Bahrain is a collection of tiny islands, like a necklace of precious gems strung between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that has existed almost since the dawn of time. Famed for being the financial centre of the Middle East and a trading post for Gulf Arabs and visitors from every far-flung corner of the globe, Bahrain is also one of the most liberal Arab countries. This fascinating and welcoming country fuses thriving modernity with rich and evocative history and is considered both meeting point and gateway to the Arabian Peninsula.
The native population is predominantly Muslim, made up of around 70% Shi’a and 30% Sunni who cohabit harmoniously with a small but significant spectrum of other faiths. Arabic is the official language and English is spoken widely.
A Recipe for (Every) Friendship
Manama, Bahrain’s capital, bustles by day and pulsates by night in a dizzying mix of state-of-the art malls and clubs and traditional alleyways clustered with tiny shops and cafés. Bahrainis are extremely friendly folk, and like nothing better than to show their enthusiasm and delight at meeting or seeing friends again by inviting them over and serving them a family-sized meal. (Local custom dictates it’s ok to leave a little food on your plate but rude to say you’re full until the 75th course has been served!)
Bahraini women enjoy extensive freedom: they drive, work and vote. In the villages, some women choose to go fully veiled, whilst in the cities most wear a hijab or simply dress modestly. As an ever-evolving cosmopolitan community, Bahrain doesn’t apply strict dress codes to locals or visitors.
Dating Do’s and Don’ts
Couples hug, hold hands and give each other a quick kiss openly, especially the younger crowd. Older, more conservative Bahrainis don’t and of course, any display of public affection during Ramadan is a definite no-no.
When it comes to romantic locations and places to meet a friend or potential partner, this tiny, friendly nation has a great deal to offer. Men and women mix freely but respectfully at the markets, stores and endless array of coffee shops. One of the keynotes of Bahraini culture is the drinking of traditional Arabian coffee. You won’t make it far without running into a coffee shop or souk. There are plenty of nightclubs that make it possible to dance until dawn, some of which are predominantly Arab, others which admit a wild variety of wild life in search of a wild night!
As for the perfect date, why not take a romantic drive to the science-defying, natural wonder “The Tree of Life”, a 400 year old Mesquite that stands in Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain with no apparent source of water. (Although, a word of caution from local wisdom if you’re heading there from Manama – apparently the signpost points the wrong way!)
Internet dating: alive and kicking
Paradoxically, for all the liberalization, freedom and speech that have been enhanced by Bahrain’s 2006 political reforms, traditions still run deep in some areas. January 2009 saw Internet censorship imposed on sites including Google Earth and various national and international news forums, sparking an outcry and various petitions from a disgruntled young population. Calls by a Bahrain MP to ban popular social networks, such as Facebook and Bahrain Connect have so far gone unheeded. Internet dating remains available and active in Bahrain with both men and women using a variety of sites such as Lavaplace and Be2.
However you make initial contact, the key to winning hearts in The Kingdom of The Two Seas, as its name means in Arabic, would seem to be making eye contact and flashing a winning smile (and of course, not forgetting to say “Actually, yes, I’m very hungry, I could eat a whole house!)
Strange but True: A Curious Fact About Bahrain
1) Looks like Bahrainis like to read a lot: It’s the country that publishes the most books in the Arab world: In 2005, 132 books were published for a population of 700,000. In comparison, the same year, the average number of books published in the entire Arab world was seven per one million people. (Source: United Nations Development Programme)
Know something we don’t? Got a hot tip for dating in Bahrain? Local wisdom? Or a story to tell about your experiences in the country? Please feel free to share!