Expat’s Guide to Grocery Shopping in Saudi Arabia
There are surprisingly many differences between the grocery shopping experience in Saudi Arabia vs. in the expats’ home countries.
Here are a few tips for newbies in Saudi Arabia- How to grocery shop in KSA!
Where to Shop
The most popular large grocery stores in Saudi Arabia are Hyper Panda, Tamimi, Carrefour, Danube. Lulu’s and Euromarche. For imported American goods go to Tamimi. For exotic fruits and vegetables, Asian foods, wide range of gluten free and organic produce go to Lulu’s. Danube is good when looking for for organic, gluten free and dairy free options, great fruit and vegetable section and bakery. Carrefour for imported European produce. Euromarche and Panda are the best budget friendly options. Panda has the widest selection of Saudi produce.
Don’t forget the prayer times! Everything in Saudi closes for prayer for around 15-30 minutes. The length of the closure time depends 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. keep in mind you won’t be able to exit the store during prayer times.
When to Shop
To avoid zahma which means traffic, never shop on weekend evenings. Worst times for crowds are on weekends starting after Maghrib prayer to around 11pm. Fridays the stores will start to have lots of people earlier, around 3-4 pm (Asr prayer). Due to the crowds, traffic jams in parking lots and getting “stuck” inside the store during prayer times, a quick grocery shopping spree might turn into a 3 hour ordeal. Add another hour or two to get there and back and you’re looking at a 4 hour grocery shopping trip.
The largest stores are open until 12am-2 am. It’s much nicer to go shopping late at night if you have the chance, or an early weekday morning. Some stores are even open 24hrs a day, like Hyperpanda on Takhasusi road. There’s even one infamous store on exit 20 which is open 25 hours a day. Imagine that, an extra hour for shopping!
-Try to avoid bumping into or getting too close to Saudis of the opposite sex. 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 of other shoppers.
Chose the right cashier
Female cashiers began working at “family section” cashiers in Panda’s in 2015 and they’ve become mor and more common in other grocery and department stores ever since. If you are a single male (single here meaning shopping without any females) you should always go to the male cashiers to avoid any problems. Men accompanied with their wives can go to the female cashiers. Females shopping alone can chose either one.
All the staff in the store apart form the cashiers are male. The staff is everywhere, there seems to be a different guy responsible for every 10 sqm of the store. There will always be someone sweeping the floors, filling the shelves and working at the fresh food sections. Surprisingly when asked, the staff might not know the answer to your question because their area of responsibility is so narrow. The yogurt shelf guy doesn’t necessarily know a thing about the bread or know where the pasta might be located. The frustrating aspect of this is that they hardly ever say “I don’t know”. Instead, they will just point you to a random direction (often in the wrong).
How to queue in line
-Be aware that in general Saudis do not acknowledge the concept of queuing, or standing in line, example of which you can read here: How not to queue in Saudi Arabia
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 staff attends to the customers. Usually the Saudi women will go first, then whoever is the loudest or has best skills in line-cutting will be served next. 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.
Special considerations for female shoppers
– If you’re a young woman, watch out for gangs of teenage boys and young men on the lookout for a date. Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, they come to grocery stores sometimes 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. Sometimes they will try to hand you their phone number on a sheet of paper or napkin. In the recent years this has become less common and looking for dates has moved back to the shopping malls and public events.
-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.
-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.
Say NO to plastic bags
-Please try to save the nature and encourage the packers to use less plastic bags! Take your own reusable grocery bags (they can also be bought at the cashiers in Danube for example) Check out this post: 10 ways to recycle in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia there will be one or sometimes even two men packing your groceries. They are trained (I would assume) to put different items in separate bags, which is a very peculiar phenomenon for most westerners. If you buy for example bread, milk, deodorant, cookies, chicken and eggs, everything requires it’s own bag! This total waste of plastic is just mind-boggling and needs to stop. We can all do our part in reducing the mindless and pointless usage of plastic bags, which end up in the desert, the ocean and the beaches ruining the scenery and destroying the environment. There is no harm in telling the bagger you prefer your groceries bags to be packed full of things. If this fails, there is also no harm in going to help the bagger to pack the groceries and fill them up full yourself.
Any tips for grocery shopping in Saudi you want to add?
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