Saudi Arabia grocery shopping guide
There are many differences between shopping in Saudi Arabia vs back home for us expats. I find lots of peculiarities to something so “everyday’. The most popular large grocery stores in Saudi Arabia are HyperPanda, Tamimi, Carrefour, Danube and Euromarche.
There are a few things to remember when heading out:
‘ Don’t forget the prayer times! Everything in Saudi closes for prayer, for around 15-30 minutes, depending on the store and how eager the employees are to return to their posts.
Some larger stores like the ones mentioned above, let you stay in the store shopping while the employees go to pray, or if they´re non-muslims they have a break. When they come back you can cash out.
-Avoid “zahma” which is traffic in the stores. Worst on weekends, especially after Maghrib prayer to around 11pm, the stores get way too overcrowded, and your shopping “experience” might last many hours.The largest stores are open until 12-2 am, and its much nicer to go shopping around then, or early morning weekdays to avoid nervous breakdowns:) Some are open even 24hrs a day, like Hyperpanda Takhasusi. Best visited at night are Danube on Takhasusi(very quiet) and Panda inside Granada mall.
Shopping BLISS at Danube
-If you’re a lady, be careful with your abaya when going on escalators, it might get stuck! Another annoying occurrence is it sometimes might get jammed under your shopping cart, or fellow shoppers carts..
-Try to avoid bumping into or getting too close to Saudis of the opposite sex to you. They might feel awkward because they are not used to it. You will notice the Saudi men usually give way to the women in the aisles, they do this out of respect and they want to be polite to you. Not because they are scared/disgusted/arrogant (most common misperceptions). So be polite and and mindful, especially if you are a man, the Saudi ladies are sometimes very demanding, they are used to being treated like queens :)
Just this weekend my husband and I were shopping, and a young Saudi lady comes behind him in the aisle. There is room for her to pass my husband and his cart, but she doesn’t move just stands there with her cart. I see my husband getting confused and he moves on out of the aisle so the lady can pass (without getting too close to my husband) lol! It was funny, I was watching them from a distance, getting a bit jealous and wondering what is it this lady wants from my husband!
– Don’t look around for female staff-there isn’t any! All the staff will be male. But the staff is everywhere, there seems to be a man responsible for every 10 sqm of the store. There will always be men sweeping the floors, filling the shelves and whatever else. Surprisingly they might now know the answer to your question because their area of responsibility is so narrow. The man that takes care of the yogurt shelf doesn’t know about the milks :) The frustrating aspect of this is that they hardly ever say “I don’t know”, they will just point you to a random direction (often wrong).
-Be aware that in general Saudis do not acknowledge the concept of queuing, or standing in line. What line? Is there a line here? Especially when you’re going to have your fruits weighed, there seems to be no order in which the man attends to customers. Usually the saudi women will go first, then whoever is the loudest or has best skills in line-cutting. In this situation you can use your female gender to your advantage, try to go behind or next to the loud Saudi lady and have your bag ready immediately when she is done, place your bag ON the scale! This will not guarantee success though :D
– If you’re a young woman, watch out for gangs or teenage boys..Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, they come there to hit on girls! Shopping malls are off-limits to them because of this exact behaviour. They might follow the girl they are interested in the store, trying to exchange numbers.
Once happened to me in Tamimi: I stayed with the cart next to the ice cream shelf trying to figure out which flavor to pick, while my husband went to get a few things. I was texting on my Blackberry when two guys suddenly come up to me and start speaking in arabic. They might have thought I’m Saudi, because I was wearing niqab this time, in any case they continued even after I told them in english excuse me what do you want? So the guy starts repeating his phone number over and over. At this point I messaged my husband to come back quick. Then all of a sudden the guy takes my cart and starts taking it to the cashier, while I’m holding on to it trying to pull the other way and now raising my voice what the h*# do you think you’re doing? He continues on and I start calling my husband, the minute he answers and I start talking to him the guys start running out of the store in panic!My husband runs to the scene, but the guys are long gone. He is very upset and so am I. Apparently Tamimi is one of the best worst places for this..
-At the cashier always have cash! So many frustrating times I have encountered problems with any kind of cards. They will run around the store with your card trying to get it work, but you still might end up having to go to the ATM.
-Please try to save the nature and encourage the packers to use less plastic bags! In Finland we are used to buying the plastic bags we need for the groceries, and we pack ourselves. Here there will be one or sometimes even two men packing your groceries. They are taught ( I assume) to put in separate bags different items. If you buy for example bread, milk, deodorant, cookies, chicken and eggs, everything requires its own bag! This total waste of plastic is just mind-boggling, especially to a Finn who is used to recycling practically everything.
So what I do is I go to the man and politely advise him to not use too many bags. The problem is the workers are often Indian or Bangladeshi and don’t speak english. They would understand inshallah if you say “minfadlak, mafi kees katiir shukran” Sometimes it happens even then they won’t listen understand, that’s when I start packing the stuff myself :D This raises quite a few eyebrows. My husband is sometimes embarrassed of all the attention it gets, (he is shy and literally the whole store will be staring at us) so he will nowadays go straight to the guy and explain before I need to jump in! We will give the packers a little money when they do a good job, hoping they would continue the practise..
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