Tag Archives: lostinriyadh

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.


Experiences in a Nutshell – Advice For Future Expats

From my very arrival in the kingdom up until now, I have faced some situations, or what I would call cultural lessons, that taught me something about how to handle life here, especially as a non- Saudi.

For the future Saudi expats among my readers or those who are just generally interested, here is a list of things that you should keep in mind and things you may want to do once you have settled here.

1. When boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia, make sure you have a pen with you. Unless you are Saudi, you will be asked to fill in an entry card. Don’t expect any of the flight attendants to give you one. They most likely won’t.

2. Whenever you leave the house, make sure you have some sort of ID with you. You never know what may happen. I left the compound once without my ID and on my way back in, I immediately got in trouble with the security people.

3. Even though you are leaving the compound on a bus with tinted windows to get from compound A to compound B, given that you are a woman, put on your abaya or at least have it with you. The kids on the schoolbus look at me like I am an alien whenever I do this but last month our schoolbus broke down and we had to switch buses, meaning we had to go outside. Now this is where thinking in advance pays off. Imagine the same happens to you and some Saudi or a mutawa sees you without an abaya on. Even though this may sound absurd to any westners, being dressed unmodestly is actually a very heavy offense here, so don’t risk it in first place.

4.  Be patient and considerate and don’t argue. Saudis do many things differently from westerners. Saudis for instance are not very punctual, which drives every single German here absolutely nuts. Many of them are also relatively lazy and take their time getting things done. If you ever happen to have a conversation with a Saudi, you may also notice that he or she won’t look you in the eyes when talking. Quite frankly, that last thing is something that I still have trouble dealing with but this is just the way it is. Generally speaking, direct eye contact is considered offensive. Bottom line is that there is no point in getting angry and lecturing Saudis on how what they do is wrong. It is always a matter of perspective and there is nothing you can  do, or very little, in order to change that. Just take a deep breath and get through it.

5. ALWAYS count your change. If you go shopping and receive change from the cashier, make sure that the amount you get is the right one. I have been in many situations when I got too little change back but I noticed it too late. I don’t know if this happens because Saudis are trying to be tricky or because they simply don’t pay any attention but no matter what it is, this actually happens quite a lot here.

6. If you are a woman, carry a headscarf with you. Even though you are not a muslim, the mutawa may still ask you to cover your hair just because in this country this is considered modest. Again, don’t even think about arguing with these people. That won’t be any good for you. Just put the thing on and keep walking. If you do that without any protest, you express your respect for the culture and that makes the locals very happy after all. Besides, most religious police men are very polite when they ask for something so it would be only right to be as polite in return and do what they ask for.

7. Be especially careful while driving. Despite the fact that I, as a woman, am not allowed to drive here, from my seat in the back I have a very strong impression that the driving style here is very different from driving anywhere else. Many people can’t really drive straight or have never heard of that useful thing called blinking when driving around the corner. Many Saudis also don’t look to the left or to the right but only straight ahead of them. You will also see many teenage boys or even children behind the wheel, driving their mothers somewhere. Keep these things in mind and be tripple alert while driving. It may savee your life in the end.

8. When you enter the country with a new visa, you must make sure that you get a stamp and a number on it. That makes your entry valid and proofs that you have actually entered the kingdom legally. Don’t expect the person behind the desk to know it all. Lazy as they are, they often times forget it and if both of you do, you may have trouble leaving the country again.