Tuesday, January 26, 2010

American University of the Middle East?

I have received a LOT of requests for information on this University and have heard very little from friends about it. Does anyone have any feedback? It seems like they are hiring and a lot of people are interviewing.
Their website is http://www.aum.edu.kw/. I know they're affiliated with Purdue. Who owns the university in Kuwait? I notice that they are also affiliated with Human Soft and the scuttlebut on them was not good.
Sometimes you can find info at International School Review. Nothing yet on AUME though.

I received the below recently from a reader (similar to others I've received).

I just wonder whether you could get me in touch with those who already had interview or job with AUME. I really appreciate your advice on this matter. I need to make my decision as soon as possible. I have not read good things about this school. I got an email saying they will cover my ticket and hotel fees.

Thank you

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Super-Fun Time at the X-Cite Showroom, Avenues

Employee traning is VITAL to retail sales.
It takes years to gain a customer and seconds to lose one.

Case in point today. I visited Safat Al-Ghanim and X-Cite at The Avenues. The sales people are always nice on the furniture side (but do tend to be a bit clingy and follow you around - like you are going to hoist a sofa onto your shoulder and run out the door).

I have had consistent bad times in Al-Ghanim Electronics - starting back in the mid 90's. I actually see some of the same employees that I did at their showroom in Salmiya in 1997 and on. They STILL don't speak and most of them don't make eye contact. They are just rude.

Today, it was the worst. Lebanese male model stood in front of me, brushing back the gelled hair from his face, staring through me. I asked him a question. He continued staring. No response. I stood and waited. No response. I waved my hand in front of his face, 'Hel-looooo. Do you work here?' He mumbled (mashallah - he's ALIVE!). I asked him about a humidifyer that I wanted to buy. No response. Blank stare. Do you think that the hair gel was affecting his mental capacity for speech? I don't get it. So, I bent down, picked up the rather large humidifyer in the box, and walked to the counter.

No, no, no... wait... it gets worse.

I ask dude behind the counter where the store manager is. No response. I ask again. He lifts his arm and points to the corner of the store. (Now ya know, that must have taken an extraordinary amount of effort to do something so physical like that - somebody get him a Panadol.) I was still on the fence about going to chat with the manager or making the determination that it would just be another PITA waste of my time. I was deciding the later and decided to remain quiet.

No, no, no... wait... it gets worse.

Then, as I am standing there in front of four men with equally blank faces and no responses behind the counter, a young Kuwaiti kid walks by and says something nasty about me in Arabic - (there are like 20 security guards in the store and they are all just standing doing nothing because Al-Ghanim doesn't employ people who might be slightly intimidating to hooligans) which I choose to ignore because he's obviously been raised by farm animals and he can't help being a piglet. The guy who is ringing me up looks over at the kid and says, in Arabic, "Your mother's vagina" (not going to spell it out in Arabic). Cashier dude is standing literally 2' away from me. I frick-in lost it.

"Ayeb minik! (Basically shame on you.) WHAT makes you think that I can't understand Arabic? Shame! Do you use that language in front of ALL your customers?"

No response. Nervous laughter from the other 3 men who are standing behind the counter.

No, no, no... wait... it gets worse.

I do the Angry White Woman March back to where the store manager is. A tiny woman behind the "customer service" counter stares at me. I ask THREE times to speak to the store manager. "Is there a problem?" Well yes, otherwise, I wouldn't be standing there, shaking mad, asking for a STORE MANAGER, now would I? She runs off to get dude (who should probably spend more time on the sales floor than in the back office).

Here's what I hate about most managers in these situations in Kuwait: They expect you to go out and confront whoever wronged you - publicly; putting you in a position where you are - once again - in an uncomfortable position in their store. "Come with me! Show me which ones!" Oh. My. God. It's like going to a line-up with no 2-way mirror.

So by now, I have an audience of people standing around with their arms folded in front of them staring blankly at me. Just what I needed. Thaaaaaaaaaanks!

None of the sales people made eye contact with the store manager either. I guess that should make me feel better. They obviously just don't give a snap about anyone.

Manager Dude insists, "You will see! I will do something. You will see." Um... no I won't see because I have been embarrassed enough in your store and I'm not planning to go back to "see". I'm going to run right back to my computer and blog about it in the hopes that someone from Al-Ghanim will actually help themselves by investing in a profit-generating tool: CUSTOMER SERVICE TRAINING.

--- Update ---

I got a call from a manager at X-Cite who said that he had read my blog and apparently had spoken to the store manager. He was very apologetic. I don't feel that going back into the store where I was so publicly humiliated - and facing a second humiliation - will really help motivate me to shop in their stores again. Although it was nice of him to apologize, it does nothing to change what happened. (Personally, I don't want to waste the gas in my car and the amount of time it would take for me to go there. My time is valuable and enough has been wasted on this one incident.)

How are you going to fix it? If I go in, then the next time I go in, I will receive preferential treatment and their sales people will still perform bad customer service to everyone else. How are you going to find a solution? Judging from the number of comments I have received saying that people have had similar experiences in X-Cite, I think that what Al-Ghanim really needs to do is to have people perform mystery shopping services, or customer satisfaction surveys. They make a HUGE deal of handing their customers an enormous invoice with every purchase (it is the singular task that their sales associates actually do well), so maybe they can include a website for an on-line survey.

For those who have written in saying that it is "no big deal": Publically speaking those forms of abusively vulgar obscenities is an actual criminal act in Kuwait.

As for the one anonymous comment who was intent on telling me how so much more well educated Lebanese people are - you have missed the point.

Thank you all for the comments. Maybe it will help Al-Ghanim (and others) in the long run. All feedback can be positive.

Seven Seas Restaurant Review

Whileback, I was asked to write a restaurant review for a magazine. They decided not to run it (disappointy face) and so I've decided to post it here on my blog. It was one of the more memorable evenings I've had in Kuwait. I think that the owners were still mulling over the new menu and weren't sure what they would keep and what they would scrap. I HOPE that they have kept the paella because it ROCKED BAYBEEE! If you go there, ask for it - even if they don't have it, maybe they can be coerced into it.

I sat down to dinner with long-lost friends I was meeting for the first time. Our table overlooked the water and the lights flickered over the waves.

Transporting guests is a passion of Operations Manager for New Concepts, Miguel Estevez-Gonzales. “You have to love what you do or you’d better stay at home.” He says with an enormous, sincere Spanish smile. He exudes a positive energy that is contagious.

Miguel comes to Kuwait from Galicia, “the Seafood Coast” in Spain where his family has owned a farm for five hundred years. He knows seafood and good produce. He set off to discover the world through food, establishing and running restaurants all over the UK, “I used to drive 7 hours a day.” Looking after 75 restaurants is no small feat. During his career, he has managed and opened restaurants in thirty-seven cities in the UK. After thirteen years, he searched for a new adventure and when the opportunity presented itself to come to Kuwait, he took it.

In Kuwait for a brief 6 months, he has worked with the Al-Humaizi family (owners of Kout Food Group) to create a new concept for the Seven Seas restaurant; in operation for several years but that has been somewhat of a sleeping beauty, “Just look at this location!” Miguel is here to liven up the place. Kuwait will change in five years time. Whatever happens in Europe and the US will come here. Eating well is very important.” Miguel promises an organic menu with wild seafood rather than farm-raised. “If we are going to change people, we are going to change them through good quality.”

His philosophy is simply based on four essential ingredients to restaurant management: Ambiance, food, service and entertainment. “If one is missing, none of the others matters.” He mentions “entertaining the guest” often. “Don’t ever forget you are on a stage.” He wants people to feel like they belong; like the restaurant is someplace where they can come to relax and feel at home. “I love people. I want to put soul into the restaurant. We want to be proud of it.”

His methods translate through the ranks. He uses positive energy and a hands-on approach to training. “Some people think your work stops when you become a manager, but that is when the work starts.” He gladly empowers staff members and gives incentives, but warns that quality must be consistent. “I don’t want to hear the same old, ‘thank you sir/maam.’ I want servers to have a personal approach, to be welcoming. You don’t call a 25-year old customer, ‘Sir’ for example. We do it right or we don’t do it at all. Let’s entertain people! I don’t believe in advertising a product. I believe in advertising who you are.”

Corporate Chef Souhail Ahmad shouldn’t need to advertise his product. His creations don’t just speak to you, they sing. Souhail has been in Kuwait for nine years and started at the international award-winning hotel, JW Marriott. He and Miguel travel together to other countries to check out the competition and seem to get along like Lebanese-Spanish brothers. They’ve obviously put a lot of thought and creative energy into developing the new menu for the Seven Seas that incorporates the varied flavors of Spain. “We’re not going to use cream (said with a scowl). We don’t want to hide the taste of the wonderful seafood.” Their plans to entertain the guest include live music; they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a white baby grand piano, “You can’t just put on a CD and expect there to be ambiance”. They will also soon incorporate a proper afternoon tea (with scones, finger sandwiches and pastries) and an extensive and quite varied European breakfast (including a variety of muffins and eggs and specialty items like Spanish egg frittatas, boiled eggs with truffle sauce, and caviar eggs benedict), so that guests can visit at any time of the day.

Their pride was apparent in presenting an enormous amount of some of the best seafood I have ever tasted - anywhere in the world. The new paella dish at Seven Seas puts all other paellas anywhere to shame. “It serves two,” says Miguel; but two of what? The portion is enormous (large enough to easily serve four) and like all the other seafood we were presented, perfectly cooked and arranged artistically, but not over-the-top. In my thirteen years in Kuwait, I have never had a properly cooked muscle until the night at Seven Seas. I asked Souhail if he knew the story of paella and he politely let Miguel tell it (in true romantic Spaniard style), “…There was a king who created it for his wife who he loved very much.” There are other variations on the story, but Miguel’s is my new favorite. The dish was the highlight of the evening with generous amounts of calamari, lobster, shrimp, and fish.

But it was a hard choice to determine a favorite, really. All the dishes were fantastic and memorable: appetizers of tender shrimp in a finely minced mango salsa, eggplant layered with ricotta and tomatoes, drizzled with fresh pesto sauce; a side of grilled asparagus with lemon; entrees of fish stew of balool (baby hamoor or grouper) in a light saffron-based sauce served in a terracotta dish, and an amazing rock-salt encased wild British sea bass that was professionally cut by first peeling back the skin to reveal fish cooked to perfection. This was all followed by a sampling of cakes; outstanding berry cheesecake (which Miguel thought was “too strong”, but I found to be just right) and an orange pound cake which was light and soft.

We ate a tremendous amount of food for a single setting. The other items on the new menu sound equally as spectacular as the food we “sampled”: battered cod and hand-cut olive oil chips, poached salmon with rocca and dill yoghurt, fresh rock oysters with shallot vinegar sauce, beluga caviar. The restaurant has kept their seafood display of fresh fish cooked in as-you-like-it styles accompanied by a variety of sauces. And – much to my delight - someone has finally come up with interesting salads in Kuwait: endive and pear, salmon and ruccola, shrimp and avocado. I am happy to see that they have kept one of my favorites, Kuwaiti Mourrabian, on the menu. For those who don’t eat seafood, there are several interesting dishes like roasted veal steak with peppercorn sauce and sautéed green asparagus; and home-made spinach and ricotta tortellini with cream and black truffle sauce. I can’t wait to try some of the desert items like bonbons gelato dipped in chocolate and pavlova meringue with strawberry sauce. There is also an item on the breakfast menu that has piqued my curiosity: a bowl of hot chocolate.

Our dinner time flew by. We were there for almost three and a half hours, but didn’t realize it. We felt so at ease and completely comfortable - as if we had known Miguel all our lives. He had, quite obviously, accomplished his mission of making us feel at home with friends; transported away from worries of the day. Driving off, I was contentedly sleepy and full of food. I was surprised at myself as my thoughts turned to the time when I could next visit Seven Seas. It was one of those memorable dinners that I won’t soon forget. The restaurant has combination just right: Outstanding food, great service, and comfortable ambiance.

The Seven Seas is located on the seaside of the Gulf Road, upstairs from Burj Al-Hamam Restaurant, in Bnaid Al Gar. For information phone 2240-2220.

- - -

What IS WRONG with Blogger formatting?? Why does it get screwy when you cut/paste from Word? I hate that!!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sleep Apnea - Where do you go in Kuwait for Treatment?

I snore like a mofo. Always have. I musta been snoring in the womb. I'm not going to be shy about it (not that I'm shy about much). But, it seems like it has gotten worse lately and on several occassions, I've woken up and my tongue has appeared a weird shade of blue, leading me to wonder if evil smurfs are to blame or if I'm not getting enough oxygen. My mother thinks I may have sleep apnea.

The realization of my dilema was brought about when The Man said very kindly, "I don't mind your snoring. It's okay. But, I'm worried about you because it seems like you can't breathe." Translation: "You snore like a mofo. So loud, in fact, that it is causing cracks in the foundation of the bedroom. " He scored major brownie points by his nonchalant attitude, but again - this is the same guy who looked at me nekkid lately and told me that my ass is getting fat (NOT something you want to hear when you're nekkid). It is a delicate balance.

Desert Dawg has on occassion woken me up. She sleeps on my bed and is usually so quiet and treads so lightly that I never hear her. The times that she has woken me up have been when she is either staring at me at such close proximity that I can feel her doggy breath on me, or when the opera has been too much, bopped me in the face with her paw. "C'mon bitch, STOP!"

Ok, so here is my big question, Kuwait: Where in Kuwait do they diagnose sleep problems/apnea? I'm going to check with my medical staff. When you get to be "29," all of a sudden you don't just have a doctor, you have a "staff" (like Grey's Anatomy, only not as good looking).

House could come in and diagnose what I have. He'd say, "Have you ever had sex in the desert?" and I'd be all, "NO! Of COURSE I have not had sex in the desert." and then he'd be like, "LIAR! We did a yadayada test and we found traces of Dilmun-Sumerian camel dung dust on the inside of your lungs!" Everybody lies.

(What happens on the dig stays on the dig.)

Again, back to my question: Who diagnoses sleep disorders in Kuwait?
Then, my next question is: if they video tape me sleeping/singing opera like Luciano Pavarotti (God rest his soul), will it appear on YouTube?

Help AFL at their events

The weather is great, so here are a few things to do:

Animal Friends League and K's PATH (which sorry, is a weird name and I don't like it) will be hosting its bi-annual Shelter Open Day. Friday, 29 January from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at the sanctuary in Wafra.

Free although y'alls who are generally cheapassess should give them a donation to help the poor little furry creatures. Puhleeze, some of you pay big money for playing with kitties... This, however, is a family event. No monkey spaking is allowed (although you can look at their baboons - you just can't touch).

Animal Friends League and K's PATH (which sorry, is a weird name and nobody remembers it because it isn't catchy) will have a yard sale on Saturday, February 6. Call 67001622 to have your stuff picked up and carted away or to get directions and drop off. (Can they pick up my neighbors' noisy kids?)

Thanks, G Man, for passing the info along.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bedoor Al-Mutairi, Hawa Taxi (the pink ones)

I am loving all the articles about Bedoor Al-Mutairi and the pink taxis; the one today in the Arab Times in particular. The other articles have been discussing the concept and the launch, but this article touches on Ms. Al-Mutairi's difficulties in getting the project off the ground -which ya know, this being Kuwait and she being female, was bound to happen. She approached Kuwaiti investors and they turned her down (most likely because she's female. Had she been male, they probably would have run with it because its a great idea and it has been done in the UAE for years). I can just see them with their rice bellies, reeking of too much cologne, looking down their noses at her and taking numerous calls on their mobile phones from "more important" people like their mandoobs. RRRR! Typical! I have SO been in a similar seat.... (Somebody throw me a Prozac and/or a sledge hammer!)

Kuwait Small Projects Development Company (KSPDC) agreed. The KSPDC is part of the Kuwait Investment Authority. KSPDC doesn't have a website that I could find and the KIA's is no good (no information). I would love to know more about what they do and how they help small businesses like this. Good for them! They need to hire a marketing person (I'm here....).

Anyhow, the article stated that some of the investors she approached are now coming around since she's received publicity. I think it will be huge for Ms. Al-Mutairi and wish her the best. I love to see Kuwaiti women developing an idea into a business - and there is such a need in Kuwait for this one.

If you have ever been alone in a taxi in Kuwait and had a weird guy staring at you for the whole ride, you'll understand what I mean. It is even worse at night.

And hey, nothing like being abducted by a taxi driver and sold into white slavery, then "rescued" by police only to have your picture in the paper as a "prostitute", and then put into a deporation center for a year and sent packing to your home country where you no longer have means of supporting your family (but hey - I'm not Indian nor Asian, so that wouldn't happen to me). It IS happening to other women in Kuwait.

I like it that she has a plan of action incase "Eve teasers" (as they say in the newspaper, but WTF!?) harass the female-only taxis and their drivers. She has a very well thought out legal plan (mine would involve an AK and a bottle of gasoline... but that's just my fantasy world again).

Bedoor, you get a big Desert Girl, "YOU GO, GIRL!" (and I'll even put it in pink!). I hope you have a very prosperous future (which I am sure that male business men will be emulating starting sometime in the next few weeks).

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Now that I'm back in Kuwait, I am just so not-thrilled by being here. I get depressed when I get back and this time, it has hit me hard.

For one thing, The Man is now on mandatory shift work. I can't believe all the problems he's having at work. So, I may never get to see him. It was bad enough before this. After 15 years of doing work he loved, the ministry sent him and 37 other officers to a totally different type of work. I feel so bad for him.

My work? I love my job. I hate all the peripheral bullshit that goes on. I don't get how so many Kuwaiti companies have taken the global economic crisis and turned it into their own unethical behavior spree. C'mon - are most in Kuwait really that hard hit? I don't think so. Anyways, they pulled some more monkey business on me while I was away and has me wondering why I am still bustin my hump to work as hard as I do.

Slapperella and I checked out PF Changs the other night. There was an hour and a half waiting list, but we found seats immediately at the bar. The food is fantastic and the portions are very large. The service, as usual in Kuwait, was disappointing. It started off good, but then they left dishes sitting in front of us throughout the meal (at the bar, with 3 servers standing there). I told my mom that PF Changs had opened and she said she doesn't understand how restaurants here stay in business without the alcohol sales. Well, at 1.500 for a non-alcoholic iced tea, I can tell you how. We saw a waiter walking by with what appeared to be real cosmos... if only....

When we left and were waiting for the car at the new valet (thank GOD they brought that back!), there were a bunch of hoodlem boys sitting outside, making leud comments at all the women passing by. A Kuwaiti woman stopped and started shouting at them, then shouting at the Egyptian parking guys to get security. Good for her. I get so sick of that kind of behavior. You can immediately tell how low class their families are. Ick.

We were at Starbucks at Bidaa on Friday afternoon and saw a really bad accident right in front of the restaurants. It was like watching a movie. A pick-up was speeding and rear-ended a bus (that never even bothered to stop), flipped in the air (at tree-top level) and landed, knocking over a light post into the traffic. One of the wheels spun across the street and into the parking lot in front of where we were. Surreal and horrific. I couldn't believe that both passengers made it out alive. The ambulance arrived immediately followed by the fire department. 20 minutes later, you wouldn't have known that much happened there. I hope the guys are ok - and that they find the bus driver who took off like a bat out of Hell.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Random Photos

An average day at McDonalds in Kuwait. (Yes, she is clothed.)

Lulu Hypermarket's concept of high fashion.

Why can't grocery stores in Kuwait look like this?

My Experience with Qatar Airways

I couldn't get on my usual United flight because I was late in booking the seat during prime time at Christmas. United did indeed have a seat available in economy - at the rate of 790 KD. Unless the seat came with its own butler and pillow menu, it wasn't gonna happen. So, I found several options on Qatar Airways. I chose to book direct with their office here in Kuwait. Expedia had the seat available at 20 KD less, but I knew someone at the office, so they made my booking.

First thing that happened was my contact went on vacation, leaving my booking in the hands of someone else - who subsequently cancelled my original travel date. I had to leave a day early. Not a real problem. However, contacting them was.

The business card my contact gave me had the Qatar Airways phone number in Kuwait printed on it. 2 weeks after she gave it to me, the number no longer was valid: they had changed it and didn't bother letting anyone know. They might have just connected the old phone number to an answering machine giving out the new number, but instead, it just rang and rang and rang. I didn't know. I sent e-mails and then someone called me back to tell me. RRRRR. This was not the only problem I had contacting Qatar Airways. The number listed for them in DC is actually the DC office's Chairman's Secretary - who had a message on her voice mail stating she was on vacation. WTF?! So, I checked their website and got a number at the airport (IAD) which was picked up on the 2nd ring (thank GOD) by someone who knew the answer to my question. Cool. Long-story-short: When you are spending thousands (if not millions) for global advertising, Qatar Airways, you should at least be able to call directory assistance (in the US) and get a working number for contacts. In Kuwait, you should have your new numbers available to all your customers. Bada BING.

I left Kuwait at 5:00 am. No problems at the ticket counter - very nice staff, courteous, helpful. No lines.

We landed. Qatar's airport transports flyers old-school: you walk down a ramp, get onto a bus, and go to the terminal ... and then.... holy SNAP! It was a goat rodeo at the transfers desk. I thought that at an early hour, there wouldn't be so many people. We were all herded (literally) into a very small receiving area where signs for H1N1 were posted everywhere, yet you were so close to the people surrounding you, that it was sure to increase your risk by bodily contact alone. YUK. There were no roped off areas. Hundreds of travellers and their babies and their luggage were forced together into a mob to pass through. It was AWFUL. For that reason alone, I will never travel through Qatar again (unless they build a new airport). With all the money Qatar has - they can't afford a proper staging area with ropes/barriers?

Their airport is like Kuwait's old airport used to be - only smaller. You are bombarded by a multitude of mostly high-decible female voices shreiking orders in Arabic. The departures/arrivals boards are not updated with information until they read "Final call". In other words, you can't determine above the mayhem when your flight is boarding.

Once on the plane, the attendants were very nice. The seating configuration on their 777's is different from United. United has 2 seats from windows on either side of the aisles, and 5 seats in the middle. QA has sets of 3 seats - which I didn't really like because I like a window seat and I had to ask 2 people to get up. Their economy section actually felt more cramped than United's also. I was very uncomfortable.

What I did like was their food and their offerings of TV and movies. The entertainment was quite extensive and it was "on-demand" so you don't have to go by set schedules. Very good. They also still offer the little travel bags with ear plugs, tooth brush, etc - which United no longer has except for in Business and 1st class.

The flights were easy - not a lot of turbulance or anything. What disturbed me were the landings. On all 4 flights, the landings were either heavy or had a lot of sway. Good pilots would have compensated, but I didn't feel confident on any landing with them. They may have a newer fleet, but at that rate, they are going to wear down the planes with metal fatigue in a short period of time.

That was my experience with them. I tried - now I'm going back to United.