Some people think that Saudi Arabia is a place where things go backwards, meaning that people live like they did in ancient times. That may be true for some things which I probably should not be discussing on here but one of the things that contribute to this general opinion are the things that are (supposedly) banned in this country and to which this post is dedicated.
At the very beginning, I also believed that a lot of the things listed would not be available in Riyadh but that was because I have never been there before and I had nobody whom I could have asked in advance. So, once I arrived in Riyadh and spent some time in town, I was positively surprised and everything did not seem as “ancient” as I thought it would.
For those of you who are wondering, here is a list of the things that most people think are banned here, but they actually aren’t. Or at least not literally. For that, I will base myself on this list, which seems to be the most recent one I found and some other things I heard of.
1. Socializing between men and women: Okay, I must admit that THERE ARE LIMITATIONS on that aspect but it is not as terrible as most of you imagine, which is why I put it on the list. It’s not like men and women who are not relatives never communicate and just literally ignore each other. If you do groceries, you may end up talking to a person of opposite gender, especially if you bargain over the price of something. You will also end up communicating with people when you need to ask for directions. It can also happen that your spouse and you (or whomever you are with in this country) go out together with colleagues. In the end, you would certainly not show affection to someone in public like you would do in the west, but that does not mean that you will never ever talk to someone of the opposite gender, who is not related to you during your stay here.
2. Cats and dogs: That is total nonsense! I can imagine that this has been forbidden maybe 5-10 years ago but not now. I got my cat with me into the kingdom without any trouble and I know that there are pet shops in Riyadh that sell animals. True, some or even most Saudis may not be big fans of cats and dogs but that does not mean that they are literally banned here. If you can buy dog and cat food in this place, then the animals will certainly be allowed here.
3. Smartphones: Nonsense again. Smartphones and fancy technology (cameras and other stuff) are all over the place here. People are crazy about the newest technological items. Having an Iphone in this country is absolutely nothing spectacular. Almost everybody has one and they don’t only use it to make calls. Saudis take pictures all the time. Especially women. Riyadh is so far the first place I have seen where you can charge your gadgets in parks, at special stations.
4. Women moving around freely: It is true that a woman needs a man’s permission to travel on her own, but as of actually moving from A to B within town, that is not legally forbidden for single women. Surely that depends on your husband’s or any other guardian’s character and whether he personally trusts you or not. However, don’t think that as a woman, and especially as an expat, you are not allowed to go to town on your own. If you want to and your guardian doesn’t mind or maybe even doesn’t care, you may do so. Feel free to read more about that here.
5. Women at work: Same as for #4, women will need the permission of their guardian in order to go to work. However, it is wrong to think that women don’t work here at all. As for what I have seen, women work mostly in shops, schools or in hospitals. The fields may be limited but it is a start. Women here also receive higher education if allowed so by their guardian. So, I would say that more and more opportunities arise for women to develop and prove themselves intellectually. Some men are even in favor of their wives working, especially when they have big families.
6. Dolls: No need to disappoint your children! In Saudi Arabia, dolls can be found in any store that sells toys. And not only can you find dolls that are dressed modestly, meaning there are dolls in abayas and hijabs, but you can also buy the good old Barbie and other dolls. All no big deal.
7. Books and movies: Yes, movie theaters are forbidden indeed but that does not mean that you don’t get to watch any western movies at all. My TV at home for example, shows all sorts of movies from the west and there is no censorship at all. That may be a little different when you try to download certain types of movies but generally, you can download lots of stuff here. As of for books, you can get a lot of English books here. Just go to a place like Jarir Book Store and you will see what I mean. I have seen books by Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks etc. All available. There are even libraries here, believe it or not. I don’t know whether the books in there are in English, Arabic or both, but I think that libraries are a good start towards encouraging the usage of books, aren’t they?