Like with every place, KSA or Riyadh to be specific has its own list of dos and donts, accepted practices and what have you.
Here are some that I thought were interesting:
- You already know about the abaya rule – each woman has to wear an all-encompassing black gown and a head scarf. What I did find was that most expats, wear the gown and just leave the scarf on the shoulder. So should someone object (no one has to date) you can always wrap it around your head – else at least your head is free.
- Salat or prayer times are very strictly enforced – esp for the men-folk. So 5 times a day (4 actually – since the first morning prayer is at 3.45am or so) all shops down their shutters for about 20 mins giving the faithful time to say their prayers. Women are spared of this rule. All malls, shops, shopping complexes, restaurants, every lil bit of commercial enterprise will shut itself down. Can you imagine, if you were in a mall and the shop shut itself down, you just have to wait outside the shop – on the benches thoughtfully provided for you. Or you reach a restaurant – and find out – you have to wait outside coz its shut for salat. After a while you do get used to it – and check timings before you leave home – just so you aren’t stranded outside.
- There is a ministry here called ‘Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ or ‘Muttawwa’ – no really, this is true. The sole objective of this ministry is to ensure that women remain honorable (meaning abaya rule is enforced) and men-folk remain on the right path (meaning prayer time rules are enforced). So if the muttawwa should find a Muslim man loitering on the streets during the prayer times – he is hauled away and made to pray. Of course – non Muslims are spared. I have actually met people who have been picked off the street and taken to say their prayers.
- Executions do happen in this part of the world – and open air executions at that. However, did you know that China has more executions per year than the KSA? Even the USA has more executions per year than the KSA. Bet you didn’t expect that too.
- Most restaurants and/or take-out joints have 2 sections – the bachelor section and the family section. Even Starbucks has 2 separate queues to place orders. Ikea, Mc Donalds, KFC you name it – and they follow the 2 separate sections rule. And mind you these sections are strictly enforced.
- I’m not too sure about the ‘male to accompany every woman’ rule. I myself have been out by myself – sans hubby – at malls and so have many many other women. In fact, the compound where we stay has a shuttle bus, twice daily that takes women to the various malls and picks them back at the pre-appointed time. And all women on the bus – are by themselves – no males.
- The Ramadhan month rule – no matter what your faith – you cant eat or drink outside your house – during the fasting hours – which usually are from 4.30am to about 7pm. I don’t know what the repercussions are – should you be found eating or drinking – but I can imagine they will be rather strict. O the good thing is – offices work for just 6 hours – from 9am to 3pm all through Ramadhan , and shopping complexes are open all night.
- Human labor is cheap and very freely available. Maids, drivers, cleaners, cooks, maintenance staff, gardeners, you name it….are all there to spoil and pamper you rotten.
- Gas is cheap – 0.45 SR a liter. 1USD = 3.75 SR. So effectively its approx 46 cents a gallon……. Yes go ahead and shriek…..Is it any wonder that most people drive SUVs here? And most families have more than 2 cars.
- Did you know that according to the Islamic rule – the groom has to make all the arrangements for the wedding? The bride’s family is only responsible for bringing the Qazi – who will perform the rites – max 15 mins duration. And the bride’s father/brother/responsible male relative will demand a ‘meher’ on behalf of the girl – almost as an alimony for the marriage. This is dowry is reverse – and yet there are often complaints as to how the bride’s male relatives have gobbled up the alimony that is rightfully due to the bride. I wonder – when and how – female abuse will end.
- I am amazed at the number of lingerie shops I see in the malls – almost every 5th or 6th shop is a lingerie shop. I wonder with so much ‘cover up’ happening – who’s buying all those fur trimmed teddys and leopard print thongs and lace negligees. Don’t point towards the expats – we’re way too few to sustain such a thriving industry. Not to mention all those off shoulder evening gowns, and plunging necklines that I routinely see in the shop windows. I have seen more Vera Wang gowns here than in my entire stay in the US.
- Siesta – these guys seriously believe in it. Most shops – with shut for the mid-day salat (At approx 11.30am) and will re-open only after the evening salat (at about 4pm). After Goa, Calcutta and a lot of small towns in India – this is probably the only place outside of India where I have seen this happen.
- As an Indian – be prepared to be discriminated against. Since most of the blue collar workers are Indian or from the sub continent you are automatically assumed to be one. And as we say in India, ‘yahan paisa bolta hai’ (money talks). How to get around the discrimination? Spout an American or Brit accent or wear smart clothes or better still flash a non Indian passport or do something absolutely expat-ish.
- The speed limits here are 120km/hr (approx 75miles/hr) – way higher than permitted in the US. Cars are fitted with special beepers should you cross 120. And no body cares about the beeps. You routinely see cars literally whiz across. And you routinely see accidents. Especially since there are no rules about round-abouts or right of ways. If there is an accident involving 2 cars – how do you decide who is at fault. There is a pecking order for that too. Between a westerner and a local arab – the westerner is at fault, between an Asian and westerner the asian is at fault. Mind you, the local is never at fault.
Labels: Life in Riyadh