Friday Market Rules!
Mia Ponzo (Um Saud)
October 2002 KTM
Anyone who has ever lived in the USA, or the UK and has been to open air flea markets and fayres will know why Kuwaitis love the Friday market. A great big open air traditional and not-so-traditional market for just about everything under the sun, including the kitchen sink. Everyone from expatriates to locals, from poor to rich, can find something they like there. It is, in a nutshell, the bargain hunter's dream.
On a large stretch of open land in the Al-Rai area, right behind the nurseries on the forth ring road is where it is located. Although it is called the "Friday Market" it is open on Thursday evenings as well as all day and into the evening on Fridays. There is ample parking on sand based open land, but you may have to walk, because this market gets extremely crowded at peak times, especially in the late afternoon when the heat of the sun is gone and the weather is easier to take. In any case, take a lesson from the bedouin and dress properly for the heat if you plan on taking any time there, because, with the sun beating down on your head, you could easily succumb to heatstroke if you're not careful. Wear a hat or something over your head, and cover your arms, etc. too, to avoid getting a sunburn, but then go and have a blast! Don't worry about dehydration, because there are plenty of little water and juice sellers peppered around the place, but bring some change with you!
Plan on taking your time if you want to see thing properly, because the place is absolutely huge, and has a wide variety of merchandise, ranging from cheapo bargain basement things for 100 fils a pop, up to antique carpets that can go for hundreds, and even full sized furniture for your home. The giant market is divided up into sections, and the first one you will come to is the general discount merchandise. There you will find clothing, shoes, perfumes, electrical, household, cleaning supplies, and more. Next to that is the place where the traditional bedouin women sell their wares, and you can find cuts of fabric, old fashioned herbs, cosmetics, and more. Further back you come to the antiques section, where you will find all kinds of brassware, old silver, old Arabian artifacts, like old coffee pots, incense burners, carpets, traditional Kuwait sadu, and more! Right in the middle of all that is where they sell traditional Arabian style seating sets, blankets, and bedlinens. Just beyond that begins the more modern sofa section, the more modern carpet and curtains sections, and other miscellaneous furniture. At the very far end of the market is where the second hand things are, and you can find things there ranging from something you would like to have to things you wouldn't spit at. All in all, making for a very interesting outing at the very least. But I'm willing to bet that you will be hard pressed not to find at least ONE thing that you will end up buying, and my guess is that you will find a bunch of things. I don't think I've ever gone there without bringing back a few.
At the Friday market, bargaining is the order of the day. And a reasonable rate to start at is half or less than half of the starting price. I know that sound like a lot, and for Westerners who might not be very used to the bargaining thing, it is hard to return back to them with a price that low, it is almost embarassing, but, believe me, it is perfectly alright, and, in fact, it is expected, and actually respected. It means you are not a sap and you have done your homework, which any decent seller worth their salt, has gotta love. It helps to know what standard prices are for the items you want to buy though, since you can really get cheated you aren't in the know. PLEASE though, don't bargain at the 100 fils places, that WOULD be embarassing! But, all in all, you can really get some major bargains at the Friday market, and sometimes downright coups, like when you find those one of a kind antique items, or just the right color of Afghani carpet. And who can complain about quieting your whiny kids who are always demanding that you buy them something every time you take them out, when you can satisfy them with a bagful of 100 fils toys, that didn't cost more than a half a dinar altogether!
If you have people visiting from abroad, or if you are going home soon, and need a bunch of souvenirs for the family and friends back home, do check out the Friday market, since you can get all those traditional souvenir type items there, and at a fraction of the price you would normally pay at those specialist shops that are speckled throughout the souks of Kuwait. Plus it is just a great place to go and mill around in. Interesting and quaint, you will get your exercise for the week and also be able to check out the locals. Just smile and they will always smile back, especially the older bedouins who just love foreigners!
Don't forget where your car is though, otherwise you will get more exercise than you bargained for! In the hot sun that will not be a fun adventure. And try to memorize where you came in too, since, once you get in there, everything is going to look pretty much the same. But, if you walk out and get lost, and find yourself at the pet market, you'll know you've gone too far!!!