Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

How Decisions are Made in Kuwait

Here is the problem expats have in any country: you don’t know what you don’t know.

If you know you don’t know something, you can learn it. If you don’t know that you don’t know, there is this huge void in your understanding. Many times you can suspect there is a void, and if you ask, people will look at you like you are a little odd, and they will tell you there is no difference.

There IS a difference.

Working together with people of different nationalities, I have learned that some nationalities just forge on ahead and do things. Some nationalities use a more consultative process. Some nationalities expect to be told what to do and don’t do what they are not told to do.

In Friday’s Kuwait Times (February 21) is a column by Shamael Al-Sharikh, called The red, white, green and black. She talks about Kuwait National and Liberation Days, she talks about the shared heritage of all Kuwaitis (honestly, I would love to link you directly to this article but the website is still down) and then – I got a huge “AHA!” She talks about how decisions are made in Kuwait. I will quote a brief section, but I urge you all to find this column and read it in it’s entirety.

“. . . it has become painfully clear that there are nationals of this country who have no sense of belonging to it whatsoever.

However, the storm is about to subside. In a move that shows just how ready Kuwaitis are to mobilize for the sake of their national pride, a few diwaniyas in Kuwait signed a petition and sent it to the Takatul Shaabi political alliance at the National Assembly. It stated that unless MPs Adnan Abdulsamad and Ahmad Lari are asked to withdraw their membership from the Takatul Shaabi, none of it’s members will be welcome in Kuwait’s diwaniyas nor at weddings and funerals.

The move worked: the MPs have been asked to leave. . . the petitions included diwaniyas from all corners of the Kuwaiti society, both Sunni and Shiite, and it covered all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. . . I have never been more proud to support the red, white, green and black than I have now, and I am so proud to be a Kuwaiti.”

Not being welcome in diwaniyas, at weddings or at funerals is not something I would have considered political pressure. It matters here. It mattered enough that when diverse communities within Kuwait made the threat, it was effective. Who knew? Thanks to this column, I learned something I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

February 22, 2008 - Posted by | Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, News, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues


  1. its a social torture to be outcasted anywer not just here dont u think so?

    Comment by pink | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  2. I think nobody likes to be an outcast AND I think it matters more in some cultures than in others. For example, many American men would rather have a tooth pulled than go to a wedding or a funeral. Here, people spend more time with their family and extended family, and affiliation matters more – my opinion based on my observation. I could be wrong, but this is how I think it is.

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  3. it’s a “face” based culture. People will go to lengths to avoid losing face and social standing.

    (I think if you read the stories about the removal of diwaniya’s built on public property in this light it’d be more interesting too. Although I’m not sure it’s covered in English dailies.)

    Comment by G.E&B | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  4. I actually heard of one family’s diwaniya that don’t say hello when a man enters who they think is a thief. I think they don’t stand up or they would give the man an attitude, something like that. Now not greeting a man who comes to visit you is a huge huge insult but it’s their way of denouncing this behavior and shaming these kinds of men.

    I like the idea that diwaniyas are used as a means of lobbying for political action. It gives them an added power on top of the power they already have.

    Comment by 7zaya | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  5. LOL you should see our “Diwanyia” in my uncle’s house. It is informal as hell and they always welcome you with a tasty Biryani rice…YUMM!

    Comment by Angelo | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  6. G.E & B – It IS covered in the Kuwait Times, but I don’t know the significance, and they don’t tell us. What they say is the government is continuing its program of removing “illegal” constructions from the public right of way. They have also mentioned an occasional garden, bakala and other illegal constructions. So there is more to this story? Come, dear, come sit down next to me and explain it to me!

    7zaya – This is turning into one of those great entries where I am learning more from YOUR responses than I had in the original content. It is all so subtle, we could totally miss it if you didn’t tell us about it.

    I love it, too, that the government does arise from the people, in a consultative way. I imagine there are some spirited discussions (our family euphemism for arguments!) And from your entries, I am imagining that these social signals carry a LOT of weight, have important ramifications. For example, the “thief” probably wouldn’t have a lot going for him if he wanted to marry into that family, I am guessing?

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  7. Angelo, the one thing I HATE is that it sounds like all the really good discussions are in the men’s diwaniyyas and women aren’t welcome there. I think I have heard of one or two mixed diwaniyyas, but it sounds like they are not common. I want to go to a diwaniyya where they serve GREAT biryani!

    Another question. In old China, women used to sit behind screens so they could hear the conversations in the men’s meeting rooms – does that happen here?

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  8. I saw in a TV show that takes place in the old days when people used to live in tents that the women could hear what the men are saying sometimes by standing near the material that separates the men from the women in the tent.

    You are right I think that we women are missing out on a lot by not going to diwaniyas.

    Comment by 7zaya | February 23, 2008 | Reply

  9. Genuine

    It puts a smile on the face that regardless of the obnoxious political behavior been going around for the last few years and everyone is trying to take a piece of the cake before it’s way gone. In real crisis, genuine moments are born and we are getting back to what makes this country a united.
    Amazing how time throws you little unexpected surprises that bring us back to the essentials even if it’s for a brief time.

    Comment by Touché | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  10. Hmmm, no I don’t think our Diwaniyas will ever become like the ones in China (although I wouldn’t mind that personally). But there is the feminine version of Diwaniya in Kuwait that is called “The Afternoon Tea”, in which a bunch of women gather in the hostess’s house during the afternoon and talk and gossip until late evening.

    And believe me, you are certainly not missing much from those deiwaniyas. As for the Biryani, I can bring you a whole plate of it anytime you want 😀

    Comment by Angelo | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  11. Aha! 7zaya, I had heard something similar and forgotten! Husbands /fathers /brothers often asked their females to listen and help by giving them impressions and advice! I remember! I think they need to build the diwanniyas with secret chambers so the women can hear too!

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  12. I am hearing many of my Kuwaiti friends say the same thing, Touche’, that Kuwait turned a corner with the stand against these two MPs and the stand against segregation, and the moderates are activating to be sure that the tide of intolerance doesn’t wash away a history of diversity, forward thinking and moderation. Woooo Hoooo, Kuwait! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  13. Angelo – thanks! Just pass it under the curtain, where I am sitting with all the women, listening, on the other side! 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  14. secret chamber!!?? never geard of that!

    Comment by 7zaya | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  15. geard is “heard” lol

    Comment by 7zaya | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  16. 7zaya – it is the newest (old) fashion; diwaniyyas built in the style of the old tents, just a token separation so the women can also hear and advise their mates. 🙂 Great idea, huh? YOU gave it to me!

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 24, 2008 | Reply

  17. […] a post last week, How decisions are made in Kuwait we had a long discussion about diwaniyas in the comments section. What I like about […]

    Pingback by History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (5) « Here There and Everywhere | February 28, 2008 | Reply

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