Category Archives: shopping in saudi arabia

The Saudi Souvenir Checklist

Every time I go to a new place. and especially when I am fascinated by it, I always try to get something from there that I can keep as a souvenir. But when I am talking about souvenirs, I don’t really mean things like key chains or T- Shirts that say something like “I ❤ KSA”, and if I were to buy something that has “I ❤ KSA” on it, it would probably be some sort of hand made art. like a typography poster or something.

I personally am more into things thar are (more or less) unique for the place where I am. Something that has not been mass produced in a way that I could buy pretty much the same thing in souvenir shops all over the world and the only thing that would differ would be the name of the city or country.

I have this little list of things that I would get for myself before I leave, which as I realized will be very soon. In case you are still thinking about what sort of things you’d like to bring home from here, feel free to be inspired by my ideas.

1. Thobe

2. Arabic coffee pot

3. Traditional Saudi women’s dress (not the standard abaya but the colorful one)

4.  Perfume oil

5. Incense

6. Cardamom

7. Some sort of antique

8. Arabic calligraphy art

9. Rose water

10. Jewelery with my name in Arabic on it

11. Middle Eastern style lamp


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! 🙂


Shopping in Riyadh is Not For the Weak

In Riyadh, there are shopping malls every few meters. Not only do those have all kinds of (expensive) things but the buildings themselves are tremendously large. If I would take the Alexa shopping center in Berlin, for example, then I would (and I actually did) immediately realize that the mall in Riyadh is five times as big as that one.

If you live on a compound and do not have an own vehicle, you can use the bus that departs at specific times to specific malls on specific days.

So this is pretty much what I have done today. After visiting the Jarir Bookstore, which is a mixture of a bookstore with books in English and Arabic (mostly by John Grisham, Danielle Steel etc) and a stationary shop, I took the bus from my compound to the Granada Center.

Based on the ammount of visitors, I assume that one of the main things that the locals like to do during their free time is to go shopping and go to restaurants. And this last sentence reminds me of my restaurant experience from this morning, which I want to share before I get to the shopping part.

Here in Riyadh, you can’t just go to a café or restaurant and expect to get a seat immediately. Here things are different. In cafés and restaurants there is always a singles and a family section. Sometimes there even are singles sections only. The singles section is for the men, while when a man decides to come to a place with his wife, he is sent to the family section, since men and women that are not related to each other, are not allowed to mix in public places. I am not 100 % sure, but I assume that even if a group of women comes to a restaurant, they are also sent to the family section, which is hidden from the singles section.

However, the waiting line for the family section is very long. My family and some acquaintances of ours wanted to have breakfast in a café. but no matter where we went, there were already dozens of people who had the same idea.

When we finally found a place in a shopping mall, we were given a number and had to wait until a seat was free and we were called upon. A short time after we ordered, we already got our receipt, while our food and drinks were still being prepared. This way, the owner wanted to make sure that we eat and make space for the next visitors as fast as possible.

Then, a couple of minutes later, it was time to pray. Whenever it is time to pray, all the stores, business and whatever, close for thirty minutes. If it is a small shop, the visitors are asked to leave, while when you happen to be at IKEA when the call to pray goes off, you and the other customers will be left alone while the staff goes and prays. So we just sat there, ate our breakfast and watched as people were standing in front of the closed stores.

And here is where I get deeper into the shopping part.

People who come to the malls the most are women. If you are an expat woman, you are allowed to move around freely and without male company inside the malls. I went to an H&M store to get some clothes that are more suitable for the local weather. With me there were so many other women, covered from head to toe and some of them even had their faces behind a black piece of cloth, that I had a really hard time to move without running into one of them.

In this store there were no cabins where one could try on the clothes. So what people do is, they pick the clothes they like, buy them and try them on at home. If something doesn’t fit or you just don’t like it after trying it on, you go back to the store, return it and get a gift card.

Then lastly, there is the waiting line. I have the impression that here in Riyadh, people like to do things very slowly. I mean, why hurry, right? Well, I am glad that people here have such an easy view on time and life and all but if you have to be back at the bus at a specific time, these work ethics really get you.

And here a piece of advice for the end to all future Riyadh shoppers:

The most important thing while standing in a line in a Saudi store is to NOT leave any space between you and the person in front of you. This is because if there is the tinyest bit of spcae left, another person will just squeeze her (or maybe even him) self in front of you and you will end up standing there for hours. However, that does NOT mean that you have to be literally touching the other person. But you get my point here, right? Hope so.

So as you can see, shopping in Riyadh is really not for the weak.