Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Living in Saudi Arabia

"Mamlakah" or Kingdom Tower located in Al Arubah Street corner King Fahad Road, Riyadh

Living in Saudi Arabia needs adjustment and understanding.

I never realized living in Saudi would open a great opportunity to learn and understand different cultures in the world.

For almost 30 years now, Riyadh City resembles a modern American city, with motorways, flyovers, high-rise blocks, international hotels and neon blazed shopping malls.

The skyline is dominated by two new skyscrapers: the Kingdom Trade Centre is the tallest building here in Riyadh at 300 m, and the well-established Al Faisaliah tower. Both towers are situated between the parallel King Fahad highway and Olaya St.

Yet, the culture remains to be in the doldrums mainly because they are guided not by man-made laws, but by the scriptures written by their prophet.

Some of the peculiar Saudi way of life are:

Abbaya- wearing an abbaya in public places is a must for women. It is a long, loose, black cloak worn over their regular clothing) in public. Muslim women are also required to wear hijab (head scarf); it is up to the individual woman whether or not she chooses to veil her face.

The Foods- there are fast food and burger chains anywhere in the Kingdom. However, the taste of chicken, burgers, and other meat stuff in these food chains has a little bit different compare to the Philippines. Maybe, because some spices and herbs are not allowed to be used because they contain banned ingredients.

Famous meals are Kabsa -local food and Broasted Chicken.

In Riyadh, you can taste sumptuous broasted chicken in McCoy Restaurant in Malaz Area. In Jeddah, you can buy from Al Baik Restaurant. Usually, these meals are served with Kubus (stoved-bake wheat unsweetened bread similar to tortillas), labneh (white cheese) large sliced onions, salada (strange edible grass), big pepper, lemon and pickles.

There are many supermarket and malls in Riyadh, where you can buy all local foods and if you want to eat Asian and Western foods, these are available in many restaurants in Riyadh.

Faisaliah Tower, King Fahad Road, Riyadh, K.S.A.

Likewise, many big malls are already seen in the Kingdom. You can have your one-stop shop at Hyper Panda, Carrefour, Geant, City Plaza, Euromarche, etc.

The weather- Riyadh climate is very dry; it is advisable to have a humidifier at home to avoid skin dryness, rashes and allergies. Use of lotion is also highly recommended. Summer temperature reaches 50C from May to September, while Cold Season starts during October till April. Extreme coldness reached almost 2C.

The Road- Main Road has Arabic and English signs. However, minor road and street names are in Arabic. There is no mail service who can deliver your mails in your doorsteps. Mails are usually delivered in postal offices located in some areas. Home addresses are usually written in P.O. Box.

The helpful land marks are the Kingdom Tower and Faisaliah Tower. You can see these towers from a distance which guides most of the drivers finding the right directions.

Lifestyle- Saudi Arabia is purported to be the strictest of all Middle Eastern countries. Consumption of pork and alcohol is illegal. There are no bars, nightclubs, or movie theaters. Most forms of entertainment, such as bowling or cafes, are segregated – there are either special areas or special times for women to use the facilities. There are stringent codes about mingling between men and women. For example, it is illegal to be in the company of a member of the opposite sex unless that person’s spouse is present.

Driving – Drivers License is a must to all drivers. Expats can only drive if their sponsors (Company they are working) grant them permit to drive and authority to purchase a car.. Women are not allowed to drive.

Internet – Wireless Broadband Internet services are already available in the Kingdom. However, there is no women’s section at the Internet cafes. Usually, Internet Caf├ęs charge SR5.00/hour (55 Pesos). But if you apply for Home Internet Service (DSL), minimum monthly charge is SR330.00 (3,630.00 Pesos).

Language – many Arabs do not speak English fluently and they are not punctilious with the grammar. They don’t care at All! You can read advertisements, posters and signboards with wrong spelling, i.e., “Big Descount”, “Barbar Shop”, “Filipino-Indian Food Avelable Her”, “Perfums, Electrunics, Mobile Reper, Petrolium, etc”.

Typically, Westerners and other Expatriates are welcomed and respected by the Saudis as long as they are respectful of the local culture and traditions. As in this country, when political and economic tensions mount in the international arena, some individual citizens are inclined to see members of another culture as that group is portrayed in the mass media. However, if you keep in mind that part of the benefit of living abroad is to become aware of and to help others recognize that all countries/cultures are multi-faceted, that there is good along with bad, and that what some members of a society do and think does not represent the entire civilization, you can play a small yet important role in fostering an international culture of respect.

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