Culture Shock - Bahrain


Fraser Clarke

‘Culture Shock’ can be a major factor in preventing expats from getting the most out of their new life overseas. Defined as: “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”, it’s something that will have been experienced in some degree by anyone who has previously taken their career to a foreign environment.
In order to try and help you and your family work through the symptoms, we’ve taken a look at the most common factors likely to affect you in each country we work with, and how to combat them. After all, preparation can be the key.

In the latest article in our exclusive ‘Culture Shock Cures’ series we’ll take a look at the issues that you might face in Bahrain - an island considered ideal for people moving to the Middle East for the first time.

Bahraini Time

Bahraini time isn’t anything to do with timezones, it’s more to do with the slow pace of life enjoyed by the locals in the country.

The Arab world is renowned for operating at a slower pace than much of the West and so, when combined with a traditional island mentality in Bahrain, it means that things can move very slowly indeed. Many Bahrainis will embrace Bahraini time, and it can certainly make things more relaxing if you do the same, and forget the time restraints that often lead to stress back home. Just be prepared to wait for everything - even the buses don’t have a regular timetable!

Top Tip: Embrace it. There’s really little else you can do, as the mentality is unlikely to change anytime soon. Don’t feel the need to turn up for social appointments early, as the chances are you’ll just have to wait longer. If you need something administrative done, then plan for the work to be undertaken as far in advance as possible to avoid being held up.

Call to Prayer

As Bahrain is often an expat’s first experience of the Gulf region, then the call to prayer can come as quite a shock to many people. Bahrain is an Islamic country, and as a result the locals pray 5 times a day. The call to prayer goes out from the mosques, and has an almost haunting quality to it that can be quite a shock at first. During prayer times some shops and restaurants may close, temporarily turning even the busiest of streets into ghost towns.

With the majority of the population living in or near the capital, Manama, chances are that the sound of call to prayer is something you will become well accustomed to.

Top Tip: There are plenty of apps available that will tell you the prayer times in the country. For non-Muslims especially these can be handy if you’re planning an afternoon or evening out.


Bahrain may be considered one of the most liberal states in the Gulf, however that doesn’t mean that things are exactly the same as they are in the West. Censorship is still widespread, with songs and television programmes altered to remove anything deemed inappropriate. This can range from something as small as a romantic scene in a movie, to scenes or songs that reference alcohol abuse or anti-establishment sentiments.

Despite this censorship is not as big an issue as it was a few years ago, with easy access to the internet and the advent of tablets and smartphones allowing you to easily listen to your own music and watch downloaded films anywhere. The internet remains closely monitored however, and many websites are blocked by the Government.

Official reasoning states that publications instigating hatred of the political regime, encroaching on the state’s official religion, and breaching ethics will be blocked. However the list includes human rights blogs, forums and even some social media pages.

Top Tip: Don’t take any risks online by visiting websites that might land you in trouble. Bringing in your own CDs and DVDs can lead to you being stopped at the airport, and so downloading content that could be deemed as ‘inappropriate’ before you leave, and on trips back home, is advisable. Finally VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are downloadable for most computers in order to allow you to get round many of the restrictions placed on websites.

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