Friday, September 22, 2006

London's Kuwaitis, and Me

The other night I was on a bus heading west up to Kilburn to visit my friends' new flat. As we were passing through Oxford Street a guy came on and sat next to me and asked in a very strong accent if the bus passed in front of Selfridges. I said yes, and was sure the guy was Arab, and very possibly Gulfie. Now, I had my "Kuwait bag" with me, and it was laying on my lap, soor side up. Anyway, the guy started chatting to me, telling me that he was tired and that he had walked more today than he had ever walked before. I just nodded and smiled and gave some stupid reply like "Oh, really?" and then looked out the window. I didn't want to be rude, but at the same time I have become your average Londoner that doesn't always enjoy making small-talk on public transport - especially not with a potential Gulfie (damn my iPod for dying on me!). Anyway, I put my hand over the part of my bag that says "Kuwait gate" in small print, and tried to obstruct the view of the picture (of course I wasn't about to put it on the grimy bus floor). A few minutes into the ride he started chatting again. He told me that "in his country" the shops stayed open from 10am to 10pm, unlike in London (it was about 8pm and the shops on Oxford Street were slowly closing). Anyway, then he said that this was his first time in the UK, and that he was sent here on a course from his work. I kept nodding and smiling and giving my one-word-feigned-interest answers, all the while realizing that this guy was definitely khaleeji. He kept going on about how he worked for a petroleum company (the signs didn't need to be more obvious than that!), and the projects he's worked on and places he's been sent to. I kept trying to be polite while simultaneously trying to end the conversation by fiddling with my phone, while desperately trying to cover up my bag. Then, as he was finishing off a sentence with the phrase "my country", he added, "...Kuwait...I am from Kuwait." I looked him straight in the face and just said, "Oh yeah, really? That's nice." And you know those moments when you feel like you're going to explode into a childish, hysterical fit of laughter? I'm amazed that I was able to keep such a straight face in that moment. And as I said my innocent "that's nice" comment, I picked up the bag of groceries I had on the floor that I was taking up to my friends' place for dinner and proceeded to plop it on my lap right on top of the soor, while maintaining eye-contact so he wouldn't notice. All he had to do was look down and the jig would have been up! As he continued talking, to avoid laughing and to try to get out of the situation I sent an sms to my friend Abs who is in town to "Please call me!" Then the bus stopped outside of Bond Street station and he asked if he could get a superman costume for his son at the Disney Store across the street and I said I doubted it because Superman wasn't done by Disney. Then I added, "This is the stop for Selfridges, by the way, if that's where you're going?" and I pointed to where it was (it really was the right stop!) and he quickly thanked me and jumped off.

Poor guy. First time in London, and he had absolutely no idea that (probably) the first bus he went on, he happened to be sitting next to none other than a Kuwaiti girl! I really just did not feel like being a Kuwaiti at that moment - too many questions, too much overly-jubilant small-talk. I know it might sound mean of me to have withheld information like that from him - which in such a point blank circumstance is tantamount to lying - but I just really didn't feel in the mood.

I've had more run-ins with Kuwaitis this week than I have had in my entire year in London. I never see Kuwaitis much in my part of town because they tend to stay west of Oxford Circus. But I also happen to live on a street with a very popular restaurant that the Gulfies love. I am actually glad for the presence of the place because it has rescued my street (which is nothing more than a glorified alley) from being really dodgy at night! The rest of the street/alley is dotted with really dingy pubs and a couple of Spanish tapas bars that have quasi-hidden entrances and potential mafia attachments. (Let me say here, though, that despite the dark shadows, I love my street - it's one of the funkiest streets in London, in my opinion.) Anyway, so the other night I had my window open and I suddenly heard a loud "shukran 3ammy" ("thank you, uncle") from the street downstairs. I peered out my window and saw a family of Kuwaitis getting into a Mercedes directly beneath me. I propped my elbows on the window sill and watched them chat happily in a language that only I could understand for miles, and in that moment, at that safe distance, I missed my fellow countrymen and women. Until my next encounter.

Later in the week I went downstairs at around 8pm clad in jeans, a sweatshirt I sleep in, and sneakers to grab something to drink from Sainsbury's. I mention my outfit because as I opened my front door I got the attention of a chickie-dee who was standing a few feet away talking loudly on her mobile in full-on Kuwaiti, decked to the nines, and who gave me a disapproving (read: bitchy) once- (read: twice-) over as I passed by. "Maskeeeeena," she probably said to herself, thinking how happy she was to be staying in South Ken and not in the (comparative) slums like this poor girl, dressed like a boy. Little did she know, the girl was a Kuwaiti too. All that disapproval and disdain in her eyes...just imagine the looks I would have gotten if she knew I was Kuwaiti! I've had one or two other instances since I've lived here where I've passed Kuwaitis on my street on my way to or from my front door, and I actually find it hilarious, and a bit empowering. I'll stare them right in the face and they'll have no idea, because 1) I don't look Kuwaiti, and 2) no Kuwaiti in their right mind would live anywhere other than an SW or NW postcode.

Note: I'd never heard of the restaurant before moving to the street and it was a few months after moving in that I discovered the Kuwaitis love it. It's official - you can't escape them. For such a small population, we certainly have explored the depths of the globe.


  • That was hilarious :P~~

    You know, if I was in your shoes - I can get pissy at night - I would've told the b!tch "Iklay t!b!!!!!n zaaaaaain." I would've old schooled it, cuss like my ultra fun and sha3beya aunt. Or I just would've suprised her with something, not necessarily rude, that would've shut her up.

    I don't look Kuwaiti as well (YAY! Camouflage!) and I have heard the strangest, funniest (read: raunchiest!) stories ever!

    I really really can identify with trying to keep a straight face because even if the convo is normal, that mischevious, knowing smirk HAS to crawl up on your face when you turn your head away from the Kuwaiti (s) on foreign land :P

    By Blogger Erzulie, at 9/22/2006 4:42 am  

  • That was hilarious! I, on the other hand, look pretty Arab to other Arabs (though to Europeans and Americans I am Latina!)

    However, as you know, my O does not look at all Kuwaiti - he looks European! So imagine the disapproving looks I get! We find it hilarious... Plus when he speaks with his British accent, people are even more baffled... Then if he says something in Arabic - their jaws hit the ground :)

    By Blogger Raine, at 9/22/2006 6:25 pm  

  • what restaurant is that ?

    By Blogger mosan mosan, at 9/23/2006 11:36 am  

  • Erzulie: Yeah, I was tempted to just say "shga3da it6al3een?" as I walked past just to surprise her...but I opted against in. Would've been fun, though! :)

    Raine: In the States everyone thought I was half black, half white (because of my curls). I'm sure O speaking Kuwaiti causes some stares...especially because the British accent kind of bleeds into it! What's funny is that in Kuwait, when P and I go out to restaurants or whatever they always think we're European or American (or both!) and we get better service because of it!

    Mosan mosan: I'd prefer not to specify, because then people would know exactly where I live and I'd have to get bodyguards to fend off all my thousands of fans (or the people I might piss off!). :) But those who know London might figure it out.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 9/23/2006 1:14 pm  

  • I liked your little adventure; I especially liked the part about you SMSing your friend so you can get a call. I was sitting at my desk and I had some boring salesman talking about how great his stuff was and the guy would not leave. He arrived in Kuwait that same morning from Paris or London or some faraway place, so I did not feel good in kicking him out as I normally would do. So I SMSed my friend and had him call me, I then excused myself from my office to rush off to an imaginary urgent meeting.

    By Blogger don_veto, at 9/23/2006 2:13 pm  

  • don_veto: LOL! Isn't it funny when people are so engrossed in their own conversation that they don't even notice you sms-ing someone for an escape call? God bless the SMS! :) My friend, though, didn't get the message until after the guy got off the bus, and I called him to tell him the story!

    By Blogger Kleio, at 9/23/2006 3:27 pm  

  • HAhaha!
    Talk about verbal diarrhea, ud think he would get the picture that malich kholg.
    Then again at least he was nice & not a snob like most kuwaiti tourists are :)

    By Blogger Delicately Realistic, at 9/23/2006 5:06 pm  

  • DR: Exactly - he was sweet. Kisr kha6ry shway cos I wasn't being more talkative, but at the same time I just wasn't in the mood! But yeah, he wasn't being sleazy or rude or arrogant like they usually are. He was just a happy, slightly lost tourist.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 9/23/2006 9:04 pm  

  • Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii

    That was you on the Bus... Why didn't you tell me you were Kuwaiti, I thought i was rude to you by asking all those questions

    By Anonymous Superman Costume Dude, at 9/25/2006 11:08 am  

  • Oh come OOON! There is no way this is really the guy from the bus because he didn't actually ask me any questions. Nice try though. :) You got me there for a sec.

    By Blogger Kleio, at 9/25/2006 11:16 am  

  • LMFAO! that last comment made me die from laughter! `that was you on the bus!` haha priceless*

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/10/2010 12:39 am  

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