- Business Meeting
- Public Holidays
The following paragraphs offer a basic orientation to the informal rules and customs that apply to conducting business in Kuwait. It goes without saying that these standards differ in many ways from what we are used to in the Czech Republic. The key to success in the territory is undoubtedly finding a quality and trustworthy sales representative or partner who will play a major role in overcoming the many complications given by the significant cultural, mental and linguistic differences of the local environment. When dealing with local sales representatives, partners, project sponsors or clients and building a personal relationship with them, the following basic lessons can be useful.
Contacting companies or authorities in Kuwait “remotely”, e.g. by e-mail or by phone, without prior personal acquaintance, does not work. For initial contact, it is ideal to go to the territory in person – for example, as part of a visit to a fair, exhibition or conference. Of course, a personal recommendation works, e.g. through already established companies, traders or intermediaries. The embassy can also help with establishing the initial contact, which, through a commercial and economic diplomat, can forward the contact, arrange a meeting, etc.
The first meeting between potential partners usually takes place in Kuwait, usually at the local partner’s office. Other meetings and negotiations can often be held less formally, e.g. in a restaurant or cafe. It is quite common for a Kuwaiti partner, for example, to invite a foreign guest to lunch after a meeting in the office, which he then pays for. It is good to keep in mind that in Kuwait, alcohol is not served in restaurants or hotels. It does not even belong to a business meeting. Due to the Muslim nature of the country, there is a strict ban on the production, import, sale and consumption of alcohol in public in Kuwait. It is not possible to import alcohol even during a personal visit to the country (e.g. as a gift), and an attempt to import it may lead to a refusal to enter the country. Donations are not required at the first meeting.
It should be taken into account that the initial visit to the territory will usually not be enough to successfully conclude the deal. In most cases, it will be necessary to visit the territory repeatedly, and quite often. Depending on the size, complexity and type of deal, it can take many months or even years from the first meeting to the payment of the contract. In Kuwait, business is done “among friends” – establishing a personal relationship with a sales representative/partner is expected. At the first “get-to-know-you” meeting, in addition to the actual business meeting, a relatively large amount of space can be devoted to private life, including questions about age, family status, children, personal interests and hobbies, religious orientation, etc. Western business representatives are expected to dress more formally (suit/ tie) in the case of meetings at public institutions (ministries, state corporations, etc.), less formal (jacket/shirt/ shirt) in the case of B2B negotiations. Business cards are quite widespread, but representatives of local public institutions in particular sometimes do not have them.
Due to the local approach to time, the late arrival of the local partner should not stop the meeting. Being half an hour late is not considered impolite if the latecomer at least formally apologizes for being late. However, punctuality is expected from Western visitors. It is common to arrange meetings and negotiations promptly, even days or even just hours before the meeting. Canceling an arranged meeting even at the last minute is not considered impolite – the partner is expected to accept the apology calmly, show understanding and be able to promptly agree on an alternative date. A visitor to Kuwait should not be surprised by repeated interruptions of meetings, e.g. handling phone calls or short conversations of the Kuwaiti partner, e.g. with colleagues who will freely enter the office during the meeting. Such behavior is quite common in the local environment and is not considered impolite. As for the expressions of emotions during negotiations – of course, this largely depends on the individual nature of the person concerned, but in principle it is true that self-control and moderation of excessive expressions of emotions during business meetings or in public is considered a virtue. Due to the dominant position of men within the predominantly patriarchal Kuwaiti society, we find mainly men at the head of large companies, in high management positions and in technical professions, who will lead the vast majority of business negotiations in Kuwait. This can make it difficult for women negotiating for Western companies, even if Kuwaiti men show sympathy for them. It is therefore ideal to send negotiating teams led by men to Kuwait – however, the presence of a woman in the team is not a problem.
It is quite common to invite a foreign company representative to the house of a local partner, especially during repeated visits to the territory and successful cooperation. If it will be a Kuwaiti, it will probably be a defined space in the house, which is intended for men to sit (so-called diwaniya), separated from the rest of the house, where women (wife/s, daughter/s) move. Invitations to lunches and dinners in restaurants, or to extended tea rooms and smoking rooms (hookah) are also popular. In the case of a more friendly relationship, an invitation to a boat ride on the sea associated with fishing, or a visit to a weekend house by the sea associated with, for example, a social event, may follow.
In the Arab environment, friendly and informal communication is mostly preferred. After getting to know each other, he is usually addressed by his first name with the address “Mr.” (e.g. Mr. Jacob, Mr. Faisal), or less formally by his first name only. Addressing by surname is unusual for locals. However, it is polite to address business partners by their titles (e.g. doctor, engineer) or military rank (General, Colonel, etc.). Most local businessmen or senior company managers and representatives speak very solid English, so it is not necessary to take an interpreter with knowledge of Arabic to the meeting. Suitable topics of conversation to fill the downtime in the business meeting itself include, for example, the weather, (positive) first impressions of Kuwait, (appropriate) questions about the country, its culture and society, etc. On the contrary, we do not recommend having conversations about sensitive topics related to politics or Islam with people we do not know well. Local alcohol can be another sensitive topic for some. After establishing a personal contact, all commonly used forms of communication can be used, including e-mail, phone calls, etc., however, the most widespread form of communication in the country is currently via the mobile application WhatsApp, surprisingly also in business or official contact. Visit Animalerts for more information about Kuwait culture and traditions.
Respect the local customs and rules related to the culture and religion of Kuwait – knowledge and consideration will earn you the respect of the locals. Time in Kuwait passes more slowly and the pace of work is more relaxed – family activities take priority and a lot of space is given over to gatherings with friends, often on the occasion of generous meals, the consumption of which is given considerable space. Learn to work with the locals’ approach to time and prepare for the fact that, on the contrary, a “Western” approach to time may be expected of you, i.e. punctuality.
Kuwait has a number of floating holidays, the exact timing of which in some cases is determined only a few days in advance by Muslim institutions. The most important moving holiday lasting about 1 month with limited working hours and performance due to fasting from sunrise to sunset is Ramadan. This is followed by Eid al-Fitr and other usually at least three-day celebrations. Eid al-Adha follows in another 60 days. It is also important to know that Kuwait is a Muslim country where Christian holidays are not celebrated. The most important public holidays include National Day on 25 February and Liberation Day on 26 February.