I will always try to respond to queries which I receive about Saudi Arabia. The set of queries I am going to respond to in this post are more personalized with a reader wishing to know about my personal experiences and views.
- What did you do with your time while in Saudi? How did having to wear an abaya and not being able to drive, go anywhere alone or take your life into your hands affect you?
I actually found myself quite busy while I was in Saudi. To begin with I had one full-time job and one part time job. My full time job was working for the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences which is part of the National Guard Health Affairs. My part time job was as a media consultant with Saudi Arabian television. My part time job at times had me putting in almost as many hours as my full time job. These jobs also allowed me to make additional friends in both the Saudi and expatriate community.
As a member of a large and extended Saudi family, my husband and I usually had multiple family commitments each week. We also spent large amounts of our time with expatriates and with other Saudi husband/foreign wife couples. All together we had an active social life. We’d travel around the Kingdom to visit family and friends. We also hosted family and friends to our home in Riyadh too.
In addition to the socializing, I was active in community groups and activities too. A Saudi friend and I established the Women’s Expat Exchange which was oriented to bringing Saudi women and expat women together who otherwise would probably not have had the opportunity to meet and get to know one another. I was also an active member of “Saudi Pets” which consisted of a group of individuals who were fond of pets. We’d get together and plan activities to either help educate the community on the joy of pet ownership, plan rescue or adoption venues or simply get together to socialize.
I loved when I got to go out on behalf of Saudi television. While I would typically work at the studio, I had fun on the occasions when I’d go out with a crew to either be a reporter on the scene or conduct an on-scene interview.
As I look back, there really were few times when I was just sitting at home and being quiet!
I was never a big fan of the abaya. It helped a lot when I received a gorgeous custom-made abaya as a gift from Aafke! After that I started receiving compliments and queries on my abaya! But I also found that during the winter months I could get by wearing my long Western coat or Saudi farwa in lieu of an abaya. I even started substituting my long (knee level) lab coat instead of an abaya when the weather was warmer.
Not being able to drive was a blessing in some ways in Saudi Arabia. The traffic was horrible and parking hard to find. I came to thoroughly enjoy being driven and especially getting both dropped off and picked up at the front door!
- What about the fact of no theaters or cultural venues?
It’s actually a bit of a misnomer about no theaters or cultural venues. As an expat there were plenty of theater options. Most of the western compounds and embassies would have a theater on the premises and offer movie nights. There were also a few expats and some Saudis who set up their own home theaters and hold movie nights too. So while the venue was somewhat different from buying your ticket to see a movie, the rest was pretty much the same. If my husband and I really wanted to see a newly released film we would plan a weekend trip to Bahrain.
There are numerous cultural venues for mainstream Saudi society and for expats too. Saudi Arabia has many different museums, cultural centers and historic sites. There are also cultural festivals throughout the year. My husband and I enjoyed trips to the Saudi museum, King Fahd cultural center and many other sites.
The diplomatic community usually had special cultural events such as musical concerts, art shows, cultural troupes and other activities going on each week. I always liked the international food festivals!
The expatriate community has choral societies, comedy clubs, opera club, community theater and other events in which one can either participate or be an observer.
- Please give us some examples of why you felt that living in Saudi was tolerable or even wonderful.
The activities and outlets identified above are part of what made Saudi Arabia fun, wonderful and easily tolerable. That’s not even counting the activities found in the desert!
I found that in Saudi Arabia I could be as socially active and busy as I desired.
- Did you have to stand in line at shops, the courts, agencies and so on like ordinary women? Did you have to have a mahram acompany you? How did you find the manners of Saudis?
There are not lines in Saudi as typical in the United States in the sense that there are separate lines for women. If I was shopping or ordering fast food at a mall I’d have to stand in line with other women. I did not have to have a mahram accompany me wherever I went. That only applied to an occasion such as traveling internationally. A Saudi woman would probably get challenged more easily if she were on her own but as an expat, I was left alone.
The manners of Saudis can vary. In general, Saudis are very polite towards western expats and want to show them hospitality and kindness. However there were times when with a mixed group of Saudis and expats or just Saudis, manners of others or those in the group may not be “patient.”
- Do you believe that Saudi culture is fundamentally honest and forthcoming?
No; As compared to US expectations and norms, Saudi culture is not fundamentally honest and forthcoming. Saudis do not want to disappoint, hurt or let someone down. Therefore, they will lie. A Saudi may believe that it is better to not tell the truth rather than hurt. A Saudi will not view that as telling a lie either. This leads naturally to whether or a not a Saudi is forthcoming. The Saudi culture and the environment in Saudi leads to Saudis being more private. Privateness is in many ways inbred into the Saudi’s being. Whereas by comparison, Americans are much much more open.
If anyone else has something specific they’d like to see addressed please send me an email with your query to firstname.lastname@example.org
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