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The country was once named Dilmun by ancient Sumerians, considered an island paradise in which there was no disease, death or suffering, and where gods resided. Although modern Bahrain has not retained such mythical status, many still flock to frolic in its heavenly shoreline, and many still perceive the country as blissful respite from less lenient Islamic countries. However, Bahrain is still imbued with Islamic tradition. Manama, the capital, is jam-packed with majestic mosques and minarets. Some females dress in western-style clothing but immodesty is still frowned upon. It is a symbolic bridge that connects the archipelago to Saudi Arabia’s mainland.

Practical Information

Area: 710.9 km² (274.5 miles²)

Capital: Manama. Population: 139 000

Population: 754,000

Currency: Dinar (BHD) = 1,000 fils

Government: Constitutional monarchy. Gained full independence from the UK in 1971 (had been a British Protectorate from 1861).

Tipping: 10% is expected by waiters, particularly when service is not included, and is normal practice.

Time zone: GMT + 3

Languages: Arabic

Additional descriptions

Bahrain: Social customs

Traditional beliefs and customs are strong influences and people are generally more formal than Westerners. Attitudes to women are more liberal than in most Gulf States. Homosexuality, however, is illegal.Read more Video cassettes will be withheld on arrival at the airport. It is illegal for Muslims to purchase alcohol from retail outlets. It is acceptable to sit cross-legged on cushions or sofas in people’s homes but it is still insulting to display the soles of the feet or shoes or to accept food or anything else with the left hand. It is polite to drink two small cups of coffee or tea when offered. Guests will generally be expected to share a bedroom since guest bedrooms and privacy are almost unknown. Sports clothes may be worn in the street and short dresses are acceptable; however, revealing clothing should be avoided. Smoking is very common and cheap by European standards.

Bahrain: Food and local specialties

There is a good selection of restaurants serving all kinds of food, including American, Arabic, Chinese, European, Indian, Japanese, Lebanese and Mexican. Arabic food is mainly spicy and strongly flavoured.Read more Lamb is the principal meat with chicken, turkey and duck. Salad and dips are common. Strong Arabic coffee and tea is also widely available. Things to know: The sale of alcohol is not encouraged, although it is available to non-Muslims in nightclubs, good restaurants and luxury hotels, except during Ramadan. Muslims in Bahrain are not allowed to drink alcohol at any age. Non-Muslims over the age of 18 are allowed to drink, but are not allowed to transport any alcohol and must drink their alcohol where they buy it. Even non-Muslim adults are forbidden to drink during Ramadan. The national specialties are: Machbous is fish or meat served with rice. Muchammar is brown, sweet rice served with sugar or dates. Baba ghanoush is a delicious dinner of pureed garlic, aubergine, yoghurt and sesame paste, usually served with vegetables or pita bread. Shawarma is lamb or chicken carved from a rotating spit and wrapped in flat bread. Sambousan are crisp pastry cases filled with meat, cheese, sugar or nuts. Arak (grape spirit flavoured with aniseed). Gahwa (coffee) often has cardamom and saffron added to it.

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