I remember my first time in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), I and my hubby had just gotten married and we were off to start a new life. My culture shock started from Bole Airport, Addis Ababa, in transit. Since it’s got one of the largest numbers connecting flights worldwide. I saw all kinds of religious people. The rastaferians, the Amish, those who practise Judaism, Muslims and more. As I entered the plane going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I got scared at the sight of a woman who wore a black robe and covered her face with a black shawl. I couldn’t see her eyes. She also had black gloves and socks and I wondered where the hell I was going to. At Jeddah, I saw some men dressed in pristine white towels, one round the waist, the other thrown over the shoulders with their fanny pack and clean sandals. I found out they were going for a religious Journey to Mecca called Hajj. I kept thinking aloud, what on earth hubby was thinking coming to this place. As a newcomer, it can be overwhelming especially with the language barrier. Matter of fact, there was this lovely lady who tried communicating with me at the airport. I felt like being best friends with her because you could see from her actions she was such a darling but I just couldn’t speak Arabic and she couldn’t speak English. My hubby had to be our middleman. Saudi Arabians are extremely lovely people. They could offer you desserts just at the blink of an eye, just to show you hospitality. So let me run down at least some things that come to mind that would make you a better resident there.
- First, be open-minded. Embrace the culture, as soon as you do that, you’d start to live. If they offer you tea. Have tea!…or any dessert they offer you.
- Respect their prayer time: It’s five times a day. At 5.00, 12.00, 15.30, 18.50, 20.00. (These prayertimes change with days, periods, even with cities) Shops close for all these prayers. It can be frustrating shopping and being asked to halt because of prayers but if you know the timings, you’d work within schedule. Shopping from 9pm is the best time. Fridays are their worship days so it’s the calmest of all days. Less cars, shops closed till twilight.
- There’s more nightlife than day life, so there’s really nothing like late night in Saudi. Yes, your neighbours can literally be hurling at someone at 3am and you have to deal with it.
- During their fast which is around this period. It’s best you shop way ahead of time and stock because most shops don’t even open at all in the day. Do not eat in public when this fast is going on. I don tell you! If you do, OYO is your case.
- Women and men do not sit in same areas. So any where you enter, look for the gender sign. Family sections are carved out in eateries so family members can stay together.
- The driving in Saudi Arabia is quite fast paced because of the fast cars and smooth, wide roads. So it’s either you join the cast of “fast and furious” or have your sane driving at a maintained lane. Always obey traffic rules. If you don’t have a car, there are taxis everywhere that will charge you by the distance or hour. Mostly Indians. Do not be afraid to bargain when you enter. It is not ‘supermarket price’.
- Guys and ladies dress decently. Women should wear a black robe or dark colored robe. Foreign women can be excused the covering of hair, If you are in a cosmopolitan city like Jeddah or Riyadh. It’s just best to cover your hair. Religious police called Muttawa could stop you to cover up. Try to buy your abaya at the Market (Souq), they are relatively cheaper than those bought in a mall.
- Everything you think is available in the Western world, is also in Saudi Arabia. The difference is just the conservative lifestyle. Most American, British and French renowned brands have franchises here. Let me see if I can name some: Red lobster, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robins, Starbucks, Carrefour,Country house, Steakhouse, Chipotle, Dominos Pizza, Pizza hut, All types of Car manufacturers, All types of hotels. From 5 stars like Raddison Blu, Marriot, to cozy three star that you and I can afford and be happy with. There are a lot of malls.
- Try to learn the language. You’d simply be endeared to them, once they see your effort. Learn keywords like Thank you, Goodmorning, Days of the week, numbers etc.
- Shopping here is like shopping in Dubai, no taxes included. If you are a frequent shopper, sign up for a frequent shopper card. That way, points add up for money spent each shopping. When you redeem those points, it can get you something worth 100 USD. Their most popular Super/Hypermarket is called Hyper-Panda. ‘Panda’ for short. There you can get anything. From hardware, to household items, to grocery.
- The money used here is called the Saudi Riyal. They’ve got the 1, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 denominations.
- Fixing hair or even buying hair products for an African hair can be tasking so if you are a lady invest in good wigs so that when you can open your hair at informal gatherings, we won’t be seeing your bad hair. However, Make up, clothes, shoes and bags are ever available. You’d be spoilt for choice.
- There are expatriate groups of different nationalities who come together and try to unwind. Find those groups and get acquainted.
- Always carry your Passport or your residential permit with you. Its called the ‘iqama’. The most important card you should have in Saudi. It’s best you know your iqama number by heart. It’s used for every administrative encounter.
- It’s very hot from March to October. From November to February has the meanest of colds even when it doesn’t snow. So a heater/warmer is necessary then. Very thick clothes, a necessity during this winter period. That’s what it’s called. It hardly rains but sometimes when it does, it’s so heavy and floods the place because the terrain and infrastructure wasn’t built for superb rain drainage. There could be hailstorms too.
- Christmas or any Christian holiday here passes like a fly in the wind. So for your sanity, you could watch movies or do things that acknowledge such period. I like to play Christmas carols from my phone to feel the moment. Some nice Muslims would greet you “Merry Christmas”.
- You are a young man looking for love? Don’t bother because you won’t even get the chance to woo any girl, even if you think you love her. Opposite sex cannot be seen in public. For the single girl, first of all, what are you looking for here? You are of an age of being wild and free, it’s best you find love outside, get married and come with spouse.
- There is no clubbing. No alcoholic drinks allowed. That they have a nightlife doesn’t mean clublife. They do more of smoking especially with the hookah.
- Women are not allowed to drive. You can only be driven by a male relative. Women are solely accompanied by male chaperones or they walk in groups. That said, you can walk alone but you must have a very valid reason for that and you are at your own risk, nonetheless.
- Their style of houses are known for thick walls, frosted window panes and balconies are rare. This is for more privacy. You can pay rent by the month or year. Some houses are fully furnished while some are not.
- Women are not supposed to greet their spouse’s friend except he permits. I found this rather rude but it’s the law. When I lived there, I’d keep my composure if the person he is talking to is a native. If he’s Nigerian, I could greet.
- There is little or no church gatherings in Saudi Arabia. I don’t think other religions have their gathering. You just have to have a deep rooted relationship with your God because as a Christian, your Sunday dose of worship just won’t be there. Besides Sunday is a workday.
- Weekends are Fridays and Saturdays. It used to be Thursdays and Fridays but was changed by the King, few years ago. So if you have correspondence with business deals from other parts of the world, know how to schedule days of meetings.
- For Entertainment, buy the OSN decoder. You won’t be disappointed.(They should pay me for this advert, you know). Entertainment outdoors are basically going to the Malls, Eateries, etc. I hear you can go diving. There is a ‘seaworld’ kinda’ thing in Jeddah. If you are lucky, you could be in cities where they have a beach. I didn’t explore all these cos my city didn’t have these but what I’m pretty sure of, men and women can’t go to the beach on same day or same time.
In my opinion, this place is ideal for its serenity and for a life towards retirement but if you are young, bubbly and adventurous, this is not for you for the long-term. It’s a family-oriented country whose Islamic values they hold dear to heart. Never hoping it will be diluted or contradicted. So respect yasef and they will respect you. If you have more questions, please write them at the comment section and I’ll delightfully answer them.
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