Category Archives: lost in riyadh blog

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”.

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.

 

The ‘Women May Not Walk on the Street Alone’ Myth

I have noticed that a lot of the people who are new to Riyadh, including me at the very beginning, are convinced that women are not allowed to leave the house alone, meaning that it is also not allowed for them to walk down the street without male company.

That is a very widely spread –I am tempted to say cliché on the internet when it comes to doing research on this country’s social regulations.

Yes, there are certain rules in this country that appear strange to the western world. Yes, some of the regulations here are strict and YES, it does take some effort to adapt to the local customs but that does not mean that there is some sort of… TOTAL control going on.

When I first told my Saudi friends about the whole “I may not leave the house on my own” thing, they were probably laughing at me in their heads, saying that this rule is just a myth.

In fact, I do go to malls on my own. So today I thought why not just go for a walk in the street and see what the whole drama is about? What’s the difference between a mall and a street after all?

So this afternoon I put on my abaya and my headscarf and went outside. I am actually not obligated to cover my hair, unless the religious police sees me and tells me to do so. But quite frankly, I have nothing against hijabs and if I am outside in the street on my own, it is probably for my own good not to attract anyone’s attention and Saudi Arabia is really a place where you don’t want someone’s attention in the street.  So the least I can do is prbably just look like any other woman here.

Well, guess what! I went outside for a walk and nothing terrible happened to me, Alhamdulillah! It is okay to be on the street as a woman. Be it with or without the male guardian. I have seen women walk down the street alone all the time. Who knows, maybe I was just lucky today but I mean I passed by so many people, if it really were forbidden for women to walk alone, someone would have notified the police for sure and I would have been in trouble, probably not writing this right now.

The problem with being a pedestrian here is not whether you are allowed to be one or not but whether you can find any pavement to walk on. Riyadh reminds me a lot of Prishtina sometimes. With all the cars parking wherever there is a spot, making it almost impossible to walk on the street and all the small shops with apartments above them.

As for my neighborhood, there is lots of construction debris and cars on the streets. As well as many small shops, like a Sugar Sprinkles store and even two shops selling thobes that I did no dare to go into because there were only men inside. Then, there were also a lot of shop spaces just standing there empty, before I got to a row of residential homes that look a little bit like some houses in Spain, except that the ones here are fancier decorated and have the color of sand.

I even found a shop that sells Arabic sweets and various plates of different chocolates and cakes and ice cream, you get the idea, right?

DSC03235 So I obviously went inside and bought this delicious box of sweets. Since I showed up with my hair covered, I have been addressed by the salesperson in Arabic and he had a relatively surprised expression on his face, when I asked him to please repeat in English.

By the time the prayer calls sounded from two or three mosques at the same time, I reached the end of the street, that led to a traffic light on a street filled with driving cars. Since it would get dark soon, I turned around and walked back to the compound. And here another interesting observation:

As I approached the end of the street and was ready to cross the road, a  car that was approaching stopped as the Saudi driver saw me coming closer, letting me cross the street. I was astonished. Based on my prejudices towards Arab men’s views on women, I would not have been surprised if he would have driven faster, making things difficult for me.

Ladies, if you really want to go outside and buy something in that store down the road, there seems to be nothing wrong with doing that. Your main concern will be actually finding a road to walk on without having to watch out for cars.

However, I should also note that it is very important to have an ID with you. Actually your iqama is best. You don’t want to appear too lost when being outside alone. It may happen that a mutawa or police officer approaches you if you look like you got lost and asks to identiy yourself.

Learn to Dance in the Rain Before You Get on Your Jet Ski

Not a photo. All made in photoshop with the use of filters only.
Not a photo. All made in Photoshop with the use of filters only.

Even though it is only the beginning of March right now, it gets very warm here, especially at midday. I see girls come to school in dresses and skirts and whenever I go outside covered up, I already start feeling uncomfortable temperature wise.

Before coming here I, as many other globetrotters, had the issue of what to take with me to Riyadh and what to leave behind. Knowing about how hot it gets there, I immediately said to myself that an umbrella is the last thing I will need and left it in the attic.

In November of last year I got to see for myself how mistaken I was with making this decision.

For those of you who wonder, yes, it does actually rain here and quite frankly, once it rains here, it rains quite a lot. Don’t believe me? Then check this out.

It started in the early morning hours and I watched the drops being blown off the windows as I was on my way to school. By lunch time it got some heavier and I had to look for another spot to sit on until the next block, because our usual table was nearly flooded. By the time I got home, I received an E-Mail from the school, announcing that campus would be closed the next day and classes would take place via our moodle platform, which is pretty equivalent to being homeschooled for a day.

It has rained here three times so far, I believe and only twice was the rain actually a kind of  heavy one.  The main problem is that there is nowhere for the water to go and so what ends up happening here is that all the streets get flooded and some people finally get to use their jet skis on the streets of Riyadh. I kid you not. Some people in Riyadh actually manage to find a jet ski somewhere.

If you live in Riyadh and chose to buy a pavilion for your garden, let me tell you now that the thing will probably not survive that little bit of water coming down and I ensure you that the store where you bought it won’t do anything about it if it breaks.

Moral of the story:  Don’t abandon your umbrella and garden furniture may be a costly thing here.

Coffee Mornings, Stroller Tanks and Other Stories

What would your first thought be if you got out of the house, walked up to the street of your compound and saw dozens and I mean dozens of buses standing there neatly along the sidewalk? Mass evacuation? That’s probably what you think but no, that just means that a bunch of women from all over the city have assembled on your compound today because it’s coffee morning time.

A coffee morning is pretty much something like a bazaar that takes place on a compound and is mostly for all the expats. Sellers bring all of their stuff and people come in to buy it. You can get pretty much everything from abayas to traditional souvenirs to shawarma.

These coffee morning events can become very full. This is because coffee mornings are a woman’s pretty much only opportunity to leave her compound once a month  and interact with other women from other compounds.

The worst crowds form at the abaya stands. Since the whole thing took place where I live, I got up a little earlier and used the few minutes I had to look for a new abaya without being surrounded by several other women, who were indirectly trying to crush me between them.

I have made the discovery that there also are abayas that don’t button up in front but that you put on over your head. Dear women, if you get your hands on such one, I’d recommend to buy it. With that one you won’t have to bother about the buttons opening when you are outside. You just put it on and basta. No messing around with buttons.  In the end it looks more or less like an oversize dress even and it can also have decorations in other colors than black.  On such gatherings you can also get designer abayas, which look pretty unique and abayas made of more natural material so you don’t boil as much during the summer months.

There are also some remarkable pieces of jewelery and art you can get. The great thing about buying things in this country is that prices are always negotiable. All ou have to do is, once you show interest in an item, put on a sorry face, like you really regret that you don’t have enough money to buy it. That usually works the best and can bring you a nice discount.

As I already mentioned, you can also meet new people or realize that nationalities you were not aware of live in Riyadh as well. I heard people speak Russian several times today. I assume they are either Russian or Uzbek. In fact, the whole event today made me think of that one exhibition building in Minsk where all the bazaars take place. Something like the Middle East bazaar or honey bazaar. It was just like home, except it was not as hot as it was during my last visit in Belarus.

Let me tell you however, that such coffee mornings are not necessarily for everyone. The amount of people there is huge. If you are claustrophobic, you better stay home.

Apparently strollers are multifunctional now. If you show up there with your child, you can use your stroller as a sort of mini tank that will help you to get your way mercilessly  through the crowd. What women do here, is they just push the thing in front of them like it’s a tank going through a forest and the other people around are the trees that have to be gotten out of the way.

It’s funny to see what ” survival of the fittest” has turned out to be about in modern-day consumer society.

 

 

On Prom Dresses and Strange Opening Hours

My grandfather, whom I unfortunately never got to meet personally, always said that you can have several wedding dresses, as you can get married several times, but you will only have one single prom in your life.

With that in mind, and because I really needed a reason to leave the house, I found myself at one of Riyadh’s shopping malls, which I usually visit like museums because pretty much everything sold there is out of my price range, to look for an evening dress.

One thing that you may notice about malls here, is that they are full of women. It is the women who do all the spending while men are, for the most part, responsible for making the money, driving their wives to the malls and carrying their shopping bags.

Men are the people who usually take a seat somewhere in the corner while their wives are searching for a new dress to spend the money on and in a lot of cases the man can come in handy because let’s be honest: Who else would hold up that poor, little dress in the perfect position so that the woman can take a picture of it?

Absolutely no offense here. Just describing what I’m seeing. Honestly.

Even though Riyadh may have some interesting shopping opportunities, there is one problem with it for the average Western person: Most shops don’t open until circa 4 p.m. Once they open however, you may enjoy being the consumer of goods and services until midnight or even later than that.

For the most part, Riyadh has all of the stores you can find in the United States or other Western countries. The catchiest thing for me though, given the special occasion, were the dresses and not only the normal, but the traditional Saudi dresses, too.

Abayas may be plain black but the other traditional dresses, the ones that are worn on special occasions like weddings or other gatherings are, in my opinion, absolutely breathtaking. According to my research, chances are that these are just female thobes (Dear Saudi readers, you are most welcome to correct me here). They are long, wide and have long sleeves but they have so many different colors and patterns on them, I would have worn one of those to prom if that wouldn’t be totally ridiculous and if our theme would already not have been set to The Great Gatsby. I mean it.

The “normal” dresses are just like the ones you can buy in Turkey and here they cost somewhere between € 200 and € 500 (original price in Saudi Riyal). All of those shops, one next to the other, reminded me of the Albanian bazaar in Skopje, that sold jewelery and wedding dresses.

Instead of revealing all the details about how I couldn’t find anything, let me just tell you about some things to keep in mind when shopping or doing groceries. Many stores are labeled as “for families only”. That means, that if you’re a man, you won’t get in there without your wife or other female relative. The same thing applies to some cash desks and cafés.

Then, there are also the prayer times. If you happen to be inside a grocery store when the call to pray goes off, you may stay inside the grocery store and keep shopping. In fact, you don’t have any other choice than that if you don’t leave before the prayer starts. In other, smaller shops you will be asked to leave.

What most people who don’t pray do is go and get something to eat or to drink. There are some remarkable food courts in the malls here, so you probably won’t get bored. Chances are I will cover my demand on Cinnabon rolls for the next couple of years within the next few months I have left here.

There are extra rooms that are meant for prayers but don’t be surprised if you see people pray in front of shops or just somewhere in the hallways. Pass by, don’t walk in front of people while they pray, as that is considered disrespectful and don’t laugh.

And with that said…enjoy spending your money! 🙂