"Country! Country! Country!"
Stereotypes, racism favoritism in Kuwait
By Chidi Emmanuel
KUWAIT: "Egyptian! Oh no, I will not sell my car to an Egyptian," replied an Indian man who advertised his Chevrolet jeep for sale on the Indiansinkuwait.com website. Sameh Omar, the Egyptian expatriate who wanted to buy the vehicle, was bewildered by the seller's reaction, asking, "What does he actually want? The money or the nationality of the buyer?"
To confirm Sameh's story, Kuwait Times called some of the people (mostly Indians) who placed some adverts on the website. Surprisingly, some of them - though not all - were so keen on knowing the nationality of the callers responding to their ads. "Indian! Kerela? One of them asked when one of the Kuwait Times staff called to buy a two-door refrigerator advertised on the website. "Pakistani," answered the undercover Kuwait Times staff member, only to receive the brusque reply, "Sorry it has been sold." When another Indian man called using the advertiser's language, however, the story inexplicably changed from "It's been sold" to 'When will you come and see it?'
There is a great deal of emphasis on people's nationality here in Kuwait. Most of the time, the motive behind it is not merely being inquisitive or friendly, but weighing up your worth and how to rate you. People from different countries receive different treatment. Ameriki (Americans), Bengalis (Bangladeshis), Masri (Egyptians), Filipini (Filipinos), Sudani (Sudanese), Hindi (Indians) and Afrikan (Africans), amongst others, are regularly discriminated against and stereotyped in one way or another. In this case, not only is the discrimination practiced by Kuwaiti citizens against expatriates, but also by expatriates against fellow expatriates.
The first thing some cab drivers in Kuwait will ask you when you get into their taxi, before even mentioning the fare, is your nationality. "Country! Country! Country!," a cab driver stammered in a staccato grammatical Molotov cocktail. "I pretended I hadn't heard him but he continued, 'Me Bangali, you Sudani?'" says Marcilinus Grant, a black American living in Kuwait, recalling a taxi driver's inquisition. He continued, "When I finally told him I am an American, his countenance changed. After he dropped me in Shuwaikh, he demanded KD 5 from me. I guessed he wanted KD 5 because he thinks Americans have a lot of money to spend, not because the taxi fare from Kuwait City to Shuwaikh is KD 5."
In the workplace
Many establishments and organizations prefer to employ people with Western nations' passports, regardless of their credentials. "With a British, American, Canadian and sometimes an Australian passport, you can easily grab an executive job in Kuwait with or without a degree," explains Innocent Ona, a sociologist. She adds, "It would be better to judge specific individuals rather than the groups of which they're part."
Supporting Ona's observation, another Western expatriate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "I have never been asked about my degree certificate since I came to Kuwait. They [employers] always assume that I have it. Yeah, I think they prefer the accent and the passports more than the certificate."
Renting a home
Some apartment block janitors, known in Arabic as haris, have joined the bandwagon. "La! La! Laa! La!" a haris shouted, rejecting a Pakistani friend's offer to rent my former apartment in Riggae. When asked about the reason for his rejection, the haris explained that he prefers people from other nationalities to those from the Asian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc), saying, "I don't want this house to be painted red" (referring to the red spittle trails left by paan and guthka chewers). At another building in Salmiya, however, the haris told Kuwait Times that he prefers to rent flats to the Indians. "Americans, Africans, Europeans bring girlfriends but Indians don't. They [Indians] come with their families and they don't cause problems," he said.
Defined as a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image of a group of people, stereotypes are qualities assigned to groups of people solely on the basis of their race, nationality or sexual orientation, to name only a few categories. Stereotypes generalize about groups of people in a manner that lead to discrimination and ignores the diversity within groups.