Disclaimer: This is my personal advice. You can put your own advice on your own blog. I don't want to hear from haters saying, "You stupid foreigner! Why don't you go back to your own country if you disrespect ours." Ok - to that I say, 'Dudes - I love this country and none of what I am about to say is meant with disrespect, nor is it anything that many of you dudes don't already do, know about and/or discuss.' So there.
For those of you just getting off the banana boat, some DG words of advice on Ramadan in Kuwait. I don't know why companies and other Westerners try to freak out newbies to the Middle East on Ramadan. I love it. It is like an entire month of mass spiritualism and the happy atmosphere that surrounds it (ok, maybe not if you are in traffic with many smokers in the middle of a nicotine crisis during 110 degree weather, however). I guess it is all about attitude. Plus, work hours are shortened and there are all kinds of yummy Ramadan foods around. Newbies - get out there and try some! Ramadan isn't about the woes of not being able to eat for a month for fear of getting in trouble; nor for the dread of horrible drivers on the road. There is so much more to it.
What NOT to do: Attention Newbies! Do not: Eat, drink, chew gum, chew tobacco, pop a tic-tac, smoke or kiss in public (which is illegal in Kuwait anyhoo) during daylight hours.
Do not go grocery shopping during the 3-4 days prior to Ramadan (2014: June 28/29 - July 28/29 - depending on da moon). It is vicious-scary as everyone tries to stock up on food. I have seen people push down pregnant women trying to get into the check-out line.
Office Etiquette: If you are working with those who are fasting (most offices in Kuwait), get the "lay of the land"/ask co-workers what’s cool and what isn’t - before trying to sneak something to eat or drink in your office. One of my colleagues keeps a big thermos of coffee in his office and draws the shades. Don't smoke in your office - that's just dumb and might get you in trouble. People can smell smoke (duuh) and might report it to someone. If you are working on base, of course, military rules apply.
How to tell if a Kuwaiti isn't fasting: They are standing at the hot food (take-away) counter at Sultan Center at noon. You are allowed go give knowing glances and/or giggle. Almost all the Kuwaitis I know fast, but then, I do know others who don't.
How can you tell when it is "ok" to eat/drink? You have to be sure that it is after sunset because even if it is a few minutes before, you could potentially still get in trouble with the law. Right around sunset, you will hear the call to prayer. If you are tuned to any Kuwaiti radio or TV station, they will broadcast the call to prayer and then it is ok to eat. If you are sitting in a restaurant and think that it is sunset, wait first to see if other people start eating.
Note that if you order food prior to sunset, you will be in for a long wait. Ditto on the take-out as you are going to have to wait in line with a lot of other people picking up food for their families (modern day lifestyles).
What happens if you get caught by the po-po eating/drinking/smoking/chewing gum, etc during the day? They wisk you away to jail where you will remain until the end of Ramadan. Good times. What you might try to do this year is start coughing and spewing flem violently if caught. Tell them that you have just travelled to Mexico and you are starting to develop a fever, rash, and fits of vomiting, "Is it just me or is it really hot in your police car? I'm burnin up! cough, cough, flem spew...". It might just land you in the infectuous diseases hospital; however, which is only one step up from jail. At least you'll have TV.
Plan to stay off the Gulf Road around sunset: It becomes the Autobahn for Idiots. I personally have seen people (including small children) die/torn to pieces in accidents because idiot drivers think they HAVE to be home exactly at sunset (they don't). Puhleeze people: if you see a car speeding up behind you with its lights flashing, GET THE F OUT OF THE WAY! This actually could apply to any time of the year in Kuwait but moreso during Ramadan (Bobarino - this really applies to you). Do you think the maniac (Arabic or English tense - your choice) is gonna slow down just because you are there and you want to show how stubborn you can be???? Noooooo. Repeat after me: They just don't care. Keep your camera in the car during Ramadan to get the very best horrific auto accident photos.
Sunset Cruising: The BEST time to shop at the co-ops and the Sultan Center is at sunset. It is also a great time for westerner singles to see other western singles because everybody is there at the same time when it is quiet. Restaurants and shops are often open all night. It is fun and a lot of people go out. Personally, I love it. Most of the major hotels have buffets in tents or in their ballrooms.
If you are single and want to mingle, an hour before sunset every evening during Ramadan is the time to meet someone. You know the saying – anything taboo is going to be more fun, right? A lot of people either walk or drive along the Gulf Road. If you are out there and want to go home, wait 15 to 20 minutes after sunset before moving to make sure the crazy drivers are already back in their homes.
First and last week of Ramadan: Generally, Kuwaiti people will meet with their family and friends during the first week of Ramadan, and then the restaurants will start to fill up as everybody goes out to socialize. The last 10 days of Ramadan are the most spiritual, so a lot of people go to the mosque those nights.
Respect: Loud music (parties), and clothing that isn’t modest (micro-minis or speedos, for example) might not be a good idea throughout the month; both are disrespectful. If the po-po turns a blind eye to partying the rest of the year, they probably won't be as forgiving during Ramadan.
Petty Theft Increase During Ramadan: If you are planning to walk at any of the popular paths/areas during Ramadan – do not EVER leave valuables (purse, wallet, even mobile phones) in your car. Thieves know that people do this and they have and will break into your car to get them. As an extra added bonus, thieves also understand that the police are not going to rush to your rescue at sunset when they haven’t eaten all day. Someone broke into my car at Ras Salmiya’s parking lot at sunset and stole my purse (hidden under the passenger seat) from my Discovery. The police told me to file a report – the NEXT day! I don’t even want to begin to tell you what a pain in the ass it is to try to get new Kuwaiti IDs. It’s not fun. I made the unfortunate mistake of also having several US-based credit cards and my Virginia driver’s license. That really sucked. One of my Kuwaiti friends had a Lexus and the thieves broke through his glass sunroof. That’s just downright dispicable: It costs so much more to replace sunroof glass than the side windows, but thieves also know that many alarm systems don’t go off with entry through a sunroof. I think the thieves also knew that most Discoveries have problems with their door locks (among many many other maintenance issues).
Niceties: What to say to people as a polite Ramadan greeting: Mubarak Alayk Shahar ("Happy month" basically) or "Ramadan kareem" (Ramadan is generous).
Invitations: If you have Kuwaiti friends, they may invite you to their homes during Ramadan (and if you know me - please do because I love the invites! Pick me! Pick me!). It is always good to bring something like a tray of sweets or even a covered dish. Don't think that it is rude if they don't put it out - it is customary (but not always) for people to serve food that they have made first. Neighbors often exchange covered dishes (sometimes marked with their initials on the bottom so they know what belongs to whom) with each other during Ramadan and dayam - do I wish that my neighbors would because whatever they are cooking - it smells fantastic! If you accept an invitation, expect to eat a lot. Every night is like a Thanksgiving feast and Kuwaitis are known for their hospitality - especially during Ramadan. Ramadan foods are generally quite heavy, so wear your stretchy pants.
Charity: Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, Ramadan is a time to remember those less fortunate. If you have a building guard (hariss) who is Moslem -- or not, Ramadan is a good time to extend hospitality to him by bringing a covered plate/dish. I used to love my building guard and regularly cooked for him. People give alms to the poor on Eid, and you will also see charitable Ramadan tents feeding masses of workers. You might also notice people being more generous to street workers and beggars. Similar to the Western custom of tipping people who have given you service at Christmas, Eid is the time in this part of the world.
Lent in Overdrive: If you want to look at it like this, Ramadan is Lent in overdrive. Moslems give up sustainance during the day to empathize with those who have to go without - not out of choice. I have Christian friends who fast during Ramadan because it is spiritual/grounding. It makes sense to fast for the right reasons.
I have enjoyed fasting; it makes me feel like I'm part of a collective spiritual act. I like it better when I break fast with others, however. It is really no fun when you are alone (and then I start to think more about my Kuwaiti friends who were in the US during Ramadan and how I might have been more understanding/compassionate). Just like Christmas dinner, you know that everyone else in the country is doing the same thing that you are at just the same time. It is a nice feeling.
Guergee'an (Mid-Ramadan): If you see little kids all dressed up in festive clothes around mid-month, that's "guergee'an" (sp?). You might also see co-ops and grocery stores selling a mixture of nuts and candy - either loose or in packages. Guergee'an is a holiday indiginous to Kuwait. In the old days, the wee ones would follow a male leader (not MJ) with a lantern (I can't remember the name they have for dude), singing the guergee'an song (maybe someone can send me the lyrics in English or Arabic and I'll write another post about it); and go door-to-door, singing for candy. These days, Kuwaitis generally have guergee'an parties for kids (instead of the door-to-door thing) and households will often make their own home-made baskets or boxes of nuts/candy to distribute to friends and family members (I prefer Patchi please). I guess Guergee'an is similar to Halloween, but without the Pagan ramifications nor the tricks. You won't see anyone toilet-papering houses during Guergee'an (sad, really).
At the end of Ramadan - Eid
Mass Lamb Murders: Kuwaitis eat a lot of lamb and during Ramadan, lamb is also given to those less fortunate. One woman I know and her family cook enough food (not just lamb) for 500 poor people every Eid. There will be a lot of tragic lamb murders prior to Eid, so if you like the cuddly little baa-baa's - stay away from the back side of the Friday Market (bad traffic also). You might see lambs in your neighboorhood; they won't be there very long. Don't form an attachment.
Eid clothes: Beware of clothes shopping and traffic during the week before Eid. For those of you living in the shopping district in Salmiya, get used to the traffic. It gonna git ugly from 7ish on. People buy new clothes for Eid and for some reason, they have to shop immediately prior to Eid instead of doing it year-round when there might be sales. Go figure.
Banking before Eid: If you can avoid going to the bank for the few days before Eid, you should do so. Traditionally, Kuwaitis give children money for Eid. It used to be in small denominations, but with inflation and the economy, it has been increasing. People rush to the bank to ask for stacks of new bills. Banks know this and they have them on hand and they can't be had through the ATM.
Additional cash requirements during Eid: Black market alcohol prices rise tremendously during Eid, so that may be a consideration for some of you criminals/evil-doers. .... I'm just say'in. Maybe you need it for church or something.
If you are planning a trip during Eid, you'd better book in advance. Tickets to the UAE and Bahrain (and other places) go fast and it is always a mad rush at the airport.
F-ing fire crackers during Eid: I HATE this part of the holiday. Every small convenience store stocks up on fire crackers and the little imps run out even early in the morning and start making noise. Just when you thought you could get a little sleep over the holiday.... bam bam bam! It scares poor DesertDawg and she is usually under my bed for 3 days.
Have a happy, blessed month and may God accept all your prayers.