Truths and myths about life in Saudi Arabia #1
Every time when I come to Europe I am questioned how is to live in a “golden cage” as Saudi Arabia is often called. Especially in Poland, a country where basically there are not many Saudis, people can not imagine how an ordinary day looks like. Oil, dollars, princess, terrorists, camels, desert … I didn`t know more three years ago.
1. I HAVE TO COVER MYSLEF
Truth. In Saudi Arabia every woman in public places mandatory has to wear abaya. It is a kind of loose cloak covering the feminine shapes. Usually in black, although becoming more common concessions to this rule. But not every abaya is the same and you can find really beautifully crafted ones. Saudi mastered the art of decorating: flowers, colorful ornaments and stones make even an ordinary black cloth looking nice. The greatest proof of this is the fact that such designers as Gucci and Dior sew special collections for Saudi women.
In addition, every woman should cover her hair wih scarf called Hijab. This law is less strictly followed and you can meet on the streets a woman with uncovered hair, but always with a scarf around neck, in case of religious police called muttawa ask for it.
Saudi women with their own choice often cover also face by niqab and even hands with gloves.
2. WOMEN CAN NOT DRIVE
Truth. In Saudi Arabia is strictly forbidden to drive a car by a woman and attempts to break this law are punishable by lashing. However, most families employ their private driver. Also the city is full of taxis as well as applications like Uber or Easy Taxi have become extremely popular. Actually there is no public transport but this will change soon due to building of first subway in Riyadh. Increasingly, we hear that the government is slowly preparing society for the abolition of this law.
3. BESIDES CIVILIAN POLICE LIFE OF RESIDENTS ALSO CONTROLS RELIGIOUS POLICE
Truth. Called muttawa or oficially Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Deals with enforcement of compliance with Islamic law, such as dress code and covering, separation of women and men and respect of prayer times. Personally, I had contact with them only a few times when I was asked to cover my hair. Quite easy to recognize because they do not wear uniforms only characteristic Saudi robe – bisht and long beards.
4. SAUDI ARABIA IS BACKWARD COUNTRY
Myth. How many times I have heard the question if I live in a tent and if I ride a camel... No, I live in the house and go to work by ordinary car ;( There are new universities, also many Saudis study abroad, coming back to the country and trying to implement Western lifestyle. As a very attractive market to invest, many companies opened here their branches. Riyadh is exploding city, despite the crisis still full of investments.
5. ALCOHOL AND PORK ARE PROHIBITED IN SAUDI ARABIA
Truth. Alcohol in Saudi Arabia is completely prohibited. Completely means that there is no in hotels and shops (well, unless Budweiser 0%) and attempting to smuggle severely penalized.
6. I CAN GO OUT AND TRAVEL ONLY ASSISTED BY MAN
Myth. Quite the opposite – company of a man who is not husband or family is forbidden. So in my case I would not have any option to do anything. I go everywhere alone – to shops, banks, restaurants and never heard the command to come back with a man. I can also leave the country without permission of my company.
7. THERE ARE NO CINEMAS, THEATERS AND CLUBS IN SAUDI ARABIA
Truth. First of all any form of public music is banned – it means when you go to Bershka or another shop in the mall, you will even not hear loud songs like in any other country. The second reason for banning on cinemas and theaters is that in such places it is easier to mix between sexes. As well harsh censorship does not allow to display many movies.
8. DAY IN SAUDI ARABIA DEPENDS ON PRAYERS
Truth. One of the main pillars of Islam is prayer 5 times a day. In Saudi Arabia all restaurants, offices and shops are closed for prayer time, even the ones in shopping malls. If I plan to do some things in the city, I always consider that at the time of my arrival everything may be closed. After some time expats get used to it and treat prayer time as the next coffee break.
It is also forbidden to cultivate a religion other than Islam, this also applies to holding a Bible or even a cross.
9. SAUDI ARABIA IS FULL OF MONEY… AND OIL
Myth. Not all Saudis are rich and earn a fortune. Many of them earn as much as the average in Europe and live on modest level. Saudi Arabia is a country of contrasts, so you can see a woman begging on the street and right after Saudi spending fortune on shopping. The truth is that average citizen employs maid and driver, also children have nanny but here this is not a sign of luxury. Middle East countries have become rich quickly on the extraction of oil. Price 0.23 $ per liter is still impressive (last year was approx. 0.15 $), but the truth is that some day oil will finish so Saudi Arabia is looking for alternative sources to finance its expenditure.
10. I CAN`T GO TO RESTAURANT IN MIXED COMPANY OR GO ON A DATE
Truth, but expats have found way to circumvent the law. First of all, in the closed areas for expacts, called compounds life looks quite the same as in Europe. There is no abaya, religious police and harsh rules. In order to legally go out to a restaurant in a larger, mixed company, just take with you one marriage and you will be treated as a family. All restaurants, offices, banks have separate entrances for men (single section) and women and families (family section). Even queues in MacDonald are determined according to these rules.
11. AS A TOURIST I CAN NOT COME TO SAUDI ARABIA
Truth. If you’re not a Muslim going to Mecca, it is not possible to come to the country as a tourist. Saudi Arabia only issues business visas.