Saudi Arabia – I Dared to Go Out without an Abaya

It finally happened. I actually went out and by out I mean publicly visible in Riyadh without an abaya. But overhead_abaya_ha31I’m getting a little ahead of this story. I’m not a fond advocate of the abaya but I will wear one when it is necessary. With the colder weather now in Riyadh, I typically just wear a jacket as a travel to and from work, leaving my abaya at home. Because once I am at work, I am not required to wear an abaya. One day I received a phone call while at work from a friend suggesting we get together after work and have dinner out. I had not seen this friend for a while so I was happy to meet up with her. It did not occur to me until I was enroute that I did not have an abaya and we were going out to public establishments. The first thing I did was call her and tip her off. I told her I was willing to test the waters by foregoing the abaya rather than risk substantial delays fighting traffic to go home, don an abaya and then head back up. She was game too to see what, if anything would happen.

The first stop sans abaya was at a popular Riyadh restaurant. We entered the restaurant and while the restaurant staff looked curiously at my jacket sans abaya, not a word was said. In the restaurant we were escorted to a private room where I removed my jacket and my friend removed her abaya. We had an enjoyable uninterrupted meal. She then asked me if I wished to go furniture shopping with her. Now we both realized this would be more public but we were game. We do not get enough opportunities to enjoy each others company.

To make the long story short, we visited 6 different furniture stores. Again, I received some curious looks and there were more people about both Saudis and expats. However not a single person said a word about me being out sans abaya. Now granted, my jacket did come below the knee and was bulky. I was wearing it with blue jeans so one could see my blue jeans from the knees down. I realize I was fortunate that I did not encounter any muttawas while out and about as it could have been a very different evening. But I must confess that it felt so good to feel more “free” as I was out and about without the trailing abaya for once.


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