Kuwait in National Geographic Traveler

Posted by Mark

A reader emailed me to tell me that Kuwait was featured in the most recent issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine (Oct 2010). A cool thing of course if it wasn’t for the fact that the article was very superficial and spoke mostly about shopping at The Avenues. I’m serious.

Outside The Avenues, the 125°(F) desert air is rising in waves from a sea of luxury cars in the mall parking lot—Land Rovers, Mercedes-Benzes, and Hummers, with a Ferrari or two thrown in. Inside, I’m swept along the marbled concourse by a tide of men in dark sunglasses and ankle-length white robes. Nearby are wives, sisters, and daughters, some in headscarves and designer jeans, others cloaked head-to-toe in flowing black garments, or abayas, and some walled behind face masks . Housemaids and nannies trail behind—domestic servants imported from the Philippines, China, and elsewhere—lugging the day’s boxes and bags.

Understanding the Kuwaiti passion for retail requires a brief civics lesson. Kuwaiti citizens—who make up only one-third of the country’s expat-heavy population of three million—benefit from a lavish package of petro benefits, including plush government jobs. “People get paid for doing relatively little, or nothing at all, and they get paid extremely well,” says Mary Ann Tetreault, a professor and specialist in Gulf affairs. “Shopping is really the only way to distinguish oneself from one’s peers.”

You can check out the full article on the readers blog located at [read-my-blog.com]

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35 comments, add your own...

  1. Qaiss says:

    true and sick, thats what we have! malls only and some think this is advancement ba3ad. i even heard that some want to make the avenues a land mark!

  2. sheikha says:


  3. PedroDashT says:

    7aasdeeen el kuwaiti person o oho maskeen 3ala neyataah

  4. d'fined says:

    Blunt but true…

  5. Randy says:

    i happen to like malls!!

  6. zaydoun says:

    We’ve become so used to the description above in our daily lives that we don’t notice it anymore…. until someone sums it up in an international magazine, then we suddenly fly into a protective rage

    Yes there’s more to Kuwait than shopping, but this article is only about the Avenues and therefore most of what it says is true, and exactly how it looks to VISITING foreigners. I suspect foreign expats living here have become as immune to these scenes as us locals!

    I dare anyone to refute this paragraph:

    “Shopping, of course, is nothing new in this part of the Gulf, and Dubai remains the uncontested king of bling — cosmopolitan and tourist-friendly. But here in Kuwait, where democracy still bends to the demands of sharia, or Islamic, law, the mall experience offers a glimpse into a world where religious zeal and cold hard cash converge, often with spectacular results.

  7. Victoria says:

    Why doesn’t Kuwait dare to present a DIFFERENT image. It is a give and take. Tell me developers in Kuwait aren’t obsessed with building the best and biggest mall and that the majority of teenagers you talk to say their favorite place to go is the Avenues.

  8. Hiba says:

    That’s a photo of Al-Fanar, not the Avenues. Anyhoo, his views are highly biased; he obviously has some sort of prejudice towards Kuwaitis. Maybe someone cut him off on the 5th ring road on his way to research this poorly written article???

  9. Nael says:

    This only talks about the Avenues, which is nothing, just a fraction of what Kuwait is about.

    In a nutshell, it’s just one boring article IMO.

    I won’t say that Kuwait is the most exciting place in the world, and even though it can actually be boring as hell, but I know also that it’s not just contained within “The Avenues”.

  10. Yousuf M. says:

    Mary Ann is my prof at AUK :D

  11. laila says:

    Maids from China? Since when? I’ve never seen a Chinese maid :/

  12. Patrick says:

    I like how everyone is getting defensive about this. You all know the article is speaking the truth, why get all patriotic all of a sudden? The writer isn’t biased, but spot on.

    The reason why its focused on Avenues because it basically sums what Kuwait can be about. Or so I believe.

  13. MEME says:

    ele yeroo7 el mall shisawe?

  14. Muhannad says:

    specialist in Gulf affairs my —.

    Nothing at all nothing at all!!!!!
    I want to smash my iPad against the wall
    Now this is totaly unfair

  15. Burhan says:

    Its about a traveler. Where do you think travelers will go? Avenues or 360 are the two malls closest to the airport, of which Avenues is the most complete.

    The first time anyone walks into the mall, what the article wrote is exactly what you see and feel.

    What is there more to Kuwait than shopping in the malls?

    Zoo – poorly maintained (just ask Mark)
    Theater? hardly any to speak of
    Art? Maybe 2 or so exhibitions in a year

    What we do have is a million and one cupcake delivery companies and streets teeming with delivery cars and vans.

    There is lots of culture to be experienced in Kuwait, but you would never know it because Kuwait itself doesn’t market that part of the country. If you ever see a publicity shot of Kuwait or a tourist video – you see the predictable shot of the Kuwait Towers, followed by the obligatory shot of the pearl diving boats, the beach, the coast, followed by malls and restaurants.

    The only *CONSISTENT* cultural event that I know of is the sending off of young men on pearl diving expeditions as was done by older generations.

    Hell, your national day celebrations are so out of control, that people are afraid to go into the streets for fear of being mobbed by foam. Perhaps if you were to hold proper cultural programs on the national and liberation days then you could have something to complain about that there is more to Kuwait.

    I’ve been in Kuwait now for 6 years, and that article – hell, that last snippet is exactly what I see in the malls.

    It is your own fault for not promoting the rich culture of this place. It was a melting pot of sea merchants and pearl divers; I am sure that there are many historic and relevant facts about Kuwait – except they are drowned in burger joints, Prada and Gucci stores and a mountain of cupcake icing.


  16. Muhannad says:

    Hmmmmmm expats showing some teeth
    If kuwaitis are not up to your auk or europian standerds what are u guys doing in Kuwait.

    Exactly THE MONY
    So please shut it and buy some tetly tea from sultan center and talk about the weather the rest of your lifes

  17. Muhannad says:

    I read the piece by scalza
    It was fair other than the Mary Ann comment
    But burhan and patrick you guys have a problim
    Just buy an airline ticket
    Bye bye cao sayonara don’t call us we ll call you

  18. Xyro says:

    I don’t understand two things:
    1. Why are there only 2 prominent shopping malls in Kuwait although most of its people are shop-alcoholics?
    2. What happened to the deeprooted culture? Why does it seem that no one cares about it?

  19. Being an American who lived in Kuwait for many years — I admit, I’ve only been to Avenues once. And 360… never.

    I preferred to seek out the history of Kuwait and all it had to offer other than malls. And there’s so much. However, when Westerners (specifically Americans) land in Kuwait to make the ‘contractor’ salaries, they rarely venture outside the little box of comfort. They spend all their time at the malls and Ruby Tuesdays then write home about their ‘adventures’ in Kuwait. Ask any of them about the desert, the sea, how or when Kuwait became a country, the ruling family, the real history or culture and few have a clue. They eat a shwerma and think they’re ‘cultured’. Yeah, they can share stories of Gulf Rd. on the weekend, life in Mahboula, or the men who chase them down the road — but otherwise — they’re void of information.

    In the end, this isn’t the fault of Kuwait at all. Just the population of expats who just don’t care to know more.

  20. Bu Yousef says:

    Poor article… Shame really. I guess someone who considers Hummers as ‘luxury cars’ will only find Avenues to write about. Kuwait is full of little gems that we don’t do a good job of preserving. This blog is a good place to sample what Kuwait has to offer, outside the cliche towers and malls. A short walk in Mubarakiya is enough to throw this article to the margin.

  21. sandy says:

    Its an article on AVENUES and NOT Kuwait!!

  22. Mickiq8 says:

    I enjoy the debate within this blog but am sooooo over people that tell you if you dare express an opinion to get out of Kuwait(not in those exact words either).Honestly time to grow up peeps!

  23. S says:

    How much does a specialist in Gulf affairs get paid ? I think i should quit my job

  24. Victoria says:

    I agree wtih Mickiq8, everytime an expat dares to speak up, the response from locals is to just tell them off and to get out. but kuwaitis are actually more dependent on expats than we are on them in the end. they pretty much run the country.

    secondly, in kuwait i went to TONS of places that are off the beaten path. the destroyed satellite towers, downtown, friday market, mubarkiya, YES PEARL DIVING EXPEDITION EVEN and much more.

    but what did i find? I was more interested in these things than most young KUWAITIS. it was really disappointing. sorry to say, but they proved the stereotype of cupcakes, gucci, pink hummers and avenues. there are some wonderful exceptions to the rule, and thank god for those kuwaitis who appreciate their real heritage and culture. excessive consumerism is more of a sin to me than most of the things called haraam in the country.

  25. Eliasoz says:

    As a Kuwaiti I welcome everyone here to state their opinion. This mentality of “either you like it or get out” is childish and immature.

    And yes the obsession with malls and shopping and brands and restaurants here is sickening. I’m tired of new malls. I wish someone will decide to build something new and interesting that ISN’T a shopping mall. Hell, at the very least upgrade and maintain the places that are around, the zoo, the sha’ab park, entertainment city, etc? They’re all in terrible shape.

    Allah yahdee ahal el Kuwait.

  26. Eliasoz says:

    Victoria, what are the destroyed Sattelite towers you talk about? Can you tell me a bit more? Sounds like it could be fun…

  27. Victoria says:

    Hi Eliasoz, they were fun, but unfortunately they were taken down last year. i saw them one month before they were razed. you can check out the photos here. they were so bizarre and post-apocalyptic, they really should have just kept them up. but anything that isn’t new and shiny in kuwait seems to be demolished by the authorities. shame.


  28. Danderma says:

    I doubt this writer have actually been to the Avenues b4 writing this article…

    for example he describes what happens when the prayer for athan sounds as “Queues are abandoned and meals left unfinished as shoppers stream into designated prayer rooms tucked discreetly beside The Gap and Carrefour.”

    Did any one actually see someone leaving the pinkberry queue which or leave their unfinished meal to run and pray? People do go pray but not in that obvious manner… most people sit doing whatever they were doing and the praying people slip away at ease…

    and that is one thing off that article. Not mentioning the veiled woman pointing with her credit card to the mannequin or all the children are fat and ordering oversized meals

  29. Guerilla101 says:

    “I enjoy the debate within this blog but am sooooo over people that tell you if you dare express an opinion to get out of Kuwait(not in those exact words either).Honestly time to grow up peeps!”


  30. AndyQ8 says:

    I have to agree with Victoria’s statement about younger Kuwaitis not knowing their own history, or caring. I was talking to several Kuwaiti men in their 20s last week. I commented that National Day in 2011 will be a ‘special’ National Day. They had no idea what I was talking about.

  31. Desert Girl says:

    To some of the comments above: Unfortunately, the government doesn’t give grants to those wanting to open museums or galleries in Kuwait. (It is much easier to get land to build a mosque BTW.) I find that quite sad. Kuwait really does have a rich and diverse history and it should be celebrated.

    Most travel writers bop into a country and then bop out again, catching only glimpses about the society. That sounds just like what this guy did – went to the mall and then left Kuwait and wrote about it. That’s fine, but check your facts.

    The article implies that Kuwaitis are all rich and lazy. I’m one of those people who has Kuwaiti friends who are not rich and who are struggling right along with a lot of other people. I don’t think it is fair to make such a generalization about any society. Also, in my experience, not all Kuwaiti women are covered head to toe in black. The society here is quite diverse. I guess it was all about the author’s perspective, but it ruffled my feathers.

  32. Sara says:

    Hey, i’ve lived in the states for quite sometime and their malls are NOTHING like the Avenues, restaurants and cafes aren’t all that over there, mostly they suck, unless you’re in one of their “BIG cities”.

    Not everyone is the same and not everyone has the same interests, so if most Kuwaiti’s like shopping, what’s it up to u? Good for them, go dig up Kuwait’s history for all they care. Kuwaiti’s learn their history from their parents, home, life and family, so don’t go judging that its not plastered in museums all over the place. Its just one of those countries that you’d need to know a local or whatever to get to know more. I could go on and on but am tryna make it as brief as i can.

    Anyways the article might seem precise to some people, but in my opinion it’s BS and could’ve been waaaay better.

  33. Sal says:

    Sad. First the stereotype was that we ride camels, sleep in tents and have oils barrels under our bunkers. Today were petro dollars, shop all day, and get “paid for doing relatively little, or nothing at all”. R we that bad?

  34. James says:

    You all can’t deny a good portion of the kuwaiti population get paid to do nothing and i’m only saying this out of persoanl experience. True story: I work at a local petroleum company and many of our kuwaiti employees here show up to sign in at the begining of the day and then leave, others who are also on payroll don’t even show up at all. Moreover, Kuwait is a culturally statrved country or appears to be so from the surface which in turn forces locals to scumb to developing a passion for retail creating a culture where “Shopping is really the only way to distinguish oneself from one’s peers”.

  35. Nicole says:

    Most Kuwaitis don’t even know that they have cultural Gems in Kuwait.
    What I hear most of the times when I blog about one is: I didn’t even know that existed.
    Why is Kuwait not promoting these things more?
    Ah, they don’t bring in much Revenue and only cost money to maintain?

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