Shopping Etiquette in Saudi Grocery Stores

riyadh grocery shopping

Now that the title has your attention and caught your interest, let me explain exactly what I mean when I say “shopping etiquette” in Saudi grocery stores.  This is information based on personal and practical experience.

To begin with most of the Saudi women who shop in the Saudi grocery stores such as Panda, Geant or Tamimi (Safeway) will likely be wearing a long and perhaps trailing black abaya.  They probably have on a hijab and niqab too.  This dress can result in obscure vision which can create a few problems.

First of all, the trailing abaya may get caught in the wheels of someone else’s cart.  Now if that other grocery cart belongs to a man, I have learned that the proper response (for the man) is to let the woman or one of her family members untangle her abaya from the cart.  It is not appropriate for the unknown and unrelated man to assist and touch her abaya.

Secondly, many times I have seen a Saudi woman accidentally start putting her groceries in the wrong grocery cart.  At certain times the grocery stores can be very crowded such as after a payday and the evening prayers.  The aisles are typically wider on average than the aisles of American grocery stores.  Three carts can easily span across an aisle.  And again, it is not appropriate for an unknown or unrelated man to point out such an error.  If the man is accompanied by a woman, there is no problem with the woman politely pointing out that the wrong cart has been used.

The last mix up I have personally involved can have the greatest consequences if someone is not understanding.  This is when a man accidentally starts following a Saudi woman who is not his wife or sister or mother or daughter or niece.  I have known this to happen particularly when a Saudi man may take family members from out of town such as sisters or nieces out to grocery shop and is not accustomed to following them in a grocery store and has not paid attention to what kind of abaya they may have on.  In all innocence he has been walking along and perhaps not paying full attention to his family member and unwittingly finds himself trailing along the wrong cart.  Once such a mistake has been discovered it is advised that the man simply walk away from the unknown woman rather than risk speaking to her explaining his error which might cause a bigger disruption.

And in closing this post, I wish to share this link which also reminds men (and women) to remember what vehicle they came in and where it is parked!

25 Responses

  1. Sorry for the lack of commenting. I had an issue with one of my computers so I’m catching up on all the posts I missed out on : )

    I laughed at the third one! How awkward is that? You would think he might just say the female’s name or something and wait for a response from one of the woman in the aisle…

    I was going to ask if you were going to post some more topics related to Ramadan, I’m looking forward to those!

  2. I laughed at the car story and then realized it is potentially very serious for both the man and the woman in the white Toyota. I stopped laughing.

    The uniformity of dress must make it difficult to pick out your family members. Specially for children. Most of us probably remember grabbing the wrong adult’s knee when we were knee level.

    I’m interested to hear other stories from Saudi residents.

  3. Another thought. I would think women might pin a colored ribbon to their cloak the way people do to black suitcases so they can find them at baggage claim. . .hmmm. . .I realize that is a somewhat insulting analogy. I don’t mean to offend; I’m just trying to relate from a very different culture.

  4. I don’t think that anyone has ever mixed me up with anyone else… Like you, I have very Western features that make me stand out in a crowd. (smile) However, one night after dining with friends, I told my driver he could leave as I had another ride. Meanwhile, as I was talking to him, my friend continued on her way to get into her own car. There were only a few cars in the parking lot so, after telling my driver to leave, I got in the car nearest to the door where I assumed she was…not paying attention at all to which car was hers. Luckily, it was one of the other ladies that I had just had dinner with. She laughed and said, “Oh, are you going with me?” Meanwhile the first lady figured that I had decided to leave on my own and was pulling out of the parking lot with me running after her yelling for her to stop. She didn’t hear me, but her driver saw the crazy blonde waving like a maniac and pulled over to let me in.

    One other time, I entered a car that looked similar to mine after leaving a store one evening. The man just looked at me like he was in shock, and within a fraction of a second, I flew out of there!

    Even sillier is when I get into the backseat by mistake when my husband is driving!

    Most of the time, I’m pretty careful, but when one tries to multi-task, (read the paper or text while walking), it can easily happen…that’s for sure!

  5. @Annie Actually, some people are seen wearing special cards with colored ribbon, or, they can be seen following a certain group flag in Mecca, when it is so crowded.

  6. These people need to start living in the modern world. They don’t live as nomad in tents. They shop in modern markets. The idea that you can keep women in a barrel as you might in a tribal society is just insanity. I think this whole country needs a drink.

  7. When I first came here I would get lost among a sea of black abayas when out with my SIL…so would be sure to take a look at her shoes before we left the house…then if I got “lost” I could be seen earnestly wandering around with my eyes pinned to the floor…checking out all the shoes. Got some strange looks…but it works.

    Carol…sorry to say but your post makes Saudis seem so paranoid and unable to understand a simple mistake and laugh it off. Its like constantly walking among hidden land mines….sheesh.

  8. Woehahahahahaaaa! @ following the wrong black abaya!
    This is why it is so important to have lots of embroideries and kittens and bling on your abaya! 😈
    I loved the car story too, reminded me eerely of that Tash-ma-tash episode you once mentioned on the blog. could have devistating implications. How sad if you have to live in a place where every little thing is taken at it’s worst, every action suspicious! Brrrrrr!

  9. I agree with Coolred and Aafke, I couldn’t bear living like that with such offence being taken where a laugh would be much better for the soul! But, I have to wonder if it is really like that in ALL areas of Saudi or just certain areas, you know, for the sake of ‘accurate portrayals of KSA’ lol

  10. Like Coolred, when I first arrived in Saudi and adjusted to my husband now wearing the white thobe and red and white checkered smaugh like so many, I also would check which shoes he was wearing so I could find him when we got separated. It definitely works.

    I guess I should mention that this post is written from the experiences and perspectives of Saudis whom I know. Women to women are naturally granted more leeway.

  11. Funny post, luv it! My 3 yr old is always grabbing onto other women, thinking it me. My husband on the other hand, just gave up. If anything goes wrong – I have to look for him instead – simple as that.

    @ Jerry M.… Would u prefer these women walk around half naked instead (daisy duke, cleavage and a 40 oz) – would that make YOU happy? Would that make them more MODERN?

  12. Wow…it took 11 whole posts before daisy dukes were mentioned in conjunction with clothing…Im seriously starting to wonder just how many western women wear those because when I watch tv etc….I search quite hard in the back ground of the news shows etc…but I cant see any. Of course last time I visited America it was just a small texas town…just about everyone was wearing jeans…not a single pair of daisy dukes in sight.

    Where are all these women that are parading around in daisy dukes that we hear so much about I wonder?

  13. What are ”daisy dukes;” and why is it so bad to wear them????

    Are they the hot-pants worn by Daisy Duke of the ”Dukes of Hazzard”?
    Never seen those in the real world.

    What is this moronic idea that a woman has only two choices wardrobewise? either the suffocating abaya, or the ‘Porn-star’ choice?
    I find that really insulting, as if I can’t be wearing decent clothes because I don’t wera abaya.
    So silly too, such a cheap way of ”proving your point”!

    Jerry M. I see the abaya as an essentially modern urban fashion. Only really possible because most women do not do hard, backbreaking labour anymore but live and travel in airconditioned surroundings.
    No real nomadic hardworking woman could, get her chores done let alone survive wearing polyester abaya niqab socks gloves etc. And on black and white photos you see all the Arab women in wide dresses with their arms faces and braids out. ”covering” to the extent as it is now enforced was not the norm at all in Arabia, it was really only done by a few very poor backward tribes in the Nejd.

  14. @Coolred, try Venice beach, lol…anyway i was just trying to get the point across. Daisy dukes are long gone.

    @Aafke, why the hostility? Jerry M. can say, something as moronic as “I think this whole country needs a drink”. but i can’t mention daisy dukes?

  15. most of you know I’m saudi…well, I am visiting home right now (Riyadh). I am anti abaya for many reasons, currently my favorite reason being the 130 degree heat (40″s C). I’ve been wearing something similar to shalwar kameez (a very modest version) or my particular fave, J. Crew linen wide legged linen pants and a longish tunic. I am happy to report I have had no issues whatsoever. And if I did, I might be able to deal with “whoever” easier as my brain was not being cooked. Being close to heat stroke tends to make me cranky.
    salam folks.

  16. PS will continue reports from the “front” LOL.

  17. mariam….:)

  18. oops 🙂

  19. THANK YOU Mariam!!!

    And also thanks for the daisy dukes explanation…I’m an American and did not know what that term meant either! (LOL)

  20. Mariam, yes! Keep us updated! Love your reports from ”the front”!!!

    Who explained about ”daisy dukes”??? I can’t find it?
    I think I did see them though…
    On men, on the Gay Parade 😈 but even gays don’t wear them in normal life :mrgreen:

    UmmZ, Why the hostility? Need to ask? Really??? I’ll simplify it it in bullit points for you then:

    -UmmZ: ”Only abaya is decent” 😛
    -If not abaya automatically dress like prostitute 😳
    -I don’t wear abaya 😛
    -therefore I dress like prostitute… 😐
    -WTF???????? 😯
    -Me miffed! 👿
    -Me hit back with logic! (not hostility) 😈

  21. […] out this interesting perspective on grocery shopping while wearing a black abaya. Go ahead, read it then come back. Now that the title has your […]

  22. I’m pleased to say that the Chicago Sun Times chose to publish this post:

  23. loool i live in london were abaya’s aren’t common. But the story is funny i kinda imagine it happening to me tryna follow my mama then next mintue its not her my heart would sink loool . thanks for the post =)

  24. […] Grocery shopping in Saudi Arabia can be unique on various levels.  I have written previously about the etiquette while shopping in Saudi grocery stores and now I’ll address other unique aspects that one may encounter while grocery shopping in Saudi Arabia.  These aspects are unique in that it is unlikely to see or encounter such experiences in typical American grocery stores. […]

  25. […] have also seen trailing abayas get caught up in the wheels of shopping carts at the grocery stores.  Women have stumbled and fallen down stairs due to their trailing abayas and especially when […]

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