatar: Same scenario. Same arrogance and disrespect for anyone other than themselves. These people also hate dogs and cats. I choose not to install cable tv and yet I had 23 pornographic channels for free! The foreign workers lived like slaves in 120 degree heat with no air conditioning. As a female, I was required to ride in the back seat of a car, unless I was driving. I was not allowed to have a male enter my apartment at anytime, even co-workers. I felt so sorry for the foreign workers.


This article is no exaggeration, and conforms to what I have heard from many teachers who lived, worked and ran from Kuwait. I refused to accept repeated offers to teach in Kuwait because my heart cannot take seeing human beings treated so badly and helpless to change it or to do anything about it, to boot. Personally, being an American, I just cannot accept personal abasement and insults without responding and this would have put me in danger and real jeopardy. At some point, the Kuwaitis will have to change or they and their society will lose every material thing they now have. For the most part, the Kuwaiti society garners no respect from most of the rest of the world, the Arab world included.


Very generous, true and sad to remember it all (4 years there). If you are a single female, or married, you will be twice as angry most of the time because of how you are treated. I gave up walking on the beautiful seaside, for example, because I got fed up with gross old farts pulling up in their fancy cars trying to pick me up. Keep your passport, make local friends to help you (for real) and save your money. Otherwise, it’s the most spoiled, racist, backward gang on earth.


Sadly, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia represent what the poisoning oil money has done for the culture. It has (generally) created an arrogant society not able to develop “people skills” or an understanding of human kindness. It is so easy for Westerners to attach it to Islam, but one has to look at countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Yeman, and even Iraq that have well educated, hard working, loving people that are Muslims but tolerant and caring of other nationalities and religions. The worse thing about oil rich countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is that they don’t even know that they are looked upon as “second class citizens” when it comes to “citizens of the world”. (Note: yes, there are exceptions to these countries.)


Every country has its good points and bad points……………thank God Obama will shut down Guantanamo Bay, eh?


EXCELLENT AND HONEST REPORT ON THE GULF. I LIVED IN TWO COUNTRIES IN THE GULF AND THE PLIGHT OF THE POOR DOMESTIC SERVANTS AND LABORERS IS APPALLING. WESTERN TEACHERS ARE ALSO EXPLOITED IN ARAB OWNED SCHOOLS. I WONDER IF THERE ARE ANY ETHICAL ARAB OWNED SCHOOLS? I HOPE YOU SHARE YOUR REPORT WITH OTHERS.


After seven years in Kuwait, I am sad to say that I agreed with everything in this article. As a Western female I might add other cautions, or I might emphasize how the Kuwaiti sense of entitlement makes traffic more frustrating and dangerous. More importantly, while I was disturbed and annoyed by the same experiences and common knowledge of abuses, I would also add a caveat for animal lovers. Westerners in general like cats and dogs. So many of us have grown up with family pets and take for granted a degree of goodwill toward animals. Animal torture is common in Kuwait, almost a hobby for many children, and video of animal torture makes the circuit on mobile phones and facebook accounts among many Kuwaitis, male and female, young and old. Stray populations are large and vulnerable. Those that avoid people succumb to extreme weather and harsh conditions. A day rarely passed that I didn’t see dead cats or dogs on the road, left to rot in the sun. For those considering a move to Kuwait, these things might be worth taking into account as well. There are animal welfare organizations – one run by Brits another by Americans – but involvement with them can sometimes be even more heartbreaking because the problems are overwhelming.


For “Kuwaiti”, you could substitute “Qatari”.


How has recruitment been coming along for the schools in Kuwait over the past few years? Are they still filling the classrooms with teachers despite these horrible things?


Thank you so much for your frank and clearly honest reportage. It’s important to share real information and not fall victim as so many expats do to the “visitor’s blindness” syndrome I so often see. There seems to have been some rather insane paradigm shift in relating to cultures when abroad. As someone with an MA in Social Conflict, I find this flabbergasting. I’ve heard over and over again expats living abroad excuse or downplay some inhumane or unintelligent or exploitive event/attitude/event/expectation by saying “It’s culture” or “It’s their culture” or something unfair or unprofessional happens and it’s just ignored (shouting at people in the workplace is not professional, for example). They act like thralls instead of educated people with actual boundaries and backbones, as though being a non citizen demands that you leave your good sense or ethics at home and be a fearful conforming child. Let me announce to everyone that the popular axiom “I’m not judging,” is in part idiotic. If you are not judging — assessing, observing, comparing, evaluating — you cannot exercise ethics or intelligence. So you should always be assessing a foreign culture. The weight of this “I’m not judging” attitude has a very pernicious effect in that it serves to perpetuate inequities in a culture. As usual, the victims are women; men become rapists and lassiz fare attitudes enable such things.


I can understand the outrage and shock that many westerners experience when they leave the borders of their countries: most of the world is not as good about hiding its ills as the Western world is. However, if you interact long enough with the poor, the colored, and the immigrants in North America, you will discover that dehumanization of the powerless is as humiliating in the US as in Kuwait.

After reading “Culture Shock: Kuwait”, I have a suggestion to ISR: Please edit material in order to avoid loss of credibility. The sordid details that are presented in this article are excessive and redundant. Rather than advancing the debate, you may turn some readers off.


I have lived and worked in Kuwait in a private school. I agree with the story above. It seems a true and reasonable account of life in Kuwait. I personally became afraid after a phone call from a parent. The child had lied, of course, to cover up their anti-social behavior. I was warned not to challenge the Kuwaitis or there could be dire consequences. I hope do not tar all Kuwaitis with the same brush. But unfortunately their immense wealth has not made them any better educated or responsible. The article above is accurate, particularly about the maids. There is no protection for them. They are slaves. There should be United Nation sanctions taken against Kuwait unless they pass laws to protect their huge number of ex-pat workers. Primitives in a modern world. I guess we expect more from them because they have wealth and some education, but it is lacking.


I am all for teachers supporting teachers but I am not convinced that this article is appropriate for ISR.


I encountered a similar experience in Bahrain, another formerly Oil-rich (or at least connected) Gulf State. I can’t agree with your assessment more. People should certainly be prepared for the mentality that is exhibited by some of the Arabs when you go to one of these countries to live and/or teach.


This was the way it was when I was there 2001-2003. I see nothing has changed. You are better off without these people. Unless you have no other offers, I wouldn’t reinforce the master slave society of this place.


I would like to say thank you to the person who wrote this lengthy insight into Kuwaiti culture. As a woman reading this I wonder why anyone would ever want to work there. I also believe by staying in this society you are buying what they are giving. If we continue to support this by working in their schools we are supporting them no matter whether it is an enriching experience or not. One can have enriching experiences in other parts of the world.


Being a teacher in Kuwait for the past 2 years I can say that many of the things are mentioned here are real occurrences but the author’s account leaves much to desire about the suggestion of the frequency of such things. They happen, yes, but the dramatic situations are far from overly common. And I have yet to see ISR post social commentary on the widespread local problems of the rest of the developing world; graphic prostitution next to schools in Thailand, Child Smuggling I personally witnessed while working in Delhi, and on and on. Yes, Kuwait has serious problems but to be highlighted in such a dramatic fashion without any sense of balance or the same scope being focused on many other areas of the International Teaching Community is biased, unfair, and really just supports the ideal that ISR is a web site that promotes “yellow journalism”.


Well written. Everything you have mentioned is true of the UAE where I have taught. It is one of the most racist societies I have ever lived.

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