Monday, March 4, 2013

Another World, Another Place - The Truth About Life in Saudi Arabia

Each time I’ve traveled, I always try to tell myself this one fact that always rings true:This is not America. It helps me to deal with the change that is inevitable. However, it does not cover up the vast differences that are experienced. I have been living in Saudi Arabia for 9 months now-and I feel like this is an accomplishment of endurance, strength and willpower! Other Americans here have told me that if you can make it through one year, than you’ll be able to stay for many! Now, I understand that statement and I would encourage any new expats to make and reach the goal of staying one full year (at the least).

However, in order to“make it” or survive, there are a few things that need to be considered.
1.    The Culture-The cordial way to greet someone that you know is with a hug and a kiss on each cheek. In fact, yesterday, I saw two older men doing this back and forth and I heard about 8 kiss sounds!

2.    The Friendliness-It is very common to see two men or boys walking along and holding hands. It is an action of friendship and should not be confused with what this action would mean in the US.

3.    Men’s Clothing- There are many foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, therefore there is a wide variety to be seen. Many men wear loose fitting thobes, which is like a long white button up shirt, that goes to the ankle.

4.    Women’s Clothing- Women are required to wear an abaya. They can be purchased in the airport if you arrive without one. The average price for a simple abaya is around $40.Most are black, but they also come in navy, dark brown, gray and burgundy. I’ve even seen some nice denim abaya’s too. Some have lace, colored fabric added, and even jewels. The head scarf is not required to wear out in public, unless you are in Riyadh, which is a more conservative city. I like wearing the abaya. It keeps me from figuring out what to wear or iron. When on a compound, though, an abaya does not have to be worn.

5.    The Internet- Most things that you access in the US can be accessed in KSA. Facebook,YouTube and Twitter are widely used here.

6.    Shopping- No dressing rooms for women exist in any clothing stores-at all. Gap has a men’s dressing room, but they are not allowed to let women try on clothes in it. Many just buy their clothes, take it home and try it on and if it doesn’t fit-return it. The return/exchange policy is also different from store to store.
7.    Celebrations -Stores are not decorated for Christmas. Saudi National Day, Eid and Ramadan are the only national events/holidays that take place.

8.    Restrooms- Each toilet comes equipped with a water spraying hose (for your bottom). As a result, the floors get slippery! Some public places have toilet paper or tissue, other do not.

9.    Medication -You can get antibiotics, such as Zithromax and amoxil without a prescription. Pharmacies are plentiful in Jeddah and most of the pharmacists speak English.

10. Transportation- Wear your seat belt and hold on for dear life, if you are the passenger. Women aren’t allowed to get a driver’s license or drive in Saudi Arabia-ever. Their husband, father, brother, son or driver will drive them from place to place.

11. Opening Hours- Sometimes stores are open, sometimes they are not. It depends on the shop owners mood. The hours vary depending on prayer time. Luckily, there is an app for that. It's called  “Athan” and it tells you when  the prayer times are for each day. Right before and during prayer time, every store and eatery closes. The shades are pulled down over the windows and the doors are locked.  

12.  Prayer Times- 5 times a day you will hear a “call to prayer” which is in Arabic and spread from each speaker at each mosque. If you are outside anywhere during the call,you will hear it. Sometimes prayers from 3-4 mosque’s can be heard at one time and it sounds like a chorus.

13. Meat– Many places mix up lamb and beef and just call it meat. Lucily if you want to buy fresh beef, to cook on your own, you can go to Danube, Panda or Manuel and ask specifically for Brazilian Beef. Unfortunately, there is no Wal-Mart or Target here. You will be buying in kilo, not pounds. So, if you want a pound, ask for 1 kilo and that should be about right.

14. Tea - Even when its 100 degrees outside, hot tea will be served and enjoyed by many.

15.  Living Conditions- Life on a compound, apartment or villa each entail different experiences of living. Most apartments do not have a pool or communal area with washer dryer,etc… Many apartments do not come with cabinets in the kitchen and most do not have built in closets.

16. The Visa Process (before, during, after) is unlike any other country. It is extremely slow and leaves you feeling anxious. Things can go wrong in the process and things can go right. There are tons of blogs and website that offer visa and iqama (residence/work permit) advice and support.

Well, that is all I can think of now. Thanks for reading! -Andrea

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