Nightlife in Saudi? Yes it does exist and I am not talking about the nocturnal road hooligans on Tahlia street!
I’m talking about what goes on behind closed doors every weekend. Westerners that are planning a move here often ask me questions about the social scene and nightlife. Above all things some people seem to be most concerned about is how they’re going to be able to get drunk in Saudi-Arabia! In fact if you type alcohol and Saudi into Google the results will mostly be of westerners asking these questions.
Many expats are in for a surprise when they realise the amount of parties there are, that alcohol is available and that they can mingle with the opposite gender, but only behind closed doors. Westerners tend to come to the Kingdom thinking they are facing a years compulsory rehab therapy, but they soon realise they are actually looking at more parties and drinking than they did back home if they choose to get into that scene! For many KSA is certainly not a place to detox.
So what is the nightlife like in Saudi? Well due to the circumstances it’s very
different than outside of the Kingdom. For every restriction there are ways around them. People of all ages from different nationalities and backgrounds dealing with various stages of culture shock gathering and drinking way too much alcohol can result in some pretty interesting parties.
The parties will mostly be held on the largest western compounds, embassies, rarely private villas and even the desert. Some compounds have amenities centers or halls turned into nightclubs and bars. The embassy parties might be in bomb shelters. The Brits couldn’t survive without their neighbourhood pubs in compounds.
A few times a year during the cooler months huge rave parties are held in the middle of the desert.
How to get invited?
A western woman will have no trouble entering any venues as long as she knows someone who has signed her on the gate-list. The story is different for the western and especially Arab nationality males though. This is because the residents of the compounds arranging the parties or the embassy people are mostly single males. They have the power to choose who to let in. Naturally men don’t like too much competition over the women, especially from those ‘ladies favorites’ Arab men! So to get invited, men need to get seriously connected. For example the US embassy guys (marines and other military personnel) will allow a male on the list only if he is signed in with two females. Many compounds have a policy not to let any Arabs in.
Saudi nationals are not allowed into most western compounds. Now in my opinion this rule is ridiculous and racist since we are in their country this kind of disrespect is just incomprehensible to me. This could be a chance to meet and make friends with locals, if even just allowing them in to have dinner together with a family for example. Some westerners like to keep to their small circles and stick to their prejudices as firmly as they hold on to their wine glasses. Anyways being invited would mean knowing someone and having to go through the same security checks as everyone else.
Socially well connected Saudi men, the rare Saudi Prince and Saudis that have a foreign passport do rarely attend parties though.
Home-brewed wine, beer and ‘sid’, the saudi “national” drink. Sid is short for siddiqi which means my friend. It’s a very potent (around 90%) and potentially dangerous foul tasting clear alcohol made from dates. Sometimes it has impurities in it which may result in memory loss and other neurological disturbances, visual problems, alcohol poisoning and diarrhea among other things.
The embassies and military compounds have real alcohol, shipped into the Kingdom by the truckload in diplomat cars. Especially military personnel have access to a large variety because their shipments are not subject to inspection and this applies to the royals and the diplomats too. Drugs are widely on offer especially marihuana and amphetamine. Bottles of Black Label sell for around 1000-1800SAR on the black market depending on availability. Needless to say smuggling and trading alcohol on the black market seem to be a very lucrative (and dangerous) “profession” in Saudi-Arabia. Every once in a while there are news headlines about alcohol or drug traffickers getting caught and the punishments are severe.
What’s the dress code?
Women tend to dress like they would in western nightclubs, and because the weather is so hot almost all year, more often than not they will have little clothing on (which explains the popularity of the parties among men). There are some more official parties which require cocktail dresses or even long ball gowns and a suits from the gents. Parties are often themed and the dress code is accordingly. I heard of “come dressed as a Saudi” parties where expats get drunk in thobes, abayas and niqabs..Which reflects the bad attitude towards locals pretty well.
Is it safe?
Compounds in general have strict security checks, entering is by invite only. The US military compounds and the British aerospace have security checks that take at least an hour to get through during rush hours or in other words, before parties. They will check the vehicles, bags and sometimes even the visitor will be x-rayed. Muttawa are not allowed inside compounds however they might be outside at the gates but I guess that would only happen if someone tipped them off.
The security issue to be concerned about is the impure alcohol, harassment, getting stopped by police and drunken drivers offering the girls rides home. Since places like these are the only outlets for women and men to interact freely, some men (and women?) can get a bit carried away. If a woman gets harassed or even in the rare case raped, because of the sensitive situations and all the illegalities going on there’s not much that can be done about it.
I know one nurse that got raped and many others that were harassed at parties and after parties. Coincidence or not, but most of these men were of Lebanese nationality.
Beware of alcoholism. Many expats start drinking so much that it becomes their only hobby. They drink home brew like it’s mountain dew! I feel sorry for people who come here only to try and live exactly as they did back home, never leaving their compounds and passing their every weekend and sometimes weekday drinking in the same small circle of people.
For example what happened to a British guy; shortly after he arrived in KSA and started attending party after another, he slowly became an alcoholic. After just two years in Saudi the drinking problem got him fired from his job, robbed of all his belongings, money and passport and thrown into jail after drunk driving. He naturally got deported from the Kingdom and went to rehab in Britain.
So if you are planning a move here, you have been warned! There are so many dangerous aspects to these parties, it’s worth contemplating is it worth the risk. I honestly can’t recommend for newcomers to start getting too involved in the Saudi nightlife scene. I would suggest finding something more meaningful to do instead, get to know some locals and explore your surroundings for example :)
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