Understanding Kuwaiti Social Forms
Tuesday, April 24th, 2007
Throughout its history, Kuwait has largely been left alone to manage its own affairs and the Kuwaiti have developed their own unique social characteristics.
FAMILY AND FACE
The battle to just survive in the harshness of the desert and sea created a lasting Impression on the society of Kuwait. A tight social net-work was developed based on family, clan and tribe to provide the economic and political support necessary. In return for this support, the individual gave unquestioning service and loyalty to his group. This network remains extremely strong even in the oil-driven economy of today and continues to provide the basis of social relations between Kuwaitis. Nepotism, for example, is viewed positively, since it guaran-tees hiring people who can be tru-sted. An essential concept in Kuwaiti is what is known as “Face.” Face is the reputation and respect that a person must earn through his dealings with others and an individu-al’s face reflects directly on the family and clan. The significance of Face is almost inconceivably more intense than a Westerner can ima-gine. A youth is considered mature once he views personal success as being synonymous with the success of his family or clan. Face is earned through hospitality, generosity and loyalty to family or particular group. A Kuwaiti spends his life building his personal and social Face and the sense of Face lies behind many social behaviors in Kuwait. The reputation of a man’s diwaniyah is one of the prime ways in which he achieves face.
The dewaniyah or parlour has existed in Kuwait since time immemorial. The term originally referred to the section of a Bedouin tent where the menfolk and their visitors sat apart from the family. Today it is the place where a man entertains his business colleagues and male guests, and visiting or hosting a diwaniyah is an indispensable feature of a Kuwaiti man’s social life.
Guests in a dewaniah are not expected to bring food, drinks, or gifts in contrast to guests in a Kuwaiti home, who are expected to bring a houseplant, box of imported chocolates, or, if foreigners, a small gift from their home country. It is customary to remove one’s shoes when entering a dewaniah and to greet everyone there by saying “Alsala-mo-Alikom,” which means “peace be
with you” and is the equivalent of saying “hello.” The reply to this is “Wa’alikom Alsalam.” In modern and traditional dewaniahs, the guests are seated in a circle to ensure that no one is facing someone’s eise back and special atten-tion is given to keeping the soles of the feet from pointing directly toward someone eise. It is customary to accept at least one cup of coffee as a way of honoring the host’s hospitality. The coffee Server will keep filling up the guests’ cups until signaled that the guest has had enough by slightly shaking the empty cup and either saying “Bass, Shokrann,” which means “no more, thank you”, or by covering the cup with the palm of the hand while returning the cup to the coffee server. The right hand is always used to eat and drink as the left hand is considered unclean. If a meal is ser-ved, there is often a great deal of socializing and small talk before-hand, and the evening quickly comes to an end after the meal. Hospitality and generosity dictate showering guests with abundance and the polite guest will acknowledge this. When the host Stands, the meal is over.