Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Visiting a American-like city, Within the Desert

Yes, after 4 months of living in "Opposite World," as we all call it now, I was ready to take a little break and step back into someplace different that was a little more "Americanized." So, my sweet husband drove me 3 1/2 hours away to a quaint little city called Yanbu. He actually grew up in Yanbu, as a young child and he took us on a family tour through the neighborhood that looked like a little piece of America. I was amazed and thrilled to see cute little houses sitting on green grassy yards. The streets were nicely paved, without potholes. Unlike Jeddah, people obeyed traffic lights, followed the speed limit and stopped at stop signs. Parks and playgrounds sat on the corners of several neighborhoods. For a moment, I felt like I was in Florida as we drove between a long stretch of towering palm trees.

During our day trip, we decided to spend the night in a hotel and believe it or not, we stayed in a Radisson. It was more pricey than we planned, but there were no available rooms elsewhere. This was the end of the Hajj vacation, so we should have known. On the other hand, the cost was about 70% of what we would have paid in Florida for a beach front room.

We awoke to a nice "super-sized" American style breakfast buffet. It was complete with bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, cereal and omelettes. It was so tasty! Not too far away, we could see the beach outside of our window. It was pretty much deserted so we thought we would go for a swim. Being that we were near the industrial part of Yanbu, the beaches had a little grime and slime along the shore. We decided to just stand and look at the water, instead of swim in it! Either way, it was nice to be able to drive our car right up on the sand near the water.

After not swimming at the Beach, we went for a little drive past the shipyard. We saw the import "ports" and a cute little orange tugboat. Next, we happened upon a historical site where old buildings were toppled one on top of the other. The archways of the former doors and windows were strikingly exquisite! The blue, red and green doors were like artwork just sitting there waiting to be discovered. So, once again, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and snapped some photo's of "Old Yanbu."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Small Town Charm in Saudi Arabia!

We went on an adventure today to Al Balad, also known as "Old Jeddah." I was surprised to see that people still lived in the dilapidated buildings. For some reason though, Al Balad has such charm! Children play in the grassy areas, men are seen biking, and women walk down the silent streets as they are covered in black from head to toe. I guess the charm comes from the fact that this is still a part of Saudi Arabia, yet it feels so different. The pockets of colors on the windows and doors and the age old trees between nearby buildings brought such warm feelings. Here, the little boys begged to have their picture taken-and I gladly did. It was like a miniature small town where people weed out and about instead of hidden inside the privacy of their own homes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Saudi Labor Laws and Women Working

Most if not all of you know how women are treated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah is trying his best to give the basic rights every woman deserves. Even with all the advancement they have a long way to go. Today I read an interesting article discussing the Saudi government allowing women to work in jewelry store.  


The shocking part of the article was a statement by one of the shopkeeper. “These kinds of shops has long working hours, sometimes we work from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. one shift with only prayer-time breaks. Women need to take care of their children and cook for their husbands, not work long hours selling and buying gold,” To read the rest of the article please click here.

I was shocked by how this guy perceives women and then by the existing labor laws which will allow shop owners to force their employees to work long hours. I am not sure if the shop owners have any incentive to hire anyone who will not work like a slave. Unless the law requires every employer to avoid treating like a slave and provide 8 hours’ work schedule and days off to enjoy the family, passing the new law is useless. The women of Saudi Arabia will have a difficult time getting the employment and the rights every human deserve. It is my opinion Saudi Labor Ministry first need to review their labor laws before trying to improve the work conditions for Saudi women.

P.S. Make sure to read the comments posted in the comment section of the Arab News website. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

No such thing as a boring city | Riyadh

Due to lack of entertainment options and very strict and conservative population of the city, Riyadh is considered one of the boring cities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Well my trip to Riyadh made me realize one little fact about life. "Time spent with good friend is way more important than where it is spent"

Luckily I knew someone in Riyadh. An old friend I met in Troy, AL. The time was short but the two or three hours we spent together reminiscing was a lot better than any other activity we could have done. For me it was getting tough to find someone who is able to match my intellectual desire and talk about things that really mattered. 

Perhaps the lesson from my time spent with the friend was you can be anywhere in the world but as long as you have someone who can understand you and be on the same wavelength you are bound to enjoy those moments.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Real People of Saudi Arabia

I can hardly believe it-we have been living in Saudi Arabia now for 4 straight months! The Expat culture has embraced our family. Expats are basically people living here that are not Saudi nationals. In fact, Jeddah has more non-nationals living here, coming from various nearby countries. 

For example, my driver is from Palestine. My dentist is from the Philippines. Our children have teachers from: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and Kenya. My co-workers are Pakistani, Syrian and American. Our neighbors are from Jordan and Egypt. The barista’s at Starbuck’s are from Egypt, Africa and Asia. Employees at my favorite Chinese and Italian restaurant are from the Philippines. Near my work, the food service place workers are from Bangladesh, India and Morocco. I must say, these are the nicest people that I have met here!

On the other hand, those who I have had rude encounters with were locals. We have had some odd experiences here in Saudi Arabia. For example, I and my children have been pushed by a few women and their shopping carts, physically shoved out of the way in the line at cash registers and yelled at by a Saudi lady because she felt that she had a right to be served at Starbucks before me. I don’t know why these women reacted to us the way that they did. But it is what it is. I have met nice locals, too. I have had a few Saudi women approach me and ask me where I am from. One lady at the hospital even asked for my phone number, called me, and invited me to her home for a gift.

These experiences do make me a little homesick, from time to time because these types of things never happened to me in other countries that I visited, like Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Spain and Taiwan.  Saudi Arabia truly is a country like no other, as I’ve been told, and now agree.
What I miss from my own US culture are the rules of ethics that are just understood. I miss people in stores saying “excuse me” or “sorry.” Life here can be hard for a westerner like me. I won’t deny it. However, when my family goes out to eat, we are happy to encounter such nice “expats” as they are the ones that make this country special and bearable. Saudi Arabia would truly not be what it is, if not for the hard work and friendliness of people from around the world.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Recent Interview with InterNations

Internations recently interviewed me about my expat life, here in Saudi Arabia. Mine and Sohail's blog is now a recommended blog, posted on the InterNations website! See the button on the home page! Read my interview below!  Enjoy! -Andrea
1.     Pleasetell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when youmoved to Jeddah, etc.
My name is Andrea, and Iam an American. My father was in the Navy (now retired) so when I was young, Ibegan my love for traveling. I went to school in Florida, Alabama and Spain.During college, I traveled to Kazakhstan and Germany (where my mother is from).After college, I accepted my first teaching job in Taiwan. I moved to Jeddah inJune of 2012 to continue working in the educational field.
2.     Whenand why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging the year prior to comingto Saudi Arabia. Mainly because my family was so interested in hearing all thedetails of preparations to come, then our journey and now our currentexperiences.
3.     Doyou have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL link as well.
Registering my kids forschool was unforgettable. Here is my entry about it:
4.     Tellus about the ways your new life in Jeddah differs from that back home. Did youhave trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience cultureshock?
No culture shock for me.But, I think that is because I have lived in other countries before. It hasdefinitely been frustrating that I have to depend on my husband or a driver ortaxi to take me to where I need to go. It was also Ramadan one month after Iarrived. Adjusting to going to bed at 3am and waking up mid-afternoon did nothelp with my jet-lag!
5.     Doyou think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Jeddah? If you could,would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I researched theculture and life here for over a year. My husband lived here for his entirechildhood. I planned and organized in so many ways, however, living here iswhat truly has taught me about the real lifestyle.
6.     Everyexpat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funnyexperiences. Care to share one with us?
During Ramadan, I awoke toa goat “baaa-aaa-ing” so loudly at 4 am. This lasted until sunrise and thesound was no more. Apparently, my apartment owner bought a goat and“sacrificed” it close to sunrise. Although this does not commonly happen atresidential area, it sure did shock me!
7.     Whichthree tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their newlife in Jeddah?         

  • Women - Bring a goodsupply of makeup and bath products, as they are available here, but close to double the price.

  •  Learn the customs of theculture by reading and researching other expat blogs. There are so many! Thisis the best way to learn about life here because it gives you the perspectiveof a “visitor” instead of a “native.”

  • Women – bring plenty ofundergarments, as there are no dressing rooms here!

8.     Howis the expat community in Jeddah? Did you have a hard time finding like-mindedpeople or fellow expats?
Facebook has been my mainway of meeting other expats. I have not embarked yet on group get-togethers andevents, because I have three children. However, my husband has gone to expatevents. I went out on a limb and arranged some play-dates with expat moms andour kids.
9.     Howwould you summarize your expat life in Jeddah in a single, catchy sentence?
My five year old sums itup better than me – “Remember in the other world when we did that?” Yes,sometimes it feels like I am living on another planet!
The Internations website is worldwide and is a great way to connect with other globe trotters!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Multinational brands in Saudi Arabia

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a plethora of well-known multinational brands are on the market. While dining out, one can find almost any restaurant available in the United States of America. Similarly, well-known clothing brands and accessories remain available. As a matter of fact, I believe there is more available in the Kingdom when compared to the United States. But the problem is that some of these world-wide brands do not meet the same standards like I am used to. For me they’ve left a bad taste.

This weekend was no exception. Bad customer service was as always available at all the multinational brands. In one of the malls of Jeddah my wife and I decided to walk into Sephora. My wife wanted to test out the fragrance of one of the lotions. The salesperson promptly responded to her request and gave my wife a little bit of body wash to rub all over her hands. Now most if not all of you can understand what that would do. Overall I must say the sales person were professional and took care of the issue.  She went to her break room, grabbed her own bottle of drinking water (complete with lipstick on the rim) and poured some onto my wives hands. The mistake is a simple human error and since she fixed the problem I have no complaints. After the final selection my wife walked up to the cash register to pay. The gentleman there refused simply stating we do not have change. It is not like we were paying SAR. 20/ item with SAR. 500/- bill. We had a 50 Riyal bill. In comparison to U.S. Dollars the change was less than $10/-. Did he ask a sales associate for help? No. Did he call for a manager? No. He simply took the lazy way out, or the stupid way out. He simply said he could not sell the product. So we left-without the product. My wife was infuriated, to say the least. But then we found “The Body Shop” where she received great service. There was also plenty of change in the register.

Another common source of frustration with international brands in the Kingdom is their inventory. Chili’s or TGI Fridays never have all the items on their menu.  For the past 4 months, we have ventured into these restaurants and each time they have not had ribs. To read another good story about available items on the menu click here. So the night got more exciting when we walked in Clarks and sketchers where the items we liked were out of stock. Searching the mall to find exactly what you want and then to find out that they do not have it, just sucks. It really sucks!

Today we went to Ikea and found a computer table we liked for the kids room. In their self-serve area the table was not there. But when I looked up, I saw that it was there. I asked one of the staff members to help us get it down. He simply refused and laughed, and told us to come back in three days. Seriously?

Yes, I know that this country is different than any other place on the planet. Yes, I understand that I must be patient and that this is how their culture is run. Nevertheless, I think the multinational companies who claim to be service oriented need to stay out of the Saudi market. The manpower or the management in Saudi Arabia have little to no clue what customer service is. They do not seem to want to learn it. Granted, there are many hard-working and good-hearted Saudi men and women. However, to run a successful company, employers should train their employees how to assist their customers.