Category Archives: expat blog saudi arabia

Blogging on Saudi Arabia: Best of Search Engine Terms

I have always been wondering about the people who are reading this blog. More importantly: in the vast dimension of the internet, how on earth did they come across my blog among so many others? Algorithms provide an interesting angle from which one can look at this question. My analytics page shows me some of the search terms which have been used before the link to this blog has been clicked. I think that’s a great tool. Now that I had a look at the list of the last three years, it is pretty remarkable to see what things go through people’s heads when they are on the internet. Although I am sure I didn’t want to see everything I came across, now that I think about it…

Some terms are just key words, some are specific questions (which I have partially answered in my FAQ section and which I will extend ASAP) and some search queries I found particularly amusing as I scrolled through the list.

So today I thought to share with you some of my favorite search engine terms that my blog has registered. If you happen to find any of your own queries among these, please don’t take it personally! I appreciate every visitor on here and while I can see where my visitors are from, what links they click on my page or what search terms they used to find me, I have absolutely NO IDEA about their identity. So don’t worry about your persona and let’s just embrace my dry German humor and maybe share a grin or two.

“how do saudi men find their women if they get lost in a mall”

Interesting question indeed! I mean, if all women wearing the niqab pretty much look the same, how do they know? How do children find their mothers in the supermarket? How does a man get hold of his wife before she can spend all his money? My guess would be specific abaya designs, handbags or shoes as  recognition marks. Once you know a person well enough, you may be able to tell her apart by the way she moves or the way she wears her hijab on that particular day.

“why riyadh so cold”

Riyadh? Cold? Really? Is there another Riyadh where frying your breakfast egg on the tiles of your porch as it is being caressed by the blaring Saudi sun has never been heard of? I must visit that place next! 🙂 To be fair though, winters in Riyadh can get very chilly in comparison to the spring and summer months.

“i really want to go to saudi arabia”

Do you really though? Do you? 🙂 Well, you came across this blog so you must at least have been thinking about it.

“can u live in saudi arabia if ur handsome”

According to articles online a few years back, an actor from Dubai was told to leave Saudi Arabia which he was visiting for a festival, on the grounds that he was too handsome. While I still suspect that may have been a hoax, I can see how this is becoming a concern for potential visitors. Imagine going through the exhausting process of getting your documents together, obtaining your visa and then being told that you can’t enter because you know…you are simply too gorgeous for this place! What a self-esteem boost! 😀

“people in saudi arabia are sad”

Aren’t we all? Everywhere?

“saudi arabia women not allowed to eat ice cream”

Okay, I know that women not allowed to drive is the number one thing people know about Saudi Arabia but…ice cream? Really? Let’s keep it real for a second… Do not worry, dear wonderful feminine sugar addicts like me! You are free to enjoy the best of Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin Robbins and other brands served and sold in quantities Europeans can only dream of. 🙂

“can i jet ski in the rain”

Fact: It does not rain in Saudi Arabia very often, but when it does, the whole place turns into one large sea. Schools, offices, businesses and traffic shut down.Cars float around like they are nothing but wooden boats. In these rare instances, some people do the best of the situation by getting their jet skis out into the streets.

Got any more questions for me? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Guest Post:24hrs in Riyadh- Female Solo Travel in Saudi Arabia

Yes, you read it correctly. I did actually put the words Saudi Arabia, female and solo travel next to each other and I am just as excited about that possibility to occur as some of my readers may be confused. 🙂

For a blogger or a writer of any sorts, there is nothinng better than getting in touch with his or her readers. Since I started this blog, I have received many  E- Mails from Saudis and internationals, journalists and PhD students, filled with praise for my work or questions regarding my experiences in Saudi and of course some occasional, inevitable criticism.

If any of you are reading this right now: Thank you very much for your time, you are what keeps my work going. I love you all, even my critics!

A couple of months ago, just as I was pacing in front of the lecture hall before my first exam of the semester, I received an E-Mail from Kiera, a lady living in Dhahran who asked me what I would recommend for a short trip to Riyadh. I stood still for a second. Traveling alone in Saudi? As a woman? ALONE?? That was definitely interesting! Women traveling in KSA was nothing new but the ones I knew of did so in groups of at least three in the company of their personal driver.

I immediately forgot about my exam stress as my head started filling with questions. My trip to Jeddah at the end of my stay in the Kingdom ended up not happening so I didn’t really know what to tell her. I admired her decision to take a trip to Riyadh by herself. I wished I would have had the time and the courage to do the same so I did the best I could and told her about things I had done in Riyadh and some of the things I wished I had done, had there been more time and more opportunities.

Today, I am beyond happy to share her story with you! To give you a taste of what awaits you, here’s my favorite quote so far: “People in Riyadh are open-minded but the laws are strict somewhat”.

Post Saudi Q&A Part I

When I woke up this morning, I noticed some new notifications in my WordPress app. One of them was a comment on one of my posts by a reader from Australia who had some very interesting questions to me, regarding my life in Saudi Arabia which by now is long over.

Since I love it when people share their thoughts with me on my work and ask me questions, I thought I would share today’s questions and answers with the rest of you.

Thank you very much for the questions and the nice remarks! 😉

 

How did you find the transition between conservative countries and western civilisation? Especially with all the pro-feminists there are today?

Quite frankly, I am not even sure whether I actually noticed that there was a transition going on, even though I am certainly aware of the fact that technically that was the case. I assume that most people would expect me to say that I have experienced a huge culture shock and spent days locked in my room, hiding under the covers and counting the days until I may return home where I can eat pork, drink Glühwein and wear mini skirts again. I am sorry to disappoint you but no, this actually did not happen.

I guess I can say that the main thing in terms of transition that I noticed was the change of people’s appearance around me. All of a sudden I was surrounded by men in white robes that made me think of dresses and women of whom I could only see the eyes. Since I lived on a compound and went to an international school, the other differences between the conservative Middle East and the West appeared to me later and that in the difference of approaches to social interaction. For more info on that, I suggest you read this post. How did I find the change? I don’t really know. I would say that I found the transition relatively smooth which may be due to the fact that I have been somewhat familiar with conservative Muslims before because of my Muslim friends in Berlin,

In terms of feminists I have to say that this issue has not really affected my view on my new ‘home’ because I have never really dealt with feminism in detail. After all, there are enough other women out there to do it for me. I would not call myself a feminist either. I do not run around saying that men and women should have the exact equal rights or that covering one’s hair is oppressive. For me it isn’t. Period.

All in all I’d say the transition was rather more interesting to observe than it was scary of worrisome. However, once I really arrived in Riyadh, as time passed, the differences between the cultures became very clear and visible.

Do you think that being a woman there was any more or less empowering in context?

The answer yes or no to this question depends on the point of view from which one would answer this. For me as neither Muslim, nor Saudi, nor Arab in general, I would say that it was neither more nor less empowering. It was more a neutral state of being rather than more or less empowering in the big picture. A local woman however, who always wished to live the western way would probably answer this differently. Just so you know.

Now, the longer I sit here typing this, I remember that the only thing that did indeed concern me and that I would call a less empowering thing in context, is the lack of mobility for women in this country. Since I was not allowed to drive (and even if I was, I would never dare to do so on the streets there and I am saying that after learning to drive in the Balkans which is actually quite something!!), it was difficult for me to be spontaneous. I could not just say to myself ‘I want to go and meet up with my Egyptian friend who lives in town’ and do so. I had to arrange a ride before I could go anywhere where I could not get by foot so fast and that was really bothersome at times because getting a ride anywhere takes time and costs quite some money, unless you are brave enough to hail a Saudi cab in the streets and get in there by yourself or your dad or husband or brother or whoever has time to do you the favor.

Many people say that being a woman in Saudi Arabia is difficult because you are being deprived of your rights and all and that people treat you worse than if you were a man. That happened to me only once at the airport when I had to deal with a police officer who probably thought he would rule the world one day or that he already did and I guess if I did not have a man with me that day, I would not have seen my plane ticket again but I must say that this was the only discouraging incident I have experienced in Riyadh as a woman during my nine months of stay. Whether that was just because I am white and not Saudi, I can’t say for sure.

I would even have to say that I have had more WTF moments since I am back living in Germany compared to my time in Saudi (that may be because from now on I have to arrange my life on my own and have to deal with all sorts of things by myself, showing the world that I am a ‘strong and independent woman’ and sh**).

I can say that while I was in Riyadh, I was able to go out for groceries on my own by actually walking down the street, I have been out in town for the spring festival by myself without any terrible incidents and I have been treated nicely by Saudi men and women when I was out to buy something because getting on the compound’s bus and go to the mall by myself was doable, too. For more on such every day niceties see this post . Whether that is more or less empowering in context? You are free to decide but personally I was rather satisfied with my stay in Riyadh.

 

Ma’a Salama Riyadh: Last Post Maybe

By the time I am writing this I have already left Riyadh and maybe even for good.

There were quite a few things happening but not as much that I could have written about up until now. Things like the last exams or prom and in the end, graduation.

I must say that  despite all of the differences between life in Riyadh and life anywhere else, I miss Saudi Arabia. I miss the call to pray in the morning, the sun that shines all day long and I miss the time I spent in school.

The day I got back to Berlin, we had about 35 degrees Celsius. That was a nice start, especially since it was relatively warm but it was still possible to breathe. But two hours later rain came down and the sky turned dark. That is how it has been here up until now and my friends here still have trouble understanding how I feel cold outside while everyone else seems to be sweating.

I feel like my stay in Riyadh has given me a lot. Maybe I can’t exactly name all of those things but I still feel like I have changed for the better and that somehow I managed to grow as an individual and as an intellectual, especially with the help of my friends. But even if I am mistaken about these things, at least I can say that my time there has given me nine more interesting and enlightening  months in my entire life and has shown me that I am not as anti social as people always thought I was.

I don’t know for sure whether I miss Saudi Arabia as a whole or if I just miss my memories of it. That seems to be something very common in us. We don’t really miss a place or a person or whatever else there is. Sometimes we just long for the memories we have of it but sometimes we don’t and sometimes we actually want to be back.

That stay abroad was quite educational, too. I have been back in Germany for a little more than a week now and I have spotted what I think were 4 Saudi women in the streets. Now that I know what an abaya is and can recognize Arabic words as them actually being Arabic and not Turkish as I used to believe, I noticed that there are quite some people from Saudi Arabia here in Germany. However, they still can be from another Arab place. Who knows.

And with me leaving Saudi Arabia, I guess that this may be my last post. But honestly, I hope that it won’t be and that in the next weeks and months and years to come, I will still come up with ideas for potential posts.

If you are new to the subject of Saudi Arabia and have any questions or suggestions for articles, fell free to share them with me!

And for now, Ma’a Salama,Riyadh!

I Packed My Bag- Things That You Should Bring With You to KSA

I remember the night when I was all awake even though it was already 1 in the morning and my flight to Riyadh  was in eight hours. I stood there, my bunker of a  suitcase open and a bunch of my stuff spread all over the room. I had 20 kilograms available, a ton of things and I was traveling to a place where I have never been before. So naturally, I was asking myself: What am I really supposed to bring with me and what to leave behind (aside from the obvious sun glasses and sun screen)?

For those of you who might face the same issue, I have come up with a list of things that I did bring and some things that I wish I would have brought. If any of my local readers think I have forgotten something, please feel free to let me know in the comments! 🙂

 

1. Warm clothes

Yes, I know that Saudi Arabia is as hot as hell and that the country is in the middle of the desert but hey, there is such a thing as winter in this country, too! Starting in October it will become significantly cooler and you will need more than just summer dresses, shorts and t- shirts. I suggest you bring a jacket or two and some warm sweaters. Fifteen degrees celsius in this country are way cooler than anywhere in Europe.

2. An umbrella

Again, I know that we live in the middle of sun and sand but it does actually rain here. The thing is that once it does rain here, it rains PROPERLY. So properly that if you have a pavilion standing in your garden that has a roof made of fabric, chances are that roof will not survive the rainfall, even though the rain here usually last for maybe 15-20 minutes. Sometimes longer though. You may also consider bringing appropriate jackets and water resistant shoes for such a case.

3. Proper shoes

There are not many sidewalks here and if you live in a compound, chances are you will not be outside very much because you let the negative media brain wash you into believing that walking on the streets in this country is extremely dangerous (spoiler alert: it isn’t!). If you are courageous enough though and do go outside to walk you will find that the streets are not in the best condition and there might be the one or the other hurdle to overcome. As you can guess, this point is dedicated especially to the ladies: Fortget about the high heels and bring sneakers or moccasins. That will be much more practical.

4. Conservative clothes

Saudi culture is very different from the western one. Even though you can find western clothes in every shop here in Riyadh, you would not necessarily wear them openly in public. It is advisable for men to wear long pants while women will be obligated to wear an abaya or a long, wide dress when outside. However, you might consider some modest every day life clothes in case you are invited to the house of a local family. It is very likely that they will appreciate if you dress modestly, meaning no shorts or strapless tops or anything of that sort. Just try and look presentable. Presentable the Arab way. All that may certainly depend on the people you are visiting, whether they are conservative or not, but it still might be useful to keep these cultural differences in mind. After all, you never know.

5. Cash

It is not so common here to pay for things using your credit card so I suggest you have actual cash with you. Chances are that in some places cards won’t be accepted or you will be asked to go to the next ATM and get actual cash.  For those who don’t know, the local currency is the Saudi Riyal. One euro is about five Saudi riyals.

6. A cooling vest

Saudi Arabia is a very hot country and especially during the summer months it will be almost impossible to be outside without sweating waterfalls after the first two minutes. I can imagine that men are less likely to wear these outside over regular clothes, which is why I have another reason why the abaya is so practical. You may want to get a cooling vest, that will keep your temperature at a reasonable level and help you survive the heat outside. Just wear it under your abaya and life will be a little easier.

7. Classic gelatine (those of you who are into baking)

Most of you are probably wondering why I am putting this one here. What does gelatine have to do with anything? Well, I have a friend here who makes professional cakes and for most of her creations she uses gelatine to make the outer decorations or coating. However, it seems like you will not find any classic gelatine powder here. They have gelatine in all possible flavours but probably not the one you are looking for and the one they have is not of the best quality either. So, if you are into baking, bring your own gelatine.

8. A socket adapter

You can surely buy these here, which would probably make more sense but let’s say you arrive in Saudi and you have no time to go buy stuff, but you really need to charge that phone or  laptop or else it dies. The sockets here are different from the European ones which I didn’t know before and so I found myself not being able to charge/ use  my phone until I found an adapter. If you want to avoid such a situation, I suggest you try to find this thing at home and bring at least one with you. Just in case. They look something like this.

On Social Segregation: Beware of the Sections!

Yesterday my mother and I went outside (outside as in “outside the actual compound” YES, my dear people, that is actually doable here…SURPRISE!!!) to get something for lunch. Luckily for us, there are some small places near us that sell (fast) food.

However, since my mother has not been outside very much so far, she had some trouble figuring ut which of the two doors she was supposed to use in order to get inside.

Because Saudi society pays so much attention to gender segregation, it has come up with the concept of having two sections. One for singles and one for families.

So, as in our case, if you want to go and eat outside (that is especially for the fast food places) you have to make sure to go through the right door. The singles section is reserved for men (why don’t they just call it men section then?) while the family section is either for women, single or in groups, or for families.

Now, I don’t think that if you are let’s say a woman and you accidentally open the door to the men’s section, you will cause the apocalypse or something horrible will happen. But I think that would be just awkward and may cause some social discomfort since that would go against cultural norms. Besides, I can imagine that some men, especially the conservative ones, will be very confused seeing a woman in a male space all of a sudden. So let’s not upset men’s testosterone levels, ladies, by always entering either through the door that is tinted, or that says family entrance / section above it. 

Dear men, if you want to avoid hysterical screaming of hysterical and confused women, never walk into a place (accidentally or not) that has mostly women in it. They actually do start screaming. I have seen it happen.

Once I had ensured my mother that we had to go through the tinted door, we came to a staircase and went up to the second floor where a man was standing behind a counter in an empty room with some chairs and tables. That was quite a strange sight but I guess here is where the idiom other countries, other customs comes true.

Segregation does not only take place at restaurants though. You can see it in other places, too. The actual elimination of women from male places and vice versa happens at restaurants mostly. If you go to a bank there is one huge main entrance and somewhere around the building there will be a door which says ladies branch  above it but I have never been inside a bank here, so that is all I can say.

Some shops also have a families only board hanging over the entrance. That is mostly for shops that are for women like lingerie or cosmetics etc. An Uzbek man here told me that he wanted to get cosmetics for his wife but was not allowed inside the shop because he was a single male and had no female with him.  What I find very ironic though is the fact that women are allowed inside shops that are for men. Like shops that sell thobes or the Zara branch that sells male clothes (been inside there today and did not get kicked out). I have a feeling that it is the women who are being protected from men and not the other way around.

Sometimes there are also two waiting lines at fast food stands or grocery stores in malls. However, these are disregarded most of the time.  I have seen it several times that men would be standing in line under a board clearly having “women” written on it.

Those of you ladies who are sick and tired of being surrounded by men all the time, I suggest to visit the women’s sections in malls or a whole “ladies mall” all together. Places like Panorama Mall or the Kingdom Tower have a whole floor with shops where only women are allowed and men can’t see anything from the other floors because of the tinted glass all around it. In these places, the women who sell things walk around without abayas.

THAT must be the reason why some VERY desperate men sometimes put on niqab and abaya just so they can sneak in to the women’s floors to look at women in western clothes. That is what I have been told. I have not seen that transformation happen with my own eyes but based on my personal experiences at mixed gatherings I would not be surprised at all if this was actually true.

 

A Little Party Never Killed Nobody: On the Other Purpose of Embassies

Most of us know embassies as places where you get travel documents or where you go if you have a “diplomatic hold up” in another country etc. But have you ever thought about what else an embassy could be useful for? Think for a moment…

Yes, you are absolutely correct! In Saudi Arabia, embassies are also places for social gatherings that sometimes, depending on the level of effort, can be considered a party.

Yesterday, I went to the French embassy in Riyadh. At first I believe that what I was about to attend was a live performance of ABBA’s Mamma Mia! by French artists. So, looking forward to some good music, I was off to the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh.

If you want to attend such gatherings at embassies, you need to have the right connections that can get you an entrance ticket and be warned, that this little piece of paper will not necessarily be a cheap one.

For most expats these events at embassies are a chance to dress up and basically “compete” with the others about who looks better that night and whose bag matches the shoes with the highest heels the most. At least that is the impression I get from the women, while men either a.) Try to get themselves a (new) girlfriend or b.) get their hands on alcohol. That may also apply to some women, too by the way.  There is certainly also option c.) according to which some people may really show up for the music entertaining part.

Option c.) however, is not so common. The message this sends is basically the following: Pretty much all adults have reached a point where they cannot have any fun unless there is alcohol involved. In other words, alcohol IS the main source of entertainment for most people here. Whether there are music or a movie at the same time? Let’s be honest, how many people actually care? Isn’t that kind of sad?

What did cheer me up however was the buffet. As many fruits, pastries, little sandwiches and shawarma as you can eat. Oh, and have I mentioned the rose pudding yet? Luckily water was free. After the first half hour I could already feel my satin dress tighten around my upper body.

I learned two lessons that night: strapless dresses are almost impossible to breathe in, especially after you hit the buffet like there is no tomorrow. Shoes with heels, no matter how high they are, are torture instruments, and later on there would be another interesting observation to follow.

But before I get to that, I am sure that most of you will be interested in knowing that it is not only the expatriate community that takes part in these events. I did see a decent amount of Saudis there, too. All with thobe and ghutra and agal.  I guess that the cultural highlight of the night was my observation of a Saudi man kissing a woman on both cheeks.  Don’t believe me? Read again.

After almost two hours of eating and drinking and possibly socializing to music that could possibly make your ear drums explode, the show came on. Even though my company and I were expecting to hear ABBA throughout, it started with French songs which later on turned out to be from the musical Cabaret.

However, the songs were dynamic and catchy and soon, many people started to dance and enjoy themselves while some got so into the dancing, their brandy landed on the ground.

Just after that, a young guy came up to us, asking if anyone had a pen. Later on he sat down next to me. As I already mentioned in one of my articles called The Albanian Don Juan  the question “What time is it?” seems to be a very common conversation starter. Not only among Albanians but also Arabs. The guy, who later on turned out to be Egyptian, asked what time it is and after I showed him my watch, I already hoped he would leave me in peace when in reality, the conversation just started.

“Do you want a drink?”, he asked me and tried to offer me a glass with a liquid and ice in it.

Dear men,  Firstly, if you really want to treat a woman for a drink, then please, get up and buy her the freakin’ drink while she is with you, so she can see how it is made and receive it from the barkeeper. Don’t just show up and offer a random glass. If you do that and the woman is smart enough, I can foreshadow for you that she will not take it. That gesture is pretty much a green light for: That drink is gonna knock you out. Literally.

Secondly, don’t automatically assume that every woman on the planet drinks alcohol. If you want to treat someone for a drink because apparently you like that person at first sight, then ASK what the lady wants to drink first.

You know, many western people complain about the strict social regulations here. Especially the whole idea of a woman having a mahram or male guardian. You know what? For situations like these, I  highly praise Saudi society for that rule! I really do.  I think that at gatherings like these a woman should always have a man with her who looks after her in case a guy like this comes up to her and tries to invite her to another party or get her phone number or even, and here comes the most ridiculous part: invite her to a trip to the desert!

Dear men, seriously??!! You think we will just hop into the car with you in a country like this, barely knowing who you are and let you take us to a desert??? Maybe you think that you are trying to be nice here and show us around but honestly…THAT is like the most suspicious thing to offer ever.

The “funny” thing about that incident was that my father was sitting RIGHT THERE next to me  and the guy just kept talking at me, trying to appeal to me somehow, saying how strict my parents must be if they don’t let me party, even though I made clear that these here are my parents. Maybe I should feel sorry for that guy. The social situation in this country seems to make some men so desperate, they forget about any morals there are. Again, maybe he was just trying to be nice but if you just want to be nice, find a more civilized approach than almost hitting on a girl in front of her dad while you know her dad is watching you.

Ladies, in this situation I suggest you keep conservatively modest. If you want to get rid of the guy, say you don’t have your phone with you. You don’t have social networks like Facebook and on the weekends you are busy studying or doing stuff (maybe you even are like me). In the end, the guy will find that you are too quiet and too modest for him and after offering his silly drink to the friend that just danced with you, realizing that she will not take it either, he will eventually leave without a word. I mean, you can also just tell him to go away straight and see what happens but I don’t like to be rude at the first second.

Now, I can imagine that some of you will blame me for what happened, saying that if it wasn’t for my dress and my looks, I would have been fine. Okay, go ahead and think that way if you have to but let me tell you that I was just following the set dress code for the event and that just because I look pretty, like everyone else, that does not mean a grown up  man has to forget about where he is and what social norms are.

The night was not too bad though after all. The food was delicious and in big amounts and we did get to hear some ABBA songs despite the fact that most of them were in French.