Tag Archives: saudi arabia 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”.

A Thank You Note to YOU!

Dear readers,

it has been a while since the last time that I have been active on this blog. In fact, I am surprised that even during the months of my return to Germany, there were still one or two occasions on which I had enough words in order to leave them on here for you to read. Each of my returns to this blog has indeed been a pleasure for me. It’s like coming back to something that once has been a piece of myself, and would I not love writing down my impressions so much, I surely would not have said this now.

And yet, despite my absence and this blog being just the remains of my (rather limited) observations, there are still several people visiting it every day. I did not know how many people would come across this when I started publishing my articles. I thought that this website would just be sitting here, discovered only every now and again by the one or the other poor soul. But now here I am, checking the statistics every day and seeing how my words have been read by more than 30.000 people and counting.

Today I thought that it was finally time for me to come back and thank all of you, whether you are new or old readers or whether you are Saudi or not, for being my virtual guests day in day out since the appearance of this blog on the internet.

I did not start writing all of these posts because I wanted to become famous or anything of that sort. I wanted others to read what I had to say about a place so little people have access to. Read, take in the words and maybe even think about them for a moment or two before they went back to watching the news on the same place I was writing about.  The fact that there are so many of you who keep reading, or at least visiting seems to show me that my intentions worked and I am very happy to have you as my readers.

I also want to thank all those of you who don’t just read all of this but  contact me personally. All of the comments and E-Mails I have received over the past year have indeed been a pleasure to read and answer.

Thank you for the praise, the encouragement,  the questions and criticism some of you have shared with me. I did not think that I would ever make it this far, even though in the big picture it is just a tiny step in the whole wide world of possibilities and achievements I have yet to get to.

I hope to keep hearing from you as I am, after various encouragements from my readers, turning all of these notes into a book made of my old and new thoughts, impressions and ideas about living in Saudi Arabia.

I wish I was able to write all of this in Arabic for my Saudi visitors to read as well, but my Arabic course has only covered the very basics so far. 🙂

Well, I might be gone by now but the doors to my thoughts and impressions shall remain open to you at least for a little bit longer.

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.

Post Saudi Q&A Part I

When I woke up this morning, I noticed some new notifications in my WordPress app. One of them was a comment on one of my posts by a reader from Australia who had some very interesting questions to me, regarding my life in Saudi Arabia which by now is long over.

Since I love it when people share their thoughts with me on my work and ask me questions, I thought I would share today’s questions and answers with the rest of you.

Thank you very much for the questions and the nice remarks! 😉

 

How did you find the transition between conservative countries and western civilisation? Especially with all the pro-feminists there are today?

Quite frankly, I am not even sure whether I actually noticed that there was a transition going on, even though I am certainly aware of the fact that technically that was the case. I assume that most people would expect me to say that I have experienced a huge culture shock and spent days locked in my room, hiding under the covers and counting the days until I may return home where I can eat pork, drink Glühwein and wear mini skirts again. I am sorry to disappoint you but no, this actually did not happen.

I guess I can say that the main thing in terms of transition that I noticed was the change of people’s appearance around me. All of a sudden I was surrounded by men in white robes that made me think of dresses and women of whom I could only see the eyes. Since I lived on a compound and went to an international school, the other differences between the conservative Middle East and the West appeared to me later and that in the difference of approaches to social interaction. For more info on that, I suggest you read this post. How did I find the change? I don’t really know. I would say that I found the transition relatively smooth which may be due to the fact that I have been somewhat familiar with conservative Muslims before because of my Muslim friends in Berlin,

In terms of feminists I have to say that this issue has not really affected my view on my new ‘home’ because I have never really dealt with feminism in detail. After all, there are enough other women out there to do it for me. I would not call myself a feminist either. I do not run around saying that men and women should have the exact equal rights or that covering one’s hair is oppressive. For me it isn’t. Period.

All in all I’d say the transition was rather more interesting to observe than it was scary of worrisome. However, once I really arrived in Riyadh, as time passed, the differences between the cultures became very clear and visible.

Do you think that being a woman there was any more or less empowering in context?

The answer yes or no to this question depends on the point of view from which one would answer this. For me as neither Muslim, nor Saudi, nor Arab in general, I would say that it was neither more nor less empowering. It was more a neutral state of being rather than more or less empowering in the big picture. A local woman however, who always wished to live the western way would probably answer this differently. Just so you know.

Now, the longer I sit here typing this, I remember that the only thing that did indeed concern me and that I would call a less empowering thing in context, is the lack of mobility for women in this country. Since I was not allowed to drive (and even if I was, I would never dare to do so on the streets there and I am saying that after learning to drive in the Balkans which is actually quite something!!), it was difficult for me to be spontaneous. I could not just say to myself ‘I want to go and meet up with my Egyptian friend who lives in town’ and do so. I had to arrange a ride before I could go anywhere where I could not get by foot so fast and that was really bothersome at times because getting a ride anywhere takes time and costs quite some money, unless you are brave enough to hail a Saudi cab in the streets and get in there by yourself or your dad or husband or brother or whoever has time to do you the favor.

Many people say that being a woman in Saudi Arabia is difficult because you are being deprived of your rights and all and that people treat you worse than if you were a man. That happened to me only once at the airport when I had to deal with a police officer who probably thought he would rule the world one day or that he already did and I guess if I did not have a man with me that day, I would not have seen my plane ticket again but I must say that this was the only discouraging incident I have experienced in Riyadh as a woman during my nine months of stay. Whether that was just because I am white and not Saudi, I can’t say for sure.

I would even have to say that I have had more WTF moments since I am back living in Germany compared to my time in Saudi (that may be because from now on I have to arrange my life on my own and have to deal with all sorts of things by myself, showing the world that I am a ‘strong and independent woman’ and sh**).

I can say that while I was in Riyadh, I was able to go out for groceries on my own by actually walking down the street, I have been out in town for the spring festival by myself without any terrible incidents and I have been treated nicely by Saudi men and women when I was out to buy something because getting on the compound’s bus and go to the mall by myself was doable, too. For more on such every day niceties see this post . Whether that is more or less empowering in context? You are free to decide but personally I was rather satisfied with my stay in Riyadh.

 

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.

 

 

Riyadh Spring Festival

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Friday morning in Riyadh. I have two days to myself so what could I possibly be doing? Homework I guess, but as you may have read previously, I have recently discovered an interest in going outside and just walking around town wherever there is a sidewalk.

One of my friends mentioned the Riyadh Spring Festival to me, so I thought: Great! Let’s get outside, look at flowers and mix into the crowd of locals. So I called a driver or better a private taxi service. I would later be called a fool for doing so, instead of hailing a cab on the street but I did not know that yet.

“Who gave you my number??!”, the driver asked after I called back to tell him I want to be picked up again at the King Abdullah Park after two hours.

“You did”, I said. “You drove me to school once and said that if I need a ride I should call you.”

Yeah drivers can be strange sometimes. That is something I still not have gotten used to and the absence of taximeters makes me feel even more helpless. Sometimes my Spanish teacher says that I am too German. Guess he’s right.

Wearing my new, black and violet abaya, my hair covered under a blue turban I found myself driving down the road to the district of Al Malaz. It is just a random part of town but you can’t believe how fascinating that could be. Especially at the sight of propper sidewalks and people going down the road on a bicycle. In these moments, even the traffic jam won’t bother you as much.

That spring festival was a sweet idea if you ask me.  Families finally had one more reason to take their kids outside and let them enjoy themselves. Now, I assume that the average Western person is used to more spectacular things and wouldn’t find it all that exciting but I think it really depends on why you go to places.

And before you start wondering; Yes, I did go by myself and see there…nothing happened! I’m well and happy!!

I am an observing person. I like to mix into crowds and watch people do whatever they are doing. In that aspect, this opportunity was quite perfect.

That festival reminded me of something like a smaller version of Germany’s Grüne Woche meaning “green week”. A large stage, a couple of food court items, some pavillions and of course- flowers! For a place as hot and dry like Riyadh, there were amazingly many flowers.

Ladiea and gentlemen, I present to you the largest flower bed you will probably find in this whole region. 36000 something flowers I believe.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the largest flower bed you will probably find in this whole region. 36000 something flowers I believe.

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and here a little overview of what kinds of flowers there actually were:

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The flower pictures are especially dedicated to my grandmother, who loves flowers just as much as I do…

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Is that the number 940 I see? I guess so.
Is that the number 940 I see? I guess so.

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I guess that I would have found the whole thing more enjoyable if I had kids or little siblings that I could have brought along with me but it was very lovely to watch all those Saudi families come together and have a picnic. One of the interesting things is that they can settle down pretty much everywhere. It’s not like there is one specific area where everybody has to sit.  Here, if there is a free spot, you just take it and spread out your carpet and pillows and coffee pots RIGHT THERE, be it on a spot of grass or in the middle of a square. It’s all fair game.

That was also an opportunity for me, as you can see, to get out my camera and actually make use of it anywhere other than the desert. I was not the only one to do so. Several people were walking around, taking pictures either with their phones, the size of a mini tablet, or DSLR cameras like mine. You think smartphones are banned in Saudi Arabia? Nonsense! They are everywhere. They are so widely spread that there even are charging stations for them in the parks. Not sure whether that is a smart, helpful idea or just a sign for our society being swallowed by modern technology.

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I also saw Saudi men holding their children and showing them things around the place. There were siblings walking around and husbands holding their wives’ hands as they were walking along the huge flower bed. Yes, here the people do just simple everyday life things like we would do them. Even married people holding hands. For some things they just have a different way of doing them.

They also have a different ideas about plush costumes that are there to amuse the children. Spongebob, Barney and the Tele Tubbies? Nah! BORING! How about a Saudi instead? 🙂

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A while before I was about to leave, the call for prayer filled the atmosphere. I don’t know about the rest of you but I think there is something quite stunning about watching people pray in unison. I may not be religious but it nevertheless manages to fascinte me every time.

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