Category Archives: saudi arabia expat life

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! 🙂

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Why Do You Write About the Good Things?

Those of you who have been reading my blog might have noticed that the significant majority of my articles on this blog have a positive tone to them.

Considering the fact that I have dedicated this site to live in Saudi Arabia, which is unfortunately not seen in a positive light by many people from the outside, many of my readers probably ask themselves why I am keeping a blog that talks about the positive things of Saudi Arabia rather than the whole injustice and all the other questionable things that are going on there as well.

In fact, one of my relatives who has been to Riyadh, too, asked me this question a couple of days ago after I told her happily about all the positive feedback I am getting from my Saudi and non- Saudi readers.

“You must be very talented”, she said. “I have no idea what good things there are that one could talk about considering Saudi Arabia.”

In order to clear at least some of my possible bias, let me say that I am indeed aware of the fact that there were also things during my stay in the kingdom which I did not like and did not agree with. I am also aware of the fact that certain social norms and laws seem or are very unjust in comparison to what we western people know from our societies.

My contributions on here are not supposed to be some sort of propaganda that sugar-coates literally every single aspect of living in Riyadh. Since some people may think that this is exactly what I am doing, I just want to clarify that this was definitely not the motivation for all this.

But then, some of you may ask, why am I writing down the good things instead of challenging what is not so good?

Three hours after I got on the plane from Frankfurt to Riyadh, I got into a conversation with my neighbor who later on became a good friend of mine. “I am excited about my new life”, I said. “I will finally get to know something new and will have some material to write a book about.” This is where my friend told me to be careful with what I published online while in Saudi Arabia. There are certain things which are not supposed to be discussed, hence freedom of speech is rather limited in this country as some of you may have noticed. Maybe it would have been one of my tasks, as someone reporting from this place, to challenge certain things and point out what is not so good. But given how much of such content is already out there, I really started to ask myself who would read my articles if I would just re-write the horror stories that so many before me, including the official western media, have already published? If people wanted to read about what is bad, there would be no reason for them to read my blog. They could look up all the other websites and books instead, reading what they were expecting to read: How terrible of a society Saudi Arabia is. I would not take anything away from them or deprive them of valuable information by not being pessimistic.

So I needed to choose another perspective under which I would compose my articles, which does NOT mean that what I have been writing about so far was all made up.

I knew that I could just as well have written a whole bunch of stuff about everything I did not like, about everything that made me want to pack my bags and leave for good. I could have chosen to be fully affected by negativity and spend nine months in fear, depression, cynicism and homesickness, ruining my mental health as not too little expats in Saudi choose to do unfortunately. But I did not. I wanted to tell others why it is not the end of the world to live here, taking away at least some of the fear that so many foreigners have.I came to the conclusion that looking for some positive things would be much healthier than pointing my finger at everything bad.

You see, the way we perceive things are all a matter of perspective and a matter of choice. In the case of Saudi Arabia probably even a matter of circumstances. A foreigner will have  a different view and a different story to tell than a domestic worker or a local or someone whose marriage to a local turned into a disaster or an expat stay at home mom who has nothing to do all day than look after her child and stay home. So when you reflect upon all the things I have written over the previous months you should keep in mind that this is the story of my circumstances and they are not universal for everyone.

What also contributed to the way I wrote was the fact that I had something to do every day and that the people around me were good to be with. I was lucky to be a student in Riyadh, going to class every day. I had the opportunity to have contacts with other people, not isolating myself entirely, as some other foreigners choose to do. Had I not have my classes, I would probably have turned into a sad, depressed person because there would have been nothing to keep me busy. If you have nothing to do and don’t know why you should be getting up every day, every country will turn into a horrible place, be it Saudi Arabia, Germany, Iceland…you name it.

And this is exactly why I tried to point out something good about the kingdom. Next time you ask yourself that question, remember that everything is a matter of perspective and circumstances.

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!

A Visual Intro to Saudi Art

Many people who have never been here and are convinced that Saudi society is backwards, often think that Saudi Arabia does not have a culture. That also includes the opinion that in Saudi Arabia there are no artists who create fabulous paintings.

For those of you who stumbled upon this post and (falsely) believe all the things listed above, let me share with you my favorite painting exhibits from a booklet that one of my dear friends got for me today.  🙂

I know that taking a picture of a picture is probably not the best thing to do, but that is all I have. Enjoy nevertheless!

And before some of you start wondering: No, it is not only men who do art in this country. There are also some paintings by women which I will upload later.

So as you can see, Saudi Arabia is NOT as backwards as you thought it is!

DSC03351
Saudi Colors is an exhibition organized by the Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia.
Artist: Abdullah Hajji
Artist: Abdullah Hajji
Artist: Abdullah Al- Rasheed
Artist: Abdullah Al- Rasheed
Artist: Sa'id Sa'id Shahrani
Artist: Sa’id Sa’id Shahrani
Artist:  Saad Al- Melhem
Artist:
Saad Al- Melhem
Artist: Saad Al- Melhem
Artist: Saad Al- Melhem
Artist: Sami Albar
Artist: Sami Albar
Artist: Balod Albalod
Artist: Balod Albalod
Artist: Abdo Fayez
Artist: Abdo Fayez
Artist: Mohhamed Benten
Artist: Mohhamed Benten

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.

 

 

Things That You Thought Are Banned in Saudi Arabia But Actually Aren’t

things banned in saudi

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?