Author Archives: Laura

Hello there! I'm Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I've visited 75 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram:

Janadriyah Cultural Heritage festival of Saudi Arabia is held annually on the outskirts of Riyadh at the Janadriyah Village. This post depicts images from the festival in 2011.
For more information about the folk festival itself, the timings and dates of Al Janadriya, check out Blue Abaya guides to the festival: 
kids janadriya

It’s time for the annual cultural heritage festival of Saudi-Arabia, Janadriyah. The festival has been held for 26 years in the Janadriya village outside Riyadh. It’s about an hour drive from city center towards Thumamah. The area covers 1.5 sq km and has replicas of buildings representing all the different regions of the country such as Jizan, Farasan, Abha, Mecca, Medinah, Qassim, Najran and many others. Visitors can buy handicrafts made by carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers and weavers or they can try the different foods available from around the Kingdom. The festival boasts Saudi culture at its best and is a must see for all expats at least once!

Visitors can taste all the different delicious Saudi traditional foods from the various regions.

Although the buildings are the same every year it still always makes for an interesting visit again and again, especially because of the Saudi people. Saudi women are very friendly and will try and make contact with western women at the festival. I often notice them secretly taking video or pictures of my western friends with their mobile phones. Like in this photo:

Some even come up and ask if they can be photographed with us. Sometimes I feel like a western woman at Janadriya is more of an attraction than the festival itself! I haven’t figured the exact reason for why we seem to be such a peculiar sight.. But it’s fun and interesting anyways!

During the course of four years I’ve attended the festival there has been some changes I’ve noted, some for the better some for worse.
Some improvements include they finally made maps of the area available and some info points. I noticed a lot more trash cans and staff for cleaning the area. They had put up more benches and toilets and in general the area looks much nicer this year.

This year the family days are for the majority of the festival unlike before when they were very limited and there used to be a female only day. I see this as an improvement because the festival is best visited with the family as a whole. There’s lots of things for kids to do, they have a farm complete with all farm animals and the kids can go on camel and donkey rides.

The best improvement this year was the scarcity of the muttawa! I only saw a few at the gates and some patrolling the area. I heard this year they have cut down their numbers. Three years ago there were so many of them it was really annoying. I saw the muttawa scolding some young boys for their clothing choices. I guess they were not thrilled with the pink pants.

This year there was much more traditional music and dance performances, poetry recitals and all sorts of performing arts. Perhaps this is related to fewer members of CPVPV present?

A change for the worse were the appearance of way too many fastfood stalls.
I guess they are part of the modern day Saudi culture and therefore have a place at the festival..The only traditional aspect of this Herfys is the gender segregated sides for ordering!

During all these the 26 years the organizers still didn’t think about organizing the parking. Now if 2 million people visit the place annually, you might think they would have a decent parking space for all those cars..But no. The parking area is utter chaos. There are no signs where the entrance or exit are. There’s no one controlling the parking and worst of all they actually “forgot” to put in the white lines for parking spaces. So basically you can park anywhere, anyhow you feel like. How you suppose Saudis do with that :)
Recommended to arrive early! Check my Events section for details and timings.

The reason I love going to the festival is you never know what you’re going to find there. This year it was a Saudi “Santa” handing out candies to children :)


King Abdullah has returned to Riyadh from his long hospital stay abroad and he received a very warm welcome from Saudis. The streets of Riyadh are lined with flags and large pictures and posters of the King are plastered on every building with slogans like “Thank God for the King’s health”, “The nation is well as long as you are well”, “Long live the King” and so on. The King was greeted by crowds of people cheering next to the highways he drove by. Radio stations played songs specially composed for the occasion, people called in praising the King and children read poems they had written about him.

King Abdullah is truly loved by his people and seems to have strong support from the majority of Saudis. King Abdullah has done a lot for the country and earned the respect of his countrymen. I wrote a post on some of the reforms he made to improve women’s rights in KSA, read it here.

With all the protesting and revolutions ongoing in the region and the “Arab Spring” movement, one might expect Saudis would also join in the movement and begin demanding changes to the current system. However I highly doubt the Saudi people would revolt against their King, it’s clear they genuinely love him and Abdullah is often referred to as the “Father of Saudi Arabia”. There are of course many issues people do complain about, but in general people seem to be satisfied with how things are handled.

In a recent effort from the King, as an attempt to show his gratitude toward the Saudi people for the support, Abdullah announced a long list of royal decrees. These decrees will improve things like poverty, housing problems, and unemployment. The entire ‘giveaway’ will cost 36 billion dollars! The decrees also included giving more money to charities, a pay raise for all government employees and support for literary and sports clubs.

Last night the streets filled with Saudi youth celebrating King Abdullah like a hero, they went around hanging out of the cars waving Saudi flags and posters of the King. A similar scenario can be seen on the streets during National Day celebrations, something quite new to be allowed to celebrate in the Saudi Kingdom btw.

I saw some people that had painted their entire cars green for the occasion! Both Faisaliyah and Kingdom towers turned on their green “festive” lighting, another thing normally seen on National Day and Eid only. There is a big celebration scheduled for the coming Saturday which the King has declared a day off for everyone. The overall feeling of joy and the joyful, festive mood was evident everywhere in the city.

keep-calm-and-love-king-abdullah Despite all this public show of affection, support and love for their King, there have been rumors circulating about planned protests. There’s already been small protests around the country but apparently none of them received much media coverage. Some Saudis have created social media ‘campaigns’ and groups on Facebook calling for protests, such as named ‘Saudi Revolution’.

Apparently, some of those groups are openly planning big protests in Riyadh on the 11th March, which they’ve deemed “the day of rage”.  (You can read in this post what kind of rage was seen on that day!)

I highly doubt that anything of the same caliber we’re seeing going on in Egypt or Libya will come out of these plans. There’s just too many people who are 100% satisfied and happy for a big movement to come forth.  The online protesters are just outnumbered by the supporters of the current system.  Only time will tell I guess, but currently the King enjoys an exact opposite situation as his “colleagues” around the Middle East do. The Saudi people adore and love him!

It’s not a big secret that people think the Saudi public schooling system sucks. Even the Saudis complain about the system all the time. Some have called it one of the worst in the world. It’s mostly bashed for being tied to rote learning and for an over-emphasis on religious studies but the criticism doesn’t stop there.

Recently King Abdullah has made an effort to start improving the Saudi education system. He launched the public education development program: The King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Project for Developing Public Education.
The project consists of four parts: developing teachers skills, developing curricula, enhancing school activities and improving school environment. The Saudis have also been looking to other countries for examples and models of effective and productive education systems.

Saudi-Arabia and Finland are now planning to work together to reform the Saudi schools.

Finland on the other hand is seen as a major international leader in education. Finnish students have topped OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) consistently for a decade now. Newsweek announced in 2010 Finland as the best country to live in the world and had a special mention for the best country for education.

So what is the secret behind the excellence of the Finnish student’s performance? What could the Saudis learn from the Finnish model? There is no a simple answer to the question, one must look at all the aspects of the Finnish education system and take parts of it to integrate into the Saudi system.

Here’s a few lessons for the Saudi schools:

There are huge differences in the style of learning-Saudis are taught to listen to the teacher and memorize-while Finns are encouraged to find out for themselves and work in groups. This stimulates creativity and social skills.

Naturally the curriculums are very different. The Saudis concentrating on memorizing Quran and learning Hadith, while Finns have a more balanced variety of subjects. There’s a lot of science and mathematics but also physical education and arts subjects keeping the learning experience more interesting and rewarding.

I recall looking forward to the physical education classes, we had them three times a week. We would learn different sports and it would be a break from sitting on the hard wooden benches all day. Arts class once a week was also like the highlight of the day. We had to use your imagination to create what the teacher presented.

One key to Finland’s success is keeping the schools relatively small and “home-like”. This means that pupils will have mostly the same teachers from grades 1-6 and they sometimes stay in the same school building until 9th grade. The compulsory schooling for everyone is until 9th grade. After that they can choose to go to higher level schools-and most choose to do so. The pupils and teachers all get to know each other well and it builds a good atmosphere and sense of togetherness.

I had the same teacher for most subjects the whole time I was in elementary school. He was more like a father-figure to us and we looked up to him. When we came to school we took our shoes off at the door and hung our jackets on the wall just like at home. We had our own clothes on, no school uniforms.

A surprising fact is that while pupils around the world enter formal schooling at five or six, in Finland children enter school at seven – and then only for half days. They also have longer holidays and Finnish students have the least educational hours of any industrialized country yet they are academically among the most successful. Short hours are especially important in the early years of schooling, not to overburden little pupils to the point where they start disliking school or are too exhausted to do homework.

As a kid I had many hobbies after school. I played the piano, danced ballet, played basketball, went to cooking and sowing classes and was on a swimming team. I can’t imagine having the energy to do all this after long hours of school. 

The shorter time spent at schools also places greater responsibility on families. An important ingredient in Finland’s high achievement in reading and writing is a strong culture of reading in the home. Parents often read to their children and there are excellent public libraries. Finland’s 15-year olds were judged to have the highest standards of literacy in the world.

One of the best memories from childhood are my parents reading to me every single day before going to bed. We barely watched TV and I wasn’t even that interested because of my enthusiasm to reading. I would rather spend time at the library with my friends.

All teachers in Finnish schools have Master’s degrees and they are given freedom to choose their methods of teaching and books. In other words the teachers are trusted by parents and by government officials. Society views them as a valued professionals. In Saudi teachers have to strictly follow a certain curriculum and always use the same books.

I remember my high school biology teacher very fondly. He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject that we never had a dull class. Sometimes we would go on trips to the forest, lakes or nature reserves where he would show us all the different plants and animals. These were valuable lessons that increased my love for nature.

The Finnish public schools are all free and do not pick their pupils according to grades. The performance of students from one school to another is uniform so it doesn’t become necessary for parents to choose which school to send their children to. Special needs students are not sent away to separate schools and everyone is given an equal chance at succeeding.

The schools I went to were always a walking distance from my house. That didn’t mean I was always on time though!

One thing I consider as equally important in the success of the system is the school meals and 1 hour lunch breaks in the canteens. Finland was the world pioneer in providing free school meals since 1948. A balanced meal gives the pupils energy to perform for the rest of the day. Lunch consists typically of fish, chicken or meat, fresh salads, vegetables, rice and potatoes, freshly baked bread and milk. The meals are tasty and nutrient rich and students thus become conscious of healthy eating habits and learn to choose the right foods.

I remember how they wouldn’t let us take our own food in elementary school, but instead the kitchen lady would hand it on to your plate in the food line. That meant sometimes you got much more than asked you for! Our teacher would sit and eat with us and supervise that we ate everything. With some foods this became a problem to finish it up. I especially hated spinach-soup days!But looking back this was a good practice.

Students stay in class for 45 minutes at a time and then go for recess. Pupils will put their shoes back on because they are required to step outside for a break. Only temperatures below -20c might give the OK to stay inside for the breaks. I think this is good to get fresh air and to stay sharp in class.

One of the best memories from school are all the fun games we used to play outside, be it in the sun, the rain snow or autumn leaves. We were always outside enjoying the fresh air and getting some exercise while at it.

Another great aspect of the Finnish schools are the school healthcare nurses. Students can turn to them in confidence with health issues. These nurses also implement the national vaccination program and act as counselors if needed. They give valuable health education to children. The schools also have enjoined dental clinics and dental hygiene thus becomes compulsory. These are all of course free of charge and available to everyone regardless of background. Some schools have a psychologist and a physician visits for check-ups.

The healthcare nurse was always a person we could turn to if we had problems at home or in school. They would always lend a listening ear. Having the dental clinic at the school was good for regular check-ups but ask any kid and they will disagree!

These are some of the components to the success of the Finnish educations system. A school consists of many separate parts that come together to promote positive learning experiences.

What the Saudi system could change is the separation of girls and boys of younger ages. The children should be allowed to study and interact together. There is no harm to that even from the Islamic point of view. This way boys and girls would be able to learn better social and communication skills with each other and not grow up to view the other gender as “alien”.

The curriculum of Saudi elementary schools consists of 31% Islamic studies. Isn’t that a bit too much especially for a young child to absorb? Not everyone is going to be an Islamic scholar. Saudi-Arabia’s schools have the least amount of maths and most religious studies compared to all other GCC countries. Surely religious studies could be cut down to the amount of for example Kuwait, the leading GCC country in education.

The responsibility of teaching religion should be partly shifted to homes to enable more time for other important subjects at school. The model of Finland’s pupils reading at home could be copied by Saudi parents to achieve more Islamic knowledge for their children. It surely wouldn’t do harm for the parent to child bonding experience either.

Applying all the above mentioned components to Saudi schools would need a lot of work, time and of course big funding. Most of them could be possible to implement. However the secret to the Finns success lies not only inside the schools but outside and in the homes too.

The question is do the Saudis really want to change their ways and would the same system work in Saudi-Arabia as well as it does in Finland?
The Saudi culture is very different from the Finnish one in many aspects.

Some change is definitely needed to keep Saudis in the competitive labor market and to transform the country into a more independently developing nation.

The saying goes that there are only two seasons in Saudi Arabia and they are: Hot weather and cold weather.  I’ve come to realize there are in fact four different periods in the year which could be defined as seasons, although very different to the ones I’m used to back in my home country Finland

Before I moved to Saudi-Arabia I assumed the weather in Riyadh would mostly be hot and dry all year round without much variation. To my surprise when I first arrived in Riyadh it was late January and the weather felt much colder than I had expected. regardless, as a hardy Finn, I bravely joined the other Finnish nurses at the compound pool for some sunbathing and swimming.

We soon learned that despite the weather being hot (in our opinion around +23c is full-blown summer), the pool water was absolutely freezing. That didn’t deter us from enjoying this ‘summer weather’ in our bikinis though. At the same time Saudis were all bundled up in their winter coats on the other side of the compound walls. I created a graphic about this funny cultural difference, check it out here: Saudi and the Finns-The Ultimate Weather Extremes Survivors.

So what are the four seasons of the ‘Magical Kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia? The following seasons would be more typical in Riyadh and the Central regions as opposed to Jeddah, Jazan or the Eastern province coastal cities, where the climate is very humid year round.

The cold, rainy season (winter)
Characteristics for this season are the “cold” weather ranging anywhere between near zero Celsius in the mornings to +20c during the day. There might be heavy showers or occasional light rain but typically they won’t last more than a few days at a time. it must be mentioned that when it gets cold in the driest of dry desert climate, it just feels somehow much more chilly than the same would feel in more humid climates. The cold wind seems to penetrate all the way to the bones and to the core. Brrrr!

palmtree sunset wadi hanifa lake

Sometimes rain pours down for days which forms temporary lakes and streams in the desert. Flash floods can be a really big problem and can cause real life threatening danger situations if you’re caught in one. Believe it or not there are dams in the desert to help control the water masses.

Even the cities will flood as the drainage systems are not sufficient enough to handle the sudden downpours. Jeddah is notorious for serious flooding whenever the rainy season begins. The drainage/sewage system was not designed to handle the masses of water and this coastal city of Saudi Arabia becomes like the Middle-East’s Venice during this season.

This is a great time to visit the desert which will be blooming with flowers and green scenery after the rains. The cold weather begins usually around late November lasting until February.

desert flower

white desert flower

The sandstorm season (spring)
This is the worst time of the year to be in Saudi Arabia, especially the cities surrounded by the desert. Sandstorm season starts around February to March lasting until May or even June during a bad year. During this time Saudi-Arabia is ridden with sandstorms ranging in severity from the mild “dusty and hazy days” to moderate or severe with zero visibility and fierce winds.

sandstsormA peculiar weather phenomenon I found out exists only through living in Saudi Arabia, is that sandstorms sometimes pair up with thunderstorms. When this occurs the weather is typically very windy, blowing the dust around high up into the atmosphere which can trigger clouds to rain or even hail, followed by lightning and thunder.

The weirdest part about this combo is how the rain actually becomes mixed with the dust in the air, resulting in mud falling down from the skies. This type of rain covers everything it lands on with a thick, gooey layer of mud. I like to call this weather phenomenon “mudding” because it describes so well how dreadful it is.  The temperatures during this season start rising slowly, eventually reaching about +40c.

The hot season (summer)
From around May up until October the mercury normally doesn’t drop below +40c. This season is when most people want to leave the country. The dry heat might rise up to +50c degrees in the worst months and typically the nights will not bring much relief to the scorching heat. Check out this post to find out what happens when summer has arrived in Saudi Arabia.

The mild, clear season (fall)

This is my favorite season, although unfortunately it doesn’t last very long. During the Saudi “autumn” the weather is picture perfect from around October to around mid December. There are typically very clear skies with no sandstorms or dust blowing around and the temperatures hover around a lovely +25- +30c. This time of year also beautiful sunsets and clouds can be spotted. Reminds me of weather on a perfect Finnish summer day but in Finland we would be lucky to have this kind of weather more than a few days in a year! Therefore this is the best time to head out and enjoy the beauty of the desert.

Stay tuned for some incredibly beautiful scenery you wouldn’t believe exists in the Saudi Arabian desert in Blue Abaya’s next post. Make sure you’ve subscribed to updates via email with the form below!

view from the Edge of the World Saudi Arabia

view from the Edge of the World Saudi Arabia

Saudi-Arabia is a gender segregated society where government offices are no exception to the rule. Women are not allowed in the main buildings at all because their male family members are supposed to take care of most of the woman’s issues. However there are specific much smaller sections for the women, usually located in a separate building or at the side or back of the main building.They are frustratingly bureaucratic places that operate with stone-aged policies.

There will be a male security guard watching the door and letting women enter into the female only office. The door is kept locked to prevent the dubious men prowling the area from running in to see unveiled women. Just kidding.

Inside are female security officers and other office workers in normal clothing. The places are pretty unorganised and confusing especially to a first time visitor. Just like in the main building, the women are also forced to wait in line at one window after another to get anything done. Lots of stamping and shuffling of papers goes on. The only difference is women’s sections are not as crowded and the most important things can be done in the men’s (main) office ONLY.

Women are required to sign all paperwork by stamping their thumb on the forms. I’ve never heard it being compulsory for men, unless the man is illiterate. Note even if the women are literate and fully capable of signing their own names, this ancient practise is compulsory for them.

The illiteracy rate among the older generations and especially women is quite high. This of course poses great difficulties especially for women without a mahram (male guardian)to help. If no male family member is able to write documents for them or they are unwilling to help, there are places these women can go to to get their paperwork done. Men offering secretarial help to write documents can be found near to government buildings. They will have simple old school typewriters, they usually sit on the ground on a carpet which they made a temporary office on.

We (or I) had to go to one of these women’s sections to stamp some papers for our marriage permission application. On the way there I overheard a woman accompanied by her daughter approaching one of these men to help make a complaint about her husband. Apparently the husband had not showed up for over six months after he had taken a new wife. She had no other male relatives to support them financially or willing to help them get the husband to start paying the bills and providing food.

I can’t even imagine how hard and frustrating her situation must have been. Basically this woman and probably countless of others can’t get any legal action done without a man. They are just left hanging on a thread. Women in Saudi-Arabia are forced to be so dependant on men. Nothing can be accomplished without a man!  Even running the women’s section of a government office needs a Saudi male to function!

I’m lucky I was out of the office relatively quickly, although not a single woman in there (not even the legal advisor/lawyer of some sort) spoke English. I survived with body language and broken Arabic. The lawyer lady asked me was I sure I wanted to marry a Saudi guy? After I had convinced her that I was indeed serious, she handed me the documents and an ink pad. I could not believe I was being asked to sign with my thumb. What was this, the stone ages? It made me smile but it also made me sad to see how Saudi women were treated by their own government.


Inshallah, insh’Allah, insha’Allah -God willing is a very frequently used term among Muslims. It stands for “if God wills, it will happen” and it’s meant to be said as a positive thing. Responding with “inshallah” after having been asked to do something, should be like a promise to do ones best to get the job done. Only if God wills otherwise they wouldn’t be able to deliver that promise.

Despite it’s true meaning, in reality ‘inshallah’ is widely used to express something else altogether. In fact, it has become like a promise not do something. Within  the workplaces in KSA, where multiple nationalities and cultures mix, ‘inshallah’ has caught on a negative connotation to it. The saying is commonly used and abused by expats and Saudis as well.

In Saudi hospital culture, which I’m familiar with due to my profession, ‘inshallah’ is generally used to brush things off as unimportant or insignificant. When there are no intentions to actually perform a task, a plain ‘inshallah’ is the most common response. ‘Inshallah’ is used as a sort ‘buffer’ to soften what the person really wants to say; “NO”. The saying can also be used when someone doesn’t take the person or question at hand seriously. Sometimes when people are just too busy, they say ‘inshallah’ to take the responsibility off oneself. Sort of like saying, if they don’t have time to do the job, it was not their fault, because ‘God willed it” so to say.

Simply not knowing the answer to something is more often an inshallah than “I don’t know”. ‘Bukra inshallah’ is something everyone in Saudi Arabia will hear every so often. In other words, ‘inshallah bukra’ means it’s not. gonna. happen. Person saying it is well aware of this but lets just say ‘inshallah’ if a miracle were to occur and the it would actually happen!
Inshallah has been abused to the point it has become something negative. It triggers ill feelings and it has the tendency to make people really annoyed.

More examples from the healthcare field: For instance patients sometimes get upset and refuse to accept an “inshallah” from the doctors as an answer. They know very well it’s like a false promise, that the doctor is in fact hiding something or it means a delay in treatment. Nurses at times tell patients “inshallah” rather than “I’m sorry I can’t” when too busy to perform certain tasks, giving patients false hopes.
Pharmacists might use ‘inshallah’ when asked for how long it will take for the medication to be prepared.

A ward clerk might opt to say “inshallah” to try and get rid of demanding relatives asking too many questions.
When discussing diagnosis or prognosis with patients some physicians rather say “inshallah” then reveal the truth of the matter which is probably one of the worst instances to use the term.

And the list goes on unfortunately. It’s as if ‘inshallah’ has been turned upside down from its real meaning, to the point where people have begun using it in sentences like “Don’t inshallah me!”.

arabic text

This week was Finland’s Independence Day and we attended the dinner at the embassy of Finland in Riyadh. In attendance of course were many Finns but also Saudi diplomats and other guests mingling with eachother.
This got me to thinking how different our cultures are when it comes to small talk.

Saudis are masters of small talk and don’t seem to get enough of it sometimes! It is an essential part of the Saudi culture. Finns on the other hand don’t even have the concept of small talk in their vocabulary. It is seen as something awkward and unnecessary. Finnish people like to get straight to the point without any “nonsense”.

So how would the Saudis greet one another and start some neverending Saudi small talk?
They would first offer salaams to which the other participant/s would reply the salaams, prefferably with some additional blessings. While doing this the men will shake hands and in some cases exchange cheek to cheek kisses. Women will also be doing the kissing while holding onto the the other womans shoulders. Needless to say women and men will not kiss eachother!

The Saudi would then proceed to ask how they are, how is life going, how their family is, how their mother, father or brothers sisters are, how are their kids, how is their health, and then repeat some things over and over. This phase will usually take along time because all participants will be asking the same questions from each other. The funny thing is they will continue this cycle without starting to feel awkward about it at all. Additional topics might include work, weather conditions, politics or ongoing public issues.

The typical Finn will greet another with a short simple greeting shaking hands firmly and briefly regardless of gender. There will absolutely be no kissing or physical contact beyond this. The Finnish personal space is a good 2 metres, anything too close will make the Finn feel extremely uncomfortable.
 They will ask how they are doing but will never ask a stranger anything about their families let alone a specific family member. This would be seen as intrusive and even inpolite. More likely a Finn would ask about work or just generally what they have been up to. The reply is not meant to be very informative or lengthy, just to be polite and get it over with.
 After this there is not much a Finn will say. Perhaps a comment on how the weather is, or an observation of the surroundings. The Finns might be in silence for some while without feeling awkward at all.

This might sound like Finnish people are very rude and impolite, but that is just our reserved nature and in it’s own way an act of respect to the other persons privacy. Small talk is just seen as too intrusive. Like Saudis we are friendly people but just more introverted. Saudis on the other hand are very approachable and for them small talk. It’s a channel of showing respect and being polite and is a part of everyday Saudi life.

Dear patients,

I wanted to write this letter to all of you to express my gratitude for everything you have given me during the years. I will not be seeing you for a while because I will soon be going on maternity leave.

It is all of you wonderful patients that I will miss the most from the ward. You have been the reason for me to keep coming to the work despite the difficulties I’ve had with some staff members. There were mornings when I wanted to hide under my blanket and not go to work but then I remembered one of you and got up with a smile on my face.
Everyday I had a chance to meet one of you lovely and friendly Saudis.

Some of you were very sick and depressed, yet you always had a smile to offer to me. I want to thank you for making my day so many times. I hope somehow I could have made your day brighter and given you hope through your stay at the hospital.

Thank you for showing me the Saudi hospitality, even if you were very poor, you still wanted to offer something to show your gratitude. And the countless times you offered me arabic coffee or tea, chocolates and dates and other special Saudi sweets. I enjoyed those moments chatting with your families, you made me feel welcome and accepted me for who I was. I am grateful for the times you invited me to sit down with you on the carpet you had placed on the floor and offered me to join you for dinner. Pardon me if I did not always have the time to join, I still appreciated the gesture.

Thank you for all the good laughs we have shared. You’ve showed me a sense of humor and understanding a joke is universal despite our cultural differences. You showed me Saudi people have a great sense of humor!

Thank you for teaching me about Islam and for all the books, Qurans and tapes you’ve given me. Especially for the ones in my own language which you managed to find!

Thank you for teaching me Arabic and being patient with me if I did not know the correct phrases.
Thank you for the invitations you made to your houses, farms and weddings and apologies for not being able to attend them all.

I’ve learned a great deal about the Saudi way of life because of you. I will be forever grateful to have had the chance to get to know you and help you.

You’ve showed me that all of us, men and women, whatever our religion or nationality, share the same hopes and dreams in our lives. Ultimately, we are all the same.

Illness brings out the same reactions in all humans everywhere in the world. You showed me your vulnerable side, the side often hidden from public eyes.

As this chapter in my life ends I wish you good health and all the best.
I will miss you and hope to return to my job someday!


Many western expats come to the Kingdom for employment not knowing a word of Arabic and that is unfortunately also how they end up leaving. I could strongly recommend expats planning to come to work in Saudi-Arabia to try learning some basic Arabic even prior to arrival. Once here I would recommend attending the courses provided by employers or independent companies and language institutes. If the expat is motivated enough, it’s possible to pick up a lot on your own too. I learned my Arabic skills mostly on my own initiative from patients and co-workers, by writing down a few words each day and then using them in my daily work.  I later went to the classes and learned to read and write Arabic.arabic letters circle

Learning the native language of the country one chooses to work in is an act of respect toward that culture and its people. Needless to say it will greatly improve the working experience and time spent in the country. When locals see a foreigner who has gone through the trouble of learning some of their language it creates a positive atmosphere for interaction with them. Many Saudis actually don’t understand or speak conversational English and some don’t know any words at all. Even some of the middle class and higher class families I’ve noticed that their English skills are just not good enough to hold even a simple a conversation. For healthcare workers in particular I find language skills would be essential to create a trusting relationship with the patients.

For me personally learning Arabic has made a huge difference in patient care settings and I’ve found it greatly rewarding. Patients are always showing their gratitude and respect of the foreign nurse being able to explain procedures and ask questions in their own language. It builds trust and mutual respect.

I’ve noticed that for some reason learning Arabic is the last thing some expats want to do.They would rather spend time within their own circles and are not interested in the local culture at all. In my opinion they are also in a way being disrespectful toward the locals. It’s like seeing ones own culture as superior to others. Learning a few new words won’t hurt anyone!

On the other hand take a look at the exemplary Asian nurses. They will all without exception be willing to learn Arabic and soon have basic language skills to communicate with their patients. Many times western nurses rely on the Asian colleagues to come translate and explain things. Amazingly Asians don’t even necessarily go to language courses-they learn on their own and pick up Arabic really quickly.

Why is it that for westerners it seems to be such a huge step to take? Do they have a really bad attitude towards the language itself, or is it the culture as a whole, I wonder? I have heard all kinds of excuses over the years, all of which in my opinion are just that, excuses!
Here are some of the most common reasons people give for NOT wanting to learn any Arabic, and my encouragement to try and learn at least some Arabic!

Why should I learn a language I won’t need anywhere else?”

You never know if you will face a situation you could make use of your skills! Learning a new language is always good brain exercise, it actually improves the memory and performance of the brain. It feels rewarding and satisfying to learn something new and to succeed.

“I am only coming for a year I don’t need to learn Arabic”

More often than not people plan on coming to Saudi-Arabia for one year and then end up staying many. And in any case why not make that one year more tolerable, rewarding and make easier on yourself? Make the most of that one year! There are many quick crash course you can take and they don’t take up much of your time but you will benefit hugely from your new skills.

I can communicate well enough with body language”

Body language in fact varies a lot from one culture to another and can confuse more than explain things. This also frustrates patients and colleagues a lot.

“I don’t want to learn their stupid language it sounds funny/vulgar/disgusting/ridiculous”

To this quite arrogant approach one could say, do you think your own language sounds less funny to others? I know Finnish language doesn’t sound pretty to many but so what? Arabic language has some unique syllables which can be hard for foreigners to pronounce, but that is the richness in the language.

This is supposed to be an English-only workplace”

English is supposed to be the language that co-workers use between each other in many work places including the hospitals but dealing with clients/patients is where Arabic becomes essential. Despite the English only rule, many Arab co-workers will still be conversing in Arabic.

Upon recruitment I was informed I am not required to know or learn any Arabic in my work”

Recruitment often does this mistake to make it sound easy to come to work in the ME, they just want to recruit you! I believe this is one of the reasons behind bad attitudes of nurses coming from western countries. But upon realizing how the situation is in reality one can always make the required adjustments and learn Arabic!

I can use a translator”

Translators are rarely available and they are often not even qualified as translators. A translator can basically be any Saudi that speaks even a few words broken English and therefore there’s a risk of the message being distorted by the interpretation of the translator.

“I could be willing to learn some words but I don’t want to take the course because you have to learn the Arabic letters.”

Learning the Arabic alphabet is very important for correct pronunciation of the words. It is virtually impossible to teach the language without learning the alphabet because there are no equivalents in the English alphabet. For example there are five different T’s in Arabic language. Incorrect pronunciation can lead to mistakes like calling a cardiologist a dog doctor! Personally I found learning the alphabet was very easy, I memorized all the letters during one class.

To make the best out of your stay in Saudi-Arabia, take the effort to learn some Arabic. This will greatly help you in your everyday activities and communication. You will also improve your chances of getting to know and communicate with more Saudis!

I noticed saying to myself, it’s starting to get a little chilly in Riyadh..Actually it was “only” +30C..How embarrassing for a Finn! But it looks like winter is around the corner. Saudis have started switching to their thick wool abayas and thobes and my patients have the heating on full blow in their rooms.
Finns and Saudis might well be the last survivors if the world’s temperature went in either extreme points. Both nations have ultimate endurance for cold/heat.
I remember seeing a tongue-in-cheek temperature chart for Europeans somewhere so I thought to use the same idea for comparing the Saudis and the Finns-The Ultimate Survivors!!Here is a temperature table I created to illustrate how the Saudis and Finns would deal with extreme weather:

+1063 C Gold starts melting. Saudi women take off their abayas.

+600 C Crude oil reaches boiling point. Saudis are happy they no longer need oil refineries.
Saudi camels complain of the burnt taste of the grass.

Saudi camel eating burnt grass

+100 C Water boils. Saudis turn on their air-conditioning.
The swimming pools in Saudi-Arabia now have warm water in them.
The only other surviving humans are Yemeni bedouins who covered themselves in mud and hid in the mountains.

+70 C The Saudis have changed to summer abayas and thobes.
The rest of the world has immigrated to Antarctica.
The Saudi camels ask to get shaved for the summer.

+60 C Saudis lower their car windows for a fresh breeze.
Saudi camels are enjoying the crisp air.

+45 C Saudis feel comfortable and have turned the heaters off. The weather is nice and cool for spring, time to plant some flowers and go camping in the desert.
The Spaniards all flock to the Alps.

+35 C The remaining survivors of the heat wave in Finland die.
The Saudis change into their winter thobes and abayas.
Saudi camels complain of the draft in the desert.

+25 C A heat wave warning is issued in Finland. Finns start to die from the heat stroke. Clothing has been shed off and Finns are naked.
Saudi camels start growing their winter coats. Saudis turn their heaters on.

+20 C The Finnish people are starting to get uncomfortable. They have shed all their clothing down to bathing suits to cope with the heat.
Saudis no longer venture out of their heated homes where they sit in their farwas (furs). The camels complain of frost on the grass.

+15 C
The Finns are sunbathing.
The Saudis start lighting bonfires inside their living rooms in order to survive the cold.
Finnish cows are shaved and fed grass popsicles to cope with the heat.

+10 C
The Finns are planting flowers in their gardens.
Saudis start dying of cold weather.
The French are eating frozen baguettes.

+5 C
The Finns are still driving their motorcycles in shorts.
The Italians are all migrating to Sardinia.
Saudis become an extinct race.

0 C
Water freezes. The rivers in Finland flow a little bit slower than normal. Finnish cows are let out to the meadows.
Swedes turn on their heaters.

-5 C
The Finns are having the last barbecue parties of the season.
The English farmers are finally putting their heaters on.

-10 C
The Finns are putting on long sleeved sweaters.
Eskimos move to their winter igloos.
Finnish cows are enjoying the fresh air.

-20 C
The Finns are getting ready for fall and are putting jackets on. Finnish babies are enjoying sleeping outside in their strollers.
The Greeks die of cold after having to eat frozen feta cheese.

-30 C
The Finns start drying their clothes inside. Finnish cows are taken into the barn for winter.
The Swedes have all moved into their fake saunas and are drinking Absolute vodka to warm up.

-40 C
The Finns are standing in line at the sausage stands. Finnish children are enjoying playing in the snow.
Russians have all fled to Egypt.

Finnish kids playing outside -50 C

-50 C
The Finnish army is postponing their survival camp until the weather is cold enough. Finns turn on the seat-warmers in their cars.
The Swedish fake saunas no longer function.

-70 C
The Finnish army leaves to winter camp.
The polar bears start evacuating Antarctic. The Finns get frustrated because they can no longer cool their alcohol outside.

-170 C
The Finnish cows complain about cold hands when they are getting milked. The few other surviving humans are Russians who accidentally drank liquid nitrogen mistaking it for vodka.

Every movement in the atomic level stops.
The Finns are putting on winter coats and cursing the cold weather.

-300 C
Hell freezes over. Team Finland wins the football World Cup.