Category Archives: lost in riyadh

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! 🙂


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.


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.

365 Days Around the Sun

Just to make sure that I am still around, here a little summary of my birthday in pictures.

Never would have thought I’d spend my 19th year on earth in a place like Saudi Arabia…

cake cupc geburtstag rose

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! 🙂


Ahlan Wa Sahlan to Riyadh!

It was a chilly day in September and my alarm clock was ringing at quarter to nine. My spacious room in the basement was nearly empty. The one suitcase packed, my almost ancient backpack looking like it would explode from all the things in it and my long, black skirt, that my grandmother sewed for me just for this occasion in one day before I left Belarus, were all lined up along the wall.

I felt just as I did three years back when I was moving away for the second time in my life but only this time did I anticipate it like a little child anticipates its birthday gifts the next morning.

When you move to a place like Riyadh, there is one thing you really need to be good at if you want to survive it there. You have to be patient and believe it or not, this whole patience thing already starts at the airport of your home country or from wherever you are starting your journey. So there was me in my black, floor long skirt, black T-Shirt and a knit jacket that my hosts convinced me to put on before I left just so I didn’t freeze to death on the plane. That alone may cause some suspicion or at least curious looks from the people around, especially with that monster of a suitcase right next to me.

Then come all the formal travel related questions.

“Excuse me, are you traveling to Riyadh for touristic reasons?”, asked the man behind the check in desk, visibly irritated. Looking at my non- German passport, he also tried to make sure that I spoke German, which was strange, given the fact that I just greeted him without any accent.

“No, not for touristic reasons”, I said in fluent German. “I am visiting my parents and going to school there”, I added.

“Do you have a visa then?”, he asked suspiciously.

I asked him to take a look at page so and so in my passport and with that he had to leave me alone but apparently there are so little people traveling from Berlin to Riyadh, that he didn’t even know how to enter me into the system. I already started to think there must be something wrong with my entrance permit and felt my blood turn cold inside my veins. My self -control skills were required even before I set foot on Saudi ground.

About two hours later however, I was already on my long march through Frankfurt airport, trying to find the right gate. One of the myths about Saudi Arabia that I have been reading about online was busted right after I was through the security check point. In front of me, there was a British lady, already in her abaya and with blond hair. I had restrained myself from dying my hair blond again during the summer, thinking that blond hair was forbidden in the kingdom. Well, here was to ahead of time research on the internet.

Once you have mastered the “hiking” on Frankfurt airport, and whoever has been there will know what I mean by hiking, finding the right gate to Riyadh is not difficult at all. You just have to keep looking for women in abayas or men in thobes.

Abayas, or even burqas as such, were nothing new to me. I spent part of my childhood in the Muslim district of Berlin and saw many such women on the street on a daily basis. When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the women in their black cloaks where all I could see were their eyes, and now I was going to live in a place where the majority of women look like that. In that moment I had to think about what ironic turns life can take sometimes. Ironic, that’s what it all was really.

What did grab my attention however, was the male clothing. There may be women in burqas in Germany but don’t expect to find a man in a white robe somewhere on the subway. That robe wasn’t just white. It was shiny white or super white. Whatever you want to call it. How much detergent has to be used to keep it THAT white? I mean seriously?

The flight to Riyadh was something that seemed awfully long. Sometimes five hours can seem like an eternity, even in the comfortable seats of a Lufthansa plane, while watching Night train to Lisbon on the screen in front of you, while you are being served something to eat every now and then.

When half of that eternity seemed to be over, I was confronted with an uncomfortable surprise. Filling in entry cards. Generally that is no big deal but it sure becomes one when you find yourself several feet above the ground and your pencil is somewhere in your gigantic suitcase. Dear people who ever want to fly to Riyadh, don’t forget to bring a pen on board. You’ll need it.

“Excuse me, do you have a pen I can borrow?” I asked the stewardess that was just passing by me.

“I am sorry Madam, I have only one and I can’t give it to you.”

Ready to panic, I started looking around to see whom I could ask for a pen or just anything to write with.  Here is where (at least part) of myth number two was busted.

“Do you need any help?” asked me the man in the seat next to me, looking concerned. As it turned out, that man was Saudi. According to my research, he wasn’t even supposed to look at me but there he was, asking if I needed help and doing that in an absolutely normal, respectful tone. Lesson two for the day: Saudis don’t always treat women like they are absolutely worthless.

Two hours before we landed, the stewardesses were going around, offering drinks and snacks. Some people were going for a brandy before the cabin crew announced that we would reach Riyadh shortly, reminding us that the possession of alcohol and drugs was strictly prohibited in the kingdom and results in capital punishment. Oh the irony again, I thought to myself, looking at some Saudi men finishing off their brandy.  Right in that moment, when we were about to land, I felt fear rise up in me for the first time in months. All of a sudden I realized that this was it. I was about to land in one of the strictest countries in the world, whose culture was nothing like mine. I was afraid because in that moment I realized that I had no idea what I was going for and that not knowing sent cold sweat down my back.

With the filled in entry card and my passport, I walked down the halls of King Khalid International Airport. It is not too big but the interior made me feel like I was inside a concert or theater hall in Belarus, with all its neat walls and bright lights and all.

When arriving in Riyadh, there are several passport check points at the airport one can go through. The main three that one should be aware of are the one for people that come in for the very first time and the one for people who are returning. If you happen to be a man coming back with your wife, there is also a family checkpoint.

The newcomer line is the longest and probably the slowest one as well. When you finally get there, the person behind the desk will take a picture of you and take your fingerprints with some fancy, electronic device. Many Saudi men, and especially the ones that are in some sort of authoritarian position seem to just love to boss around and let you know how important they are as opposed to you.  As difficult as it seems, just let it pass, especially if you are a woman. Also, make sure that you get a stamp and a number on your entry visa. This verifies that you entered the country. Sometimes the people who work at the airport just forget to do that and that will make it impossible for you to leave the country later.

Trying to get used to all the thobes and burqas around me, I was looking for my suitcase and seemed not to be able to find it. Under some mystical circumstances my baggage ended up on the conveyor of British Airways, even though I was flying Lufthnsa all this time. Thanks to the Pakistani worker who showed me and carried the bag to the exit. If I had any Saudi money on me, I sure would have given a tip.

The air outside was warm, even though it was September, so that my choice of clothing was just right, and I thought to taste the dust in the air.  With my parents right next to me, the taxi drove to what was now my new home, through the dark streets, passing by various expensive looking cars and road signs labeled in Arabic. I did not know yet where exactly I was going but I sure was on my way to a big, cultural adventure.


The Russian Doll that Lost its Way in Saudi Arabia

So it looks like the famous “matryoshka dolls”, which are originally from Russia, are now all over the souks in Saudi Arabia. And that in its new, local, Saudi appearance. Did I just find a tiny, little piece of home in this country?