An interesting event worth checking out in Riyadh is the International Children Culture Fair organised at the King Fahad Cultural Centre. Aimed at parents and children in Riyadh, this exhibition was organised for the first time in 2011 at the beautiful King Fahad Cultural Centre. This building is a masterpiece of design combining the traditional Najd architecture with modern clean lines with a stunning location on the edge of Wadi Hanifa. The Cultural centre offers regular exhibitions and events year round (to keep up to date with Riyadh events follow Blue Abaya on Facebook and Twitter)  they have a full size theatre, a children’s library, real movie theatre and even a planetarium inside.
Location coordinates of the King Fahd Cultural Center: 24o 38.47’ N; 46o 39.23’ E
I went to the fair with a friend (and mother of eight!)Aisha Al-Hajjar, who does freelance writing for Arab News. Aisha is a childbirth educator and she writes columns for Saudi Life and has her own blog Saudi Birth Story. I was accompanying her to photograph the event for the Arab News coverage.

The main focus of the fair was on books and reading. I’ve noticed that reading to children is not as common in Saudi-Arabia than it is in Finland, but it seems to be growing in popularity. Reading to your kids is always highly beneficial for their language skills and strengthens the bond between the child and parent.

Coming from a culture in which the importance and role of reading to children is extremely important, the fair was a very positive surprise for me. There were so many children’s books available, ranging from toddlers touch and learn type books to older kids’ bedtime stories. The fair had many books in English as well and some English learning centers were represented along with a few embassies such as Sweden and Japan.

My husband bought some books for our 6 month old baby, she is already such a little bookworm! These were her first Arabic language books. I started reading to her when she was a few weeks old in Finnish and now whenever she sees a book she tries to grab it so it is definitely paying off already.

A nice bedtime story will always help the child relax and wind down before falling asleep. The children might even begin looking forward to bedtime! I hope many parents get the inspiration and encouragement of reading to their kids from this fair.

In addition to the book stalls, the Cultural fair had other activities such as a small museum, plays for children in the big theatre, traditional dance shows and an interactive learning center.

The King Fahad cultural center has very modern architecture and pleasant surroundings with fountains and gardens.

Children being interviewed for television.

I was surprised how all the classic fairy tales that we know from childhood could be found at the fair and had passed the Saudi censors. There was some excellent books on Islam in English language for children available too.

Fun interactive books for toddlers

There were lot of booths to browse various kinds of children’s books. Most were in Arabic language but they did have English books too.

This book was about the history of Saudi-Arabia
These young Saudi men were dressed in traditional outfits and were performing traditional dancing at the fair.
Saudi hand puppets!
A happy kid enjoys the fair with his father
Face paintings were a hit!
You can have your name written in Japanese at the Japanese embassy booth!
Pretty Saudi girls dressed in traditional dresses with flower bands on their hair.
A girl being interviewed by media.

More hand puppets.

More toddler books! Was hard to choose which ones to get for my daughter.
Monkey manners is a marvelous way to teach kids basic manners ;)

Fountains outside the center.

Such a pretty girl and pretty dress!

A marvelous book for expecting mothers with children and curious questions to answer how the baby got there!
The architecture inside the King Fahad cultural center is impressive!
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  • AnonymousOctober 12, 2011 - 3:33 am

    salam aleykum
    Masha’Allah.. great post thanx for sharing. I wish I could have been there.

  • HeliOctober 12, 2011 - 7:59 am

    Looking at all the little girls in their pretty dresses, I wonder, at what age do they start using abaya?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 12, 2011 - 8:34 am

    usually when they get into puberty..but some families have them in abayas much earlier.ReplyCancel

  • NoorOctober 12, 2011 - 1:41 pm

    Wow mashAllah this looks so nice I would have loved to go. Is it over?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 13, 2011 - 9:21 am

    I wish I went with you yesterday :( I don’t think my husband is up to going at all :( I am glad it went well.. yala.. enshallah we make a plan for next years one ;)(I think 2day is the last day.. right? or is it 2morrow?

    Om LujainReplyCancel

  • DentographerOctober 13, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    this is one of the things that keeps me awake at night,given that i am actively engaging my self into reading and not yet made it a habit,it does take me an effort to keep it a daily activity,i used to read when i was younger,comics,and pocket books and everything but it was somthing that i liked to do at a younger age and it was not somthing my parents instilled in me.

    now being parent,its becoming a stressful burden on me and i always wonder are we raising our kids to be little readers or not,not to mention being in this age where there is ALOT of my daily read is done on a computer,and kids have yet to understand that not every sitting infront of a computer is entertainment OR educational, teaching the habit of reading physical books is becoming a challenge.

    Mommy is a very busy bee with her finishing her masters,so she is doing all her readings anyways because she have to,i am doing all my readings for leisure.but i do admit that i am falling behind every dead line i am putting,yet i am still pushing my self everyday…

    lets hope for the best.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 15, 2011 - 4:56 pm

    Noor-did you go?

    Om Lujain-I would’ve loved to go again with you because most of the time I was there I was just concentrating on taking photos so I couldn’t really enjoy all the fair had to offer.

    Dentographer-oh yes keeping reading a daily habit for oneself can be challenging!I hope to be able to read to my daughter every night when she’s older.
    Reading physical books is becoming more and more rare because of all the ebooks on offer nowadays. But then again you cant take your computer to all the places you can go with a book :)

    Stephi-Yes it was, and I even found disney piglet!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 16, 2011 - 2:21 am

    Fabulous Layla. From JulieReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 16, 2011 - 3:30 pm

    Mashallah you take such beautiful pictures! What a lovely culture you have, I love hearing about your finnish stuff! Reading to your children is an absolute must! Out with the TV!


  • NicoleOctober 18, 2011 - 5:42 pm

    Oh oh oh, my sister-in-law was working at a booth there and was telling me all about it! I was so wishing I could be there; I am salivating at all of those books, and I don’t even have any kids! I’m a book fair nerd from way back, lol, and if KSA has book fairs, I’ll be fine. ;-) And a Children’s International Culture Fair? I’ll be in heaven! :-)ReplyCancel

  • […] King Fahad Cultural center […]ReplyCancel

Our family recently took a quick trip to Istanbul and I wanted to share some photos I took of this magical city. We had just under a week there which I found was not enough to explore everything Istanbul has to offer. Incredible, irresistible, inspirational, intriguing, sometimes irritatingly crowded Istanbul made a huge impression on me and I will definitely return there one day with better time on my hands.

Turkey is a popular holiday destination among Saudis and we saw many of them in Istanbul. The city is easily reachable from Saudi and visas can be purchased on arrival. The beautiful mosques, shopping, great food and Islamic history attracts large numbers of Saudi tourists here.

Turks love love flowers! This is from a flower market at Taksim square.instanbul flower lady


We took an evening cruise on the Bosphorus it was beautiful despite the cloudy day. And also very romantic of course!
Cruising between the two continents.
Taksim Square, this lady was selling bird seeds for tourists to feed the pigeons.
Topkapi Palace splendor. The Sultan had over 500 concubines in his palace! It was so huge we didn’t have time to even see a third of it, but enough to get a general impression of the ridiculously lavish life style of the time.
Mouth-watering Turkish foods. These men were breaking the clay pot dish with the spoon and they made it into a spectacular show on the street where people sat watching on the restaurant terraces.
The Sultan’s harem at Topkapi palace. This place was freakin huuuuge! There was separate quarters for the favorite concubines and mothers to sons and then a less fancy motel like part where I guess the less popular lovers were kept. What a sad life that must have been (for the women)
Check out the Sultans modest bedroom furnace!

Inside the Harem a view to the sky. I wonder how many women looked through these holes and thought of escaping their miserable life as basically sex slaves to the Sultan..

The “flower passage” is lined with restaurants and cafe’s.

Turkish baba enjoying some traditional Turkish ice cream.
Inside Aya Sofia the original place of the Virgin Mary is almost identical to the direction of the Qibla, is it coincidence? How amazing I thought!
The entrance to the Aya Sofia which was originally a church then turned into a mosque.The images of Jesus and Mary were covered and then revealed again after it was turned into a museum in 1930’s. I saw only a few Muslim tourists at Aya Sofia. Comparing to the neighbor Blue Mosque where the crowd was mixed of non-muslims and muslims alike. I thought it was sad and showed how religious tolerance among Muslims is non existent. Why would they not want to visit Aya Sofia as much?
Cat at the Blue Mosque.
Sultanahmet mosque courtyard
Inside Blue Mosque
Alladdins lamps and a thousand other things for sale at the Grand Bazaar’s 4000 shops
I love these lamps!
Most delightful Turkish delights.
Just another of the thousands of Istanbul’s mosques
A sheesha cafe in Sultanahmet.
A poet and his kitten at an ancient cemetery.
Aya Sofia by night.
A lazy well fed and groomed street cat.
Maghrib prayer.
Crowded Istilkal Caddesi
I love the cats of Istanbul they are treated so well they look like house cats
Roasted chestnuts sold by street vendors
The Turks are obsessed with the evil eye!

My daughter had many admirers people would come up to her all the time to squeeze her cheeks and say mashallah.Here a police officer stopped us to give her a ticket for being too cute!

Which picture do you like the most? My favorite is the Turkish Baba :)

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  • Fruitful FusionOctober 8, 2011 - 9:29 am

    I LOVE all the shots!!! The daily Istanbul life, the gorgeous scenery, everything. You’ve made me want to go to Istanbul!!!ReplyCancel

  • lldi VancsuraOctober 8, 2011 - 9:35 am

    Hi dear Laylah, i love your pictures! I felt I travelled too :) Thanks for photo journey. My favorite pictures are the lady in flower crowd and your sweet & courious daughter!ReplyCancel

  • DentographerOctober 8, 2011 - 3:10 pm

    loved them all wallahi,i liked the night bridge photo and the blue mosque the most.

    your photojournalism speaks out!ReplyCancel

  • ♥hind♥October 8, 2011 - 3:43 pm

    salam aleykom

    masha’allah all of them are so beautiful. very nice photographs… makes me want to explore Istanbul with my own eyes….
    thank you for sharing

  • AnonymousOctober 8, 2011 - 1:40 pm

    It’s hard to choose, they are all so wonderful. Such intense colours and imaginative composition. I wish I could take photos like this. It looks like a very interesting place. My favourite photos are: Cruising between the two continents, Sultanahmet mosque courtyard, A sheesha cafe in Sultanahmet and A poet and his kitten. Its funny to see a stern middle aged man with a kitten on his knee. In the UK a man like that would probably think it too girly to pet a kitten in public. I love the photo with the Turkish food, that man is gorgeous. I want to go to Turkey now!

  • Ms RosenstareOctober 8, 2011 - 3:40 pm

    Really beautifull pictures but if one have to choose I would say the photos of the young men serving turkish food and the one taken of the roof inside the harem. But as I said the whole collection is marvellous!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 8, 2011 - 7:08 pm

    THANK YOU each and every one of you for your encouraging words and thoughtful comments I’m truly humbled by such positive feedback!!
    This made my day, no my whole week!!ReplyCancel

  • Sadiya MerchantOctober 8, 2011 - 4:18 pm

    dis is a delightful post. i think d architecture is beyond brilliant. i soo sooo crave to go to a place like dis. my fvrttt pic tho wud b d guy wid a kitten.
    hv hrd turkish ice cream n coffee to b wrld famous. hw does d ice cream taste. pray telll! :))ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 8, 2011 - 7:24 pm

    Fruitful Fusion-thank you!I hope you get to visit this fantastic place someday too :)

    Ildi-You’re welcome!My daughter is a curious little girl, she might get that from me :)

    Kat-thanks!I’m really flattered, I didnt think ppl would say such nice things of my photos!The man at the cemetery was touching, he had actually two small kittens with him :)But ya I agree in other countries it might give a “feminine” impression;)

    Dentographer-wow I’m flattered to hear compliments coming from such an amazing photographer as you!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 8, 2011 - 7:42 pm

    Ms Rosenstare-Thans for your compliment, the one from the roof is one of my favorites because it seems to tell a story of its own, like small windows of hope..

    Hind-wa aleikum salam, hope you get to visit there someday too!

    Sadiya-I love the architecture too its so intricate!The ice cream tastes delicious and the consistency is different from other ice creams its like more “stretchy” is sort of chewy, hard to explain :D

    Soile-thanks!I must have taken like 50 pics of that lady walking around with her cup and I liked this one the most..I was sitting next to a fountain and Lamia was watching the birds from her stroller.

    Sofija-thank you the cruise was very special and my daughter enjoyed the scenery too.

    Debi-thanks!You live in a very beautiful country also, Oman is one of my favorites!ReplyCancel

  • SoileOctober 8, 2011 - 4:51 pm

    Wow, really great pics!

    My favorites are the woman with the pigeons, the sunset pic and the cat at gha mosque.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 8, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    I am also a fan of your daughter. What is already high. All pictures are worth recommending to me like the most August evening cruise and blue inside the mosque.

  • DebiOctober 8, 2011 - 6:16 pm

    Wonderful photos! I’m in Oman and made a trip to Istanbul last year. I too was enchanted by the sights, sounds and people of Istanbul…and it is the land where my father was born, so it was a very special trip!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 8, 2011 - 10:17 pm

    They are all gorgeous, but I have to say the poet and his kitten is so cute. Rapidly followed by your little princess and the police! Thanks for the lovely pictures.ReplyCancel

  • COctober 9, 2011 - 2:47 am

    Awwww your daughter is so so so adorable mashallah! I love the poet with the cat, very very beautiful pictures!ReplyCancel

  • KalyanOctober 9, 2011 - 10:41 am

    Simply beautifully captured shots…lovely!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 9, 2011 - 10:05 am

    Beautiful photos mashallah! That’s true there are less people visiting Aya Sofia than for example Blue Mosque, but it didn’t come to my mind that it could be for religious intolerance. Muslims still consider Aya Sofia as a mosque. More people visit other mosques where it’s possible to pray and without 10 euros entrance fee. Istanbul is such a beautiful city, hoping to visit there again soon inshallah!

    Suomisisko TurkistaReplyCancel

  • SuviOctober 9, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    Niin kauniita kuvia jälleen :) Kaikki ovat mieleisiä, mutta jostain syystä silmiäni miellyttää ehkä eniten kuva “yhdestä Istanbulin monista moskeijoista” :)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 9, 2011 - 10:27 pm

    Amazing photgraphy~brings back memeories
    I noticed the same thing in Istanbul in the aya sofya.there was no muslim tourist what so ever.I thought its because they think its haram the images are exposed inside and like the above commenter says they still think its mosque with those pictures of jesus=haram.I guess that could also be defined as intolerance though.
    girl from greeceReplyCancel

  • Miss HijabiOctober 10, 2011 - 8:20 am

    Love the poet and the kitten. Too beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 10, 2011 - 10:31 am

    C-thanks!It looks like the poet and the kitten is getting the most votes :)
    Suomisisko- Salaam and thank you for your comment! I think the other comment had a good point too about Aya Sofia, the images that are now on display there (Jesus,MAry etc)might deter some muslims from going there. But I still dont understand why there was literally only one or two muslims out of maybe a thousand visitors, but in Blue mosque and other mosques around Istanbul there was so many non muslims!whatever the reason I think its sad because Aya Sofia was to me the single most impressive sight in Istanbul.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 10, 2011 - 10:35 am

    Kalyan-thank you and welcome to my blog!

    Suvi-kiitos!Ei hajuakaan mika sen moskeijan nimi on, niita oli satoja saman nakoisia!

    girl from greece-thanks for your insight I agree that might be one reason muslims are not visiting Aya Sofia perhpas they see it as haram who knows?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 10, 2011 - 10:41 am

    Vajiha-aww thank you so much for the award I’m flattered!!

    Miss Hijabi-looks like the man writing poetry with the kitten on his lap appealed to most women :)ReplyCancel

  • VajihaOctober 10, 2011 - 7:56 am
  • ArwaOctober 11, 2011 - 1:36 am

    I stumbled upon your blog while reading about expat experiences working in the Middle East, It has been an enjoyable read.

    Your pictures are lovely however some of your comments are uneducated.

    RE the note under the Aya Sofia picture.

    Your comment about religious intolerance among Muslims is a gross generalisation. You cannot infer a misguided observation on an entire religious following based on one sight-seeing experience.

    Kind Regards.ReplyCancel

  • anumorchyOctober 11, 2011 - 5:01 pm

    All of them are so lovely! Impossible to choose one. I miss Turkey.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 11, 2011 - 10:29 pm

    Arwa-thanks for your comment an welcome to my blog.
    What do you mean my comments are uneducated? I think that’s a bit rude to say someones opinions are uneducated. Makes you sound pretty stuck up or arrogant. I hope I’m wrong and perhaps you just expressed yourself poorly.

    It would be interesting to know what you think keeps all the Muslim tourists away from Aya Sofia?

    My comment does not mean I think all muslims are religiously intolerant people. That’s just the way you have perceived it.


  • LaylahOctober 11, 2011 - 10:34 pm

    moi Anu kiitos visiitista :)Thanks for your comment!ReplyCancel

  • ArwaOctober 13, 2011 - 12:28 am

    Laylah, Im sorry to have offended you, it was in no way my intention.

    Often I assume that other people are as keen for healthy debate as I am but alas that is not always the case. I do concede that my response may have been rather unforgiving but as a Muslim it is pertinent to me to contest unfavourable perceptions of Muslims regardless of whose ego may be injured in the process.

    I understand that you live in KSA so I am sure you are well-accustomed to the Muslim’s pride and protectiveness of their religious beliefs and their efforts to overturn the negative conceptions of Islam which have become so prevalent nowadays.

    Rather than intolerance I would surmise that the lack of Muslims at Aya Sofia can likely be attributed to the grater cultural significance and fame of the Blue Mosque in comparison. There is no merit to alleging that Aya Sofia was discounted by Muslim tourists due to its Christian symbolism since after all it has been return to its original glory as a Mosque.

    I have enjoyed reading your blog immensely and will continue to do so. Best Wishes :)ReplyCancel

  • DonPepe1972October 13, 2011 - 11:51 am

    You have a lot of beautiful photos from Istanbul and I noticed those photos has a lot of cats in them. Obviously you’re a cat lover like me. They are CUTE!!! :-)ReplyCancel

  • MaaMaaOctober 23, 2011 - 8:31 am

    Fantastic, absolutely fabulous photos of Istanbul!! We visited Istanbul couple of years ago and fell in love with ieverything it has to offer…defo needs a revisit!

    Vastavierailulla blogissasi, siis :)
    Upeita kuvia, sen huomaa heti ensi silmäyksellä!
    Selailen lisää postauksiasi samantien! Hauska tutustua!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 23, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    Arwa-thanks for your reply.

    I found the way you expressed yourself at first a bit harsh.
    I understand your need to defend Islam, I am a muslim too. But sometimes we don’t need to defend other Muslims if they are doing things that give Islam a bad name, right?

    I’m still in the impression that Muslims chose Blue Mosque over Aya Sofia at least partially for religious reasons. I asked a few people that went there and they witnessed the same odd phenomenon.
    Funny how they are both mosques but only at the Blue mosque non-muslims were made to cover, men and women alike. It’s as if Aya Sofia was still predominantly an ancient church and thus it was not needed for them to cover their bodies.

    The most conservative Saudis do think its haram to have those images of Jesus in a mosque.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 23, 2011 - 11:15 pm

    Don Pepe- oh yes I love cats!I have LOTS of pics of the Istanbul kitties :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 23, 2011 - 11:16 pm

    MaaMaa-thanks so much for visiting and your kind words!! I hope to see you here again :)ReplyCancel

  • SiivetönOctober 24, 2011 - 10:08 pm

    Jäin sanattomaksi…Olet kuvannut Istanbulia upealla tavalla!! :))) En osaa valita parasta kuvaa, sillä kaikki olivat todella kauniita :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 25, 2011 - 9:40 pm

    Voi kiitos!!!ihan punastun moisista kehuista!ReplyCancel

  • diana | nessreenOctober 27, 2011 - 11:56 am

    I LOVE this photo set. <3ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousApril 12, 2012 - 2:27 pm

    hey lovely lady. today i jst saw ur blog by chnce and after ı read it ı felt more am sinking ınto ıt :)) frst of all ı must say thanks to u for sharıng all these:) well am a turkısh gırl who goıng to move to rıyadh ın next ı was anxıous about how to adjust the lıfe there. am muslım ok but the lıfe am vıng ın TURKEY and ın KSA ll be so dıffrnt ı know. but after readıng ur blog ı m feelıng more comfortble now .by the way my husband s a pakıstanı .he s workıng ın a company ın rıyadh so ı ve to adjust wth the new lıfe over there.. ı ll go on followıng ur blog.and am hopıng to meet u ın real to 1 day:) best of luck ın ur lıfe. GREETINGS from TURKEYReplyCancel

  • sohailJune 6, 2012 - 9:27 am

    I like the poet’s pic with the kitten in his lap. the kitten is looking so cute as she will not go to disturb his master.ReplyCancel

  • Beyond Footty FoottyJanuary 25, 2014 - 7:00 pm

    Every kind information about Istanbul pls visit ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Al-ShamekhMay 30, 2014 - 1:22 pm

    I really enjoyed the great photos. I’m going to Istanbul in a couple months but worried about taking my 14 month old, how was using a stroller there? Was it difficult? ReplyCancel

  • Dennis McAuliffeMay 30, 2014 - 3:02 pm

    Loved the photos, I lived in Ankara for 5 years and loved going to Istanbul always a treat.ReplyCancel

  • Top 10 Travel Destinations From Saudi » Blue AbayaAugust 18, 2014 - 7:58 pm

    […] is an amazing destination and super easy to get to from Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya post on Istanbul to understand why you shouldn’t miss […]ReplyCancel

  • DiyanaJanuary 11, 2016 - 10:49 pm

    Hi, I’m planning to visit Istanbul for a week and I’m so glad to come across this post with it’s beautiful pictures. Thanks for the sneak peek. I loved the picture with the flowers and I’m quite disappointed that I won’t be able to see them, since I doubt they’ll have much in January.

    Your comment about Aya Sofia caught my attention, but I thought Aya Sofia is “retired” as a mosque to use for prayers and is more of a museum. Maybe that’s why there’s a disproportionate amount of Muslims between it and the Blue Mosque. A lot of Muslims most likely went there first because they needed to pray and also the number of people included a lot of the locals. At least, that was the case when I managed to stop by Istanbul for a short layover 2 years ago. I only had enough time for a drive around tour and a prayer stop, which was at the Blue Mosque.ReplyCancel

    • Arabian LauraJanuary 12, 2016 - 2:17 pm

      Thank you for the comment Diyana! Glad this old post was still useful for someone today :) Have fun in Istanbul!ReplyCancel

Ice-skating in the desert? Well yes, in a shopping mall that is. Actually there are quite a few places in Riyadh and around the country where they have small ice-skating rinks inside the children’s entertainment areas.
The problem is (if you’re a Finnish woman craving to do some figure-skating moves) they don’t allow women to skate. UPDATE 2017: Royal mall ice skating rink allows women and the Snow City in Othaim Mall allows women in.
We Finns have always been an Ice-loving nation. Be it figure skating, curling or ice-hockey, we have mastered it. This year Finland won the Ice hockey WORLD Championships. We beat countries like RUSSIA, U.S.A and CANADA. And we are only 5 million people. But the sweetest victory was winning against SWEDEN in the final. I just HAD to say that. Oh and did I mention it was 6-1.
One of my Finnish friends here has the same “calling” to find a place to go ice-skating. She managed to find a rink where they allowed her to skate in an abaya but that was in the more relaxed Jeddah. That’s one more reason I will add to my long “why we should move to Jeddah”-list.
So you can imagine the EXCITEMENT when I randomly found this NHL-sized (well almost) ice-skating rink in Riyadh and best yet it allows women:

No need for abayas!

Wait how can this be even possible? Wouldn’t the infamous religious police have a say to uncovered women twirling around making obviously flirty movements?
Well the answer is of course, the rink can be closed off from view. That means you have to rent the whole place out for yourself, if you happen to be a woman that is.

So for any crazies out there who would share the passion of ice-skating in the desert, this place is in the upper floor of the ChinaMart next to the Carrefour. It costs 700 SAR per hour to rent including the skate rental. I think I will be there soon practicing my “Camel Spins” and “Mohawk Turns”.


P.S: Royal Mall has an ice skating rink and they allow women as well.


If you hear of other rinks that allow women to skate please let us know!


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  • NoorOctober 4, 2011 - 1:48 am

    Ahh I love ice-skating in Dubai they have nice ones mixed as well.ReplyCancel

  • Sadiya MerchantOctober 4, 2011 - 6:02 am

    d only ice skating ive ever done is in my imagination n don wanna brag bt i think im pretty awesome :D
    700 an hr sounds pretty steep, bt hey its gonna feel euphoric fr sure- so hav fun :)ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm Omar...October 4, 2011 - 2:41 pm

    There is also one inside Royal Mall on King Fahd Road that is women only.ReplyCancel

  • ♥●• İzdiher •●♥October 4, 2011 - 11:51 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • ♥●• İzdiher •●♥October 4, 2011 - 12:00 pm

    Hey,this is a fun thing to do.ReplyCancel

  • Cinnamon SnowOctober 4, 2011 - 3:05 pm

    Hey, flying yourself to Sharjah might be cheaper :D They have 2 or 3 place and then there is Dubai a short trip away :DReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 4, 2011 - 10:17 pm

    Thanks Tara!!!Will check that out too.
    Cinnamon Snow-I’m soon going to Dubai so I can get my skates on there as well but yes you’re right it might just be cheaper!ReplyCancel

  • DentographerOctober 4, 2011 - 11:34 pm

    ive always longed to learn inline skating.

    i grew up and i managed to learn it,never master it…i remember looking for videos to learn how to skate backwards and all the aggressive inline moves…still didnt learn them till now.

    sadly,being born in saudi arabia dictate many many things from you,inline skating is one of them,you can only imagine how the already crazy drivers in saudi go crazy and intentionaly swivel the car to your direction just to “scare” you while you skate.

    i still miss it…i remember back in 2002 i was in cairo and i went for a long ride on my skates..somthing like 12 kilos,even though cairo traffic is alot more was 2 am in the morning and people always drove away and cheered thinking i am a westerner and fooling with me will get them arrested.

    i tried ice skating also in cairo,was so much fun,i thought maybe if i master ice skating ill master inline..but no time,and no money,i was still a student.

    i still have my brand new k2 nemsis aggressive skates my fiancé,now my wife got me back in 2002….and my only practice is staring at it everytime i go to the storage unit.

    p.s. are you really that good? wow!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 6, 2011 - 12:26 am

    Dentographer-No im not great at all I was just joking :)
    You could try restart your skating hobby at DQ!ReplyCancel

  • lldi VancsuraOctober 7, 2011 - 6:19 am

    Wooow that’s nice, But could be expensive to rent the whole place! uhhhhh! Somewhere they give you somewhere they take it. But you have chance (and have to have purse)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 7, 2011 - 10:59 pm

    Hi Ildi always nice to hear from you!
    Yes its expensive and would need a generous purse (or husband) LOLReplyCancel

  • wyolincolnNovember 2, 2011 - 3:37 pm

    My wife and I will soon be moving to Jeddah from Minnesota (the self proclaimed home of hockey in the US). Anyway, my wife and I are both goalies, we want to continue playing and I am trying to find out what the options are in Jeddah… Any resources you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Congrats on finding a place to skate!!!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 30, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    There is an ice-rink for the ladies in Riyadh. It’s in Royal Mall (a small and quite mall on King Fahd Rd, I believe?). They have two ice rinks; one for men and children and the other is just for ladies. I love going there with my daughter (I stumbled across it by pure accident…). It’s like 20 SAR per hour (but you can get a good deal if you buy credit in advance). Operating hours are from 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM (I think), and you can use their skates for free. It’s best to go during week days as it gets pretty full on weekends.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahDecember 4, 2011 - 12:11 am

    Thank you for this awesome information :))Cant wait to check it out!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 9, 2012 - 9:59 am

    I'm going to try and go tonight inshAllah. When I just moved to Saudi this Summer, I was wounded to hear there were no cinemas, and other similar amenities that are actually made enjoyable for women in Riyadh. So when my friends informed me of the skating rink, I was over the moon! CAN'T WAIT FOR THE WOBBLING, GLIDING, AND FALLING!ReplyCancel

  • george khouryApril 2, 2013 - 3:12 pm

    Hello everyone,
    My name is George, I recently came to Riyadh from Lebanon. I’m an ice skating fan and i do practice some jumps and spins on ice. I’m very happy about your conversation about ice skating in Riyadh because i share you same ideas and concern. I also would like to introduce to you another kind of skating very close to ice skating and which can be practiced when it’s difficult having access to ice rinks. It’s called inline figure skating and you can visit this page on facebook to have an idea about it: or (inline artistic and figure skating).
    This sport can be practiced in small halls or basketball courts, tennis, in your compound, in front of your house, etc and preferably indoor. If you’re interested just send me your feedback on the page.
    I hope this will be interesting to you and hope you like it,
    Best regards from Riyadh,
    George :)ReplyCancel

  • Summer Is Here, What To Do? | Blue AbayaMay 23, 2014 - 10:03 pm

    […] Cool off Ice Skating Ice skating rinks I’m aware of: Royal Mall (also for females), Othaim Mall exit 15, Hayat Mall, ChinaMart Mall upstairs (can be reserved for private functions as well) read more here: Ice skating in the desert […]ReplyCancel

    • AmyJanuary 3, 2016 - 9:01 am

      Wondering if you have any contact information for renting the ice rink? We would like to try to rent ice weekly for children’s lessons. Any help is greatly appreciated!ReplyCancel

  • Riyadh To Do Guide » Blue AbayaNovember 25, 2017 - 10:19 pm

    […] Granada, Riyadh gallery, Panorama) have huge entertainment areas for children. Some even have ice skating rinks (Royal mall, Panorama, Hayat mall Othaim mall) and roller […]ReplyCancel

  • Deborah SchwebiusJune 1, 2019 - 2:29 pm

    Wondering if any lady’s groups have thought about renting the rink for an hour and splitting the costs… desperately wanting to skate… got back into it while living in Abu Dhabi… was going every other day (bought a membership)… so miss itReplyCancel

    • Justine CrayeSeptember 9, 2019 - 12:42 pm

      Hi Deborah

      I have been trying to organise something like this, but I can’t find a rink. I think the one mentioned in the article is closed permanently. If you find a rink that can be rented out, let us know!ReplyCancel

  • David LeslieOctober 9, 2020 - 10:07 am

    Hi Laura, great blog and as a Canadian I enjoyed the bit about ice skating and hockey. I have played with many talented Fins over the years. I am moving to Riyadh and wanted to check whether you are aware of any ice hockey being played in the city. I have been playing in Dubai and hoping to continue the sport in Riyadh. Grateful for any advice / contacts on this.ReplyCancel

King Abdullah has announced in his speech something monumental in regards to women’s rights in the Kingdom.  This is a historical moment for Saudi women and Saudi Arabia as a country. King Abdullah has announced that women will be allowed to vote and participate as members in the appointed Shoura council.

I was so happy that upon hearing this I just wanted to go give King Abdullah a big bear hug!

Ok maybe that wouldn’t be the greatest idea.. But you get the idea of how excited I am. This is big news. Saudi women are soon going to participate in decision making in Saudi Arabia. This also gives hope for the future for more decrees like this from the King. (ahem women driving..) Not only the Saudi women but the whole country will benefit from this change.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

In my opinion, the King is doing a great job considering the circumstances he has to work under. Just thinking about all the current issues and problems in Saudi Arabia that would need change/improvement gives me a headache! So taking into account where he had to start off with (post 9/11 Saudi Arabia and appalling state of women’s rights just as example) when he began his rule, coming to this point really does become monumental and turning the tide for Saudi women’s rights.

It must not be easy having to deal with strong opposition to decisions (like the one permitting women to Shoura), coming from the religious conservative leaders, and on the other hand the more liberal part of society which strongly opposes some other decisions.

King Abdullah has to deal with the heavy pressure from the religious clerics to stick with their own religious views and interpretations but also the opposing public opinions, he has to listen to his many brothers in high governmental positions, manage other family members pushing their opinions and demands on him..then there’s the king’s advisors and some relatives with their own agendas, people doing a lot of things behind his back.. and of course most importantly he has to deal with his conscious, to be the just ruler that is ultimately responsible only to Allah.

It looks like most of the time his ultimate choice has been listening to his heart, and that’s undoubtedly what makes him so loved by the Saudi people, who call him the ‘King of Hearts’.

The King, estimated to be around 90 years old, said in his speech:
Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shariah, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulema and others to involve women in the Shoura Council as members, starting from the next term”

I think this is great news and indicates that the country is ready to move forward to this century. Some others have been more skeptical. People are saying this is not really going to mean anything concrete will happen for improvement of women’s rights.

Critics are saying women are not actually going to have any power in the Shoura, but will only be like puppets and all this was done solely for statistics and looks. The Shoura council and municipal election themselves are said to have little or no actual influence on how the country is ruled.

Western media has perhaps deliberately left unsaid that before 2005 Saudis, regardless of gender were in fact not allowed to vote at all. Or in other words, there was nothing to vote for. When they held the municipal elections for the first time it was most likely due to the resource problems (gender segregation) that women weren’t included. For the next round in 2015 women will be able to vote as well as run as candidates. That will be very interesting to see.

The King also said in his speech:
“Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice”

King Abdullah then gave examples from the times of Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. During the era of the Prophet some women acted as lawyers and people would go to them with complex legal issues, there were female scholars and in general women participated in the society as equals.

What do you think readers? Are the Kings rulings just a way of getting the focus OFF women driving or a prerequisite TO women driving?

As the eternal optimist, I say it’s the latter.


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  • ASaudi'sGirl?September 26, 2011 - 4:16 pm

    I am wondering if women will need permission to get out of the house and vote? I think driving will give women more freedom then voting. It hits closer to home if a woman can drive then if she can vote. But I am an optimist and I believe this is a good step in the right direction.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 26, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Its just a bunch of bogus to con stupid Saudi women to think they are been given some rights when in real life they just get a tap on the shoulder.
    If something REAL would happen it would be lifting the ban on driving. That would be a new era.This is just a new SHOW.
    Sorry to be so blunt but nothing ever happens in this country.
    Its all just a masquerade and everybody plays along with their brainwashed minds.
    So my answer to your question is very clear, I think.

  • NikkiSeptember 26, 2011 - 3:32 pm

    I think the right to vote and run is a bigger deal than the right to drive. I mean, driving is a privilege they should have, yes, but in terms of ‘really’ changing the system, voting and running have the greatest potential for impact. (this was in response to Faisal).ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 26, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    It’s only a show for western media. Shora members get salaries only to sit down and smile to media photographer.ReplyCancel

  • AlejandraSeptember 26, 2011 - 6:17 pm

    I think it’s symbolic, and they might use it to defend either women’s right to drive (by using the elections as proof of public approval) or maintain the ban (by using the elections as proof of public disapproval). Either way, realistically due to the low impact of voting regardless of gender, the power of allowing women the right to drive is significantly more powerful and will have a greater impact on society than the right to vote. but this is only my humble opinion and I only study KSA, I’ve never actually been there lol.ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 26, 2011 - 11:54 pm

    Well Faisal I’m sorry but I completely disagree. It’s a really good think that the King is starting this. It’s a small step but it is amazing. You can’t turn the country 360 degrees over night. With drivers like Saudi men and being the only country in the gulf where women aren’t allowed to drive I’m sure it’ll be so difficult to adjust if that suddenly changed but when it happens gradually and starts with things like elections and voting its a good thing.

    Thank you Laura for this amazing post. I was actually so excited when I heard the kings speech on the news! Haven’t seen you around in a while. You’ve been missed xxReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 27, 2011 - 11:21 am

    Nicky and Chicky you are probably very young naive and idealistic.
    But I am realistic, simply.Voting in municipal elections is a joke. it means NOTHING either to man or the woman voting. Ultimately it is the royal family that hold the power and they will not give women in saudi REAL power, ever.

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 27, 2011 - 11:09 pm

    First of all it’s chick not chicky second of all what do you mean by real power? You expect women to rule in Saudi? Where are you from anyway? You know things in the Gulf are different than in other Muslim countries we have our own traditions and culture on top of religion which makes it even more difficult. Men are women aren’t equal. God created us different. Don’t get brainwashed by the west.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 29, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    Olen lukenut blogiasi jo pitkään ja se on mielestäni hyvin mielenkiintoinen. Suomalaisesta näkökulmasta äänioikeus on tietenkin valtava asia. En varmasti voi mitenkään täysin ymmärtää uskonnottomana länsimaalaisena elämää, jota Saudi-Arabiassa eletään, vaikka olenkin tutustunut kaikenlaisiin kulttuureihin eri puolilla maailmaa. Tämän postauksen kommenteista jäin miettimään kommenttia, jossa ilmeisen nuori nainen kirjoittaa, etteivät naiset ja miehet ole tasa-arvoisia, koska jumala on luonut heidät erilaisiksi. Pystyisitkö jotenkin selittämään tuota ajatustapaa? Kirjoitin nyt suomeksi, mutta voin toki jatkossa kommentoida englanniksi, jos se on mielestäsi parempi tapa.


  • SandySeptember 29, 2011 - 6:28 pm

    I agree with Faisal. And the fact is we were immediately shown just how much women here still ARE marginalized when immediately women were being given trial dates for driving and even worse one was sentanced to lashes – though she’d all ready been given her puishment and it had been fulfilled (a fine). True the King has granted a pardon- for this specific woman but we are still under the fear of what they will do to us for driving. The King hasn’t changed that system. And women being able to vote and run won’t be able to change it even if elected. Because no real power comes with the position.

    I do think it’s good what happened- simply because it prepares people for a future more participatory society where women are participants as well. But still a climate of fear and intimidation is being maintained over women without the change they need in their daily rights and needs.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousMay 17, 2012 - 12:10 am

    I am not from Saudi, I live in Colombia a country of Latin America, but I have always feel a lot of interest for arab culture and islam, and I have always been very curious about Saudi Arabia, probably because it is soo different in so many ways from my culture and the way I was raised and educated. Unlike many people that only criticize it and judge it, I actually like it a lot and even thoughReplyCancel

  • Saudis Love their King Abdullah » Blue AbayaJanuary 26, 2015 - 4:16 pm

    […] 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. […]ReplyCancel

This humorous cultural guide to Saudi coffee (gahwa) drinking ceremony is directed at the traditional Finnish man, but could be useful for any western men when navigating though the Arab coffee drinking culture.

For Saudis visiting Finland for the first time it’s recommend to read the Saudi Dude’s Guide to Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony. These two nationalities are highlighted in the guides because the author of this blog is a Finnish woman married to a Saudi man.


Gahwa Drinking Guide For Finnish Men

So you are Finnish dude and have arrived in Saudi-Arabia. Like the typical Finnish dude, you are not very familiar with the Arab culture. You think Saudis are hairy men wearing big skirts that live in the desert in tents eating camels and fighting other Arabs. Your perception of Saudi Arabia is that it’s full of sand and rocks. For this problem, I recommend you go here: Images of Saudi
Luckily you find yourself invited to a Saudi house for some Arabic coffee to change your perceptions to more realistic ones.
What to expect?
What should you do, and most importantly, NOT do?
The Saudis, like the Finns have specific rules to their coffee drinking ceremonies. This guide will help you not only to enjoy the evening, but to avoid getting deported.
When you arrive at the house you will be greeted by the Saudi man. He will start kissing and hugging you. Note that this is completely normal. He is not trying to make a move. Try your best not to stand there like frozen popsicle. It is polite to say something also, try Marhaba.
Note that the Saudi man will likely ask you how you are and then ask the same about your family members one by one. You might feel this is obtrusive but do not worry, he’s not trying to find out your family secrets, just being polite. You can reveal how your relatives are doing however if one of your uncles is in rehab or jail it’s best not to mention that. The point is to pretend everyone is fine and keep it short. Saudis won’t like to listen to the story about your grandmothers medical report starting from year 1902.
At this point you might start to wonder where the women are. They are in the other side of the house. If you see something that looks like this:

That is a woman, not a ninja. Do not make any attempts to kiss her. If you happen to see her you are supposed to look away and not say a word, that is seen as being polite. Don’t worry if you accidentally mumble something. The black figure will not attack you.

You will be escorted into a room with no couches or tables. Mattresses, carpets and pillows will be spread out on the floor. Don’t panic. This is not their bedroom. It’s their living room called a Majilis.

Remove your shoes and sit on the floor with your legs crossed. You can keep your white tennis socks on. Don’t attempt to lie down or spread your legs.

Next the Saudi coffee drinking will begin. You will hear them say “kawa” or “gahwa”. This doesn’t have anything to do with the “kava-ceremonies” you saw in Fiji.
The coffee pot and cups will be brought into the room. They will likely look something like this:

Don’t get your hopes up. Those are NOT shot glasses. The tiny coffee cups are called “finja” and the coffee pot is called a “dallah“.

Next the youngest of the Saudi’s sons will pour the coffee. He will hold the coffee pot in his left hand while pouring the coffee from a high distance to the small cup like you saw many times in the night club. Please do not cheer him on though. The coffee cup will not be filled to the top but always 1/3 full. The Saudis are not being cheap, they just like to keep filling your cup to show hospitality.

Don’t worry if the color of the coffee is very yellow. The hosts are not serving you camel pee. The color of the Arabic coffee beans is golden and they might have added some saffron to it. Accept the coffee cup with your right hand. Don’t blow on the coffee like you are used to, it is seen as bad manners.

Don’t ask for sugar, cream or milk with a cinnamon roll. There are none. The coffee is drunken straight. That does not mean you should throw the coffee in your mouth with one big gulp and burp afterwards. You should sip on it slowly holding the cup in your right hand with two fingers. It will taste delicious with aromas of cardamon.

Next you will be offered something that looks like these:

No need to get concerned, they are not dried cockroaches. They are in fact dates that taste very good despite the suspicious appearance. Be polite and taste at least one with your right hand. Note that there will be a seed inside. Do not spit in on the floor but discretely place it in a napkin handed to you.
Be warned that you might be served something that resembles rotten grapes but they are actually half ripe dates and you should eat both sides.
You will be served more and more coffee by the son who circulates the room with the coffee pot. Be polite and have at least three rounds. If your hands are starting to get shaky and you feel sudden light-headedness your coffee has not been spiked by your hosts. You most likely had enough of the strong coffee.
To stop the son from pouring more coffee into your cup, place your left hand on top of the cup or shake it. The cup that is.
Saudis love small talk, which for Finnish men can be a very difficult language to speak. Some suggested topics: sports, weather, and they will surely ask you what you think of their country. Topics to avoid: Politics, religion, asking about the women of the family.
Remember to profusely thank your Saudi hosts. They will be genuinely glad to have had you as their guest.  Congratulations you have survived the Saudi gahwa ceremony!
What if you’re Saudi dude visiting Finland for the first time? If you thought the Saudis have weird coffee drinking habits, then you aint’ seen nothing yet! proceed to the Saudi Dudes Survival Guide to Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony. 
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  • NoorSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:03 pm

    OMG this is hilarious and should be titled any western man bc I could see American men thinking the same hahaha.ReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:09 pm

    Amusing insight into yet another fascinating cultural custom! I’ve got the exact same salt&pepper shakers, except my white one doesn’t have an eqal on top :DReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:22 pm

    Oh, and what if I was a Finnish chick? :D Would it look the same, just with the sexes reversed?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 19, 2011 - 12:26 am

    thank you this post it made me laugh so hard as I was imagining the man in all the situations,how clueless he was and always thinking of alcohol like Finnish men usually do, but I agree the title could as well be american dudes guide!ReplyCancel

  • DentographerSeptember 19, 2011 - 3:50 am

    Layla your blog is amongest the most amusing in my feed :D
    this is trully entertaining to read,keep it up!ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 19, 2011 - 10:38 pm

    Lol hmmm im not sure how to react to thisReplyCancel

  • QusaySeptember 20, 2011 - 6:26 am

    I like what u did with the salt and pepper shakers :) great thinking LOLReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 20, 2011 - 7:50 am

    I love those salt&pepper shakers, they have endless potential ;)
    Thanks everyone for the feedback!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 22, 2011 - 11:54 pm

    ROLF, what a great guide laylah. I’m sure the Saudi host will be so happy if you praise his coffee.


  • LaylahSeptember 26, 2011 - 1:10 pm

    Hi Bandar and welcome to my blog!
    Hopefully the Finnish dude would understand to say how good the coffee is and not just sit there with a dumb look on his face ;)ReplyCancel

  • Umm MansourDecember 10, 2011 - 8:14 am

    i just found your blog and enjoyed reading some of your entries…but this one really made me laugh.:) keep on blogging sister! Jazakallu khair.ReplyCancel

  • FarooqFebruary 9, 2012 - 8:06 am

    I really do think that you should try writing humor professionally. That was hilarious and very well written.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 22, 2012 - 7:06 am

    Articulate, informative and offcourse highly amusing, thank you very much for this I needed the laugh. I must agree with “Farooq”, you must write humor professionally, you are quite good at it.


  • AnonymousFebruary 22, 2012 - 7:07 am

    Articulate, informative and offcourse highly amusing, thank you very much for this I needed the laugh. I must agree with “Farooq”, you must write humor professionally, you are quite good at it.


  • Proud MuslimahMarch 8, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    So funny. I loved this very much. Now you need to write a Saudi guide to a Finnish coffee experience. I’d like to know what Finnish people do differently :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahMarch 10, 2012 - 10:37 pm

      Proud Muslimah-Great idea! I will do for sure :)ReplyCancel

  • Hey MamaApril 6, 2012 - 4:19 am

    Hi Laylah, I just wanted to let you know that I found your blog randomly (I have a friend living in KSA and was interested in learning more about it since she doesn’t write much – I think she’s afraid to!) Anyway, I think your blog is great. You’ve done an amazing job of “keepin’ in real” while being respectful as well. My best friend is Swedish and I travel there a lot and lately I’ve noticed a very hateful attitude towards “Arabs”, which sounds rude to me, as an American (we say “Middle Eastern” but you know how politically correct we are here ;) I love digging beneath the stereotype and meeting real, ordinary people just living their lives, so thank you! Also, those two ceramic/glass figures you have (the white one and the black one) – do you remember what they are called or where I would find something like that? Best WishesReplyCancel

  • HahnApril 11, 2012 - 12:54 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 20, 2012 - 5:48 pm

    Hilarious!!! loved this post :))ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 2, 2013 - 5:34 am

    “You think Saudis are hairy men wearing big skirts that live in the desert in tents eating camels and fighting other Arabs.”
    I couldn’t stop laughing from the begining to the end. I really like your blog Layla. I just recently discovered it, and now I’m going through all your posts.Keep it up.ReplyCancel

  • Maimuna SyedFebruary 13, 2013 - 10:03 pm

    mähtävä! this was hilarious :DReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 10:57 pm

    Dear Layla,

    Let me assure you that I am now going to read and comment on as many entries in your blog as possible. You are a born writer, chronicler and humorist (this one is truly outrageously humourous!).


  • LaylaJune 17, 2013 - 8:49 am

    Hi drtaher,
    Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • […] What if you’re a Finnish dude and you find yourself invited for coffee in the land of the sand?? Survival Guide here: The Finnish Dude’s Ultimate Guide To Coffee Drinking In Saudi-Arabia […]ReplyCancel

  • Cat MorseDecember 6, 2014 - 5:42 pm

    As an American lover of Finnish culture, everything in this and the “Saudi dude’s guide to coffee in Finland” made me laugh hysterically. Shared with my lovely friends in Rovaniemi! <3ReplyCancel

“My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out.” – King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930

Not exactly the most welcoming words, coming from the founder of a country said to be home to one of the most hospitable people in the world, Saudi Arabia. Perhaps these words of the late King have been taken too literally when it comes to accommodating for international visitors to Saudi-Arabia.

Currently most of the tourism to Saudi-Arabia is religious based or business related. International tourists are kept away from Saudi by imposing numerous restrictions on travelers and offering very limited ways to enter the country.

Saudi-Arabia has great potential for the international tourism market however the industry still remains predominantly under-developed.

Why does Saudi-Arabia need international tourists? There would be many benefits of having more international tourists visiting the Kingdom.


  • Creating new jobs for Saudis all over the country
  • Helping Saudis reconnect with their roots and increase national pride
  • Giving the Kingdom a more open and accommodating image worldwide.
  • Increasing environmental awareness and nature conservation
  • Spreading cultural awareness among Saudis
  • Boosting economy
  • Improving service quality and infrastructure
  • Helping to establish a more efficient public transportation system

Discrimination, Restrictions, Surveillance

So what keeps international tourists from coming to the Kingdom? The biggest obstacle for tourists interested in travelling to the Kingdom is the difficulty to obtain an entry visa.

A Saudi sponsor is required to start the visa application process. Specific criteria applies to who can apply. In other words lots of paperwork, time, hassle and money is required. Visas are mostly issued for business travel, family visits and religious tourism such as Umrah and Hajj visas.

Currently ( in 2010) there are only five companies licensed to sponsor tourism visas. They are issued to certain nationalities only and tourists must arrive in groups of a minimum of four persons. Women must be over 30 or be accompanied by a male relative.

Upon arrival the tourists have to be picked up by the tour company representative and they must make sure all the tourists leave the country too. While in the country the tourists are supposed to stay on guided tours and the tour company is responsible for their supervision. Any “lost” tourists must be reported immediately to police.

The Surprising Sand-pit

Another obstacle the tourism industry faces is Saudi-Arabia’s bleak image of being a mere “sand-pit”. Travelers are simply not aware of the rich cultural heritage the Kingdom could offer. Saudi-Arabia boasts incredibly diverse scenery, colorful culture and pristine nature. There are places of interest that match many international destinations but the ones in Saudi are not ruined by mass tourism. Some sites can still be explored without disturbance from a single other tourist group. See what the Kingdom has to offer tourists on this page: Explore Arabia

Female Tourists

Many women feel intimidated by the rules and restrictions that apply to them in the Kingdom. They might feel they are not welcome and expect the experience of being a woman in Saudi-Arabia will be mostly negative. Female travelers are usually anxious about what to wear and stress about having to keep the abaya on at all times. The western media paints a very negative, one sided image of the treatment of women in the Kingdom which can be off-putting for both the female and male traveler.saudi female tourists soukIn the Future

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, SCTA (founded in 2000) aims to establish a thriving tourism industry within a time frame of 20 years. SCTA states that its mission is to promote the Kingdom as a tourism destination.

The mission according to their website: “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the land of Islam, seeks for variable and distinguished tourism development, with social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits in the framework of its Islamic values and genuine traditional hospitality“.

The Commission has launched many ongoing projects aiming to improve the tourism industry. Time will tell if they reach their goals, but with the majority of the potential foreign travelers warded off by unattractive images, strict regulations and discouraging rules, perhaps the Commission should concentrate on getting the visitor into the country in the first place. At the time of writing  (2010) most of the tourism sites remain accessible to foreigners of the expat community exclusively.

SCTA has began launching some videos promoting tourism in the Kingdom and becoming more active on their social media channels. However the language used is mostly Arabic, which alienates the foreign tourists and at the same time prevents them from knowing what is going on.

Ten amazing places to visit in Saudi ArabiaPotential of Saudi tourism 
Gizan Province in the Southern part of the country, also the port to the Farasan Islands, one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorite diving destinations. A place so beautiful yet untouched by mass tourism is hard to find elsewhere in the world.
The Medinah region is perhaps the most versatile and offers plenty of historical sites including Madain Saleh, The Hijaz railway, Al-Ula. and Al Khuraiba. Khaybar  and ancient tombs and mysterious lines in the desert. The region has absolutely stunning scenery from the Red Sea Coast of Yanbu , to the lava fields and volcano craters.

The late King might be surprised that if given the chance to visit the Kingdom, the foreigner would in fact leave with a smile on his face. The amazing experiences he had and the great hospitality shown to him would spread warm stories of the Saudis and Muslims around the world. His Kingdom and its people would be enriched by the experience and would not only survive, but also thrive.

Why are foreigners not shown the genuine traditional hospitality as mentioned by the Saudi Commission for Tourism, by welcoming them with open arms and doors? The answer might be found in the deeply rooted tribal attitudes of the desert Kingdom.”

Laura Alho is a Saudi travel consultant, travel writer and photographer based in Riyadh. She has a vast experience of travel and tourism around the Kingdom for over a decade.


EDIT: As of March 2010 Saudi-Arabia has discontinued issuing tourist visas until further notice. Expected to open again in 2012.


Saudi suspends tourist visa scheme

“Prince Sultan bin Salman, secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), told the press during the Jeddah Economic Forum that the programme, called “Discover! Saudi Arabia”, had been temporarily put on hold to allow the government to focus on developing the tourism infrastructure in the kingdom and make it more attractive to the locals before considering to welcome foreign visitors.”

UPDATE 2017: Saudi Arabia announces tourist visas will be soon opening again

UPDATE 2019: Sharek site is issuing tourist visas for specific sports events around Saudi Arabia, in a soft opening phase of tourist visas.

Text and Images copyright:Laura Alho

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  • SoileSeptember 6, 2011 - 7:14 am

    Great post again, as usual!ReplyCancel

  • crsSeptember 6, 2011 - 9:50 pm

    Hi! Thanks for this post. As always, I love reading what you write.

    I watched all the videos and they are visually gorgeous! Thanks for posting them! I also noticed that in each of the four, when people were shown, almost all of the images were of men: riding camels or horses, boating, eating communal meals, selling at the market, dancing, drumming, etc. In contrast, there were far fewer of women (a number of young girls, but not women) and mostly, those women were single head-shots, just waving or smiling, not *doing*. There are a couple exceptions (like the henna, although we only see the young girl, not the woman-artist; a quick shot of a few women walking; an older woman kissing a child). Certainly in Saudi Arabia, women can be seen all the time, doing all kinds of things, and are often in community with one another, right? As a Western woman watching these promotional videos, though, if I didn’t know that, I would wonder, “where are all the women?” and I might be concerned about visiting. Anyway, just a thought.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 7, 2011 - 3:53 am

    Great well written article thank you for sharing.

    I have a question. It looks as though single males could not visit on the tourist visa, is this correct? This would cut out a large number of visitors.

    Saudi Arabian society is so closed minded the Kings attitude is the norm even today. foreigners are simply not welcome.

    Look at how they treat the poor foreign workers for example. Like slaves! They dont allow Indians or Pakistanis on tourist visas as if those nationalities are not worthy of being a tourist in KSA.They are only for cheap labor.

    Once the foreigner arrives his passport will be confiscated and he will be treated like a child that needs supervision.


  • ♥ααℓiα♥September 7, 2011 - 9:17 am

    loooool why does a woman have to be over 30 to get a visa??? do they think anyone +31 isn’t an object of affection or just suddenly transform into an old bat??

    great post :-DReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 8, 2011 - 12:31 am

    wow theres a lot i didnt know aboutReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 8, 2011 - 3:18 am

    crs-I made the same observation, women are not as visible in the clips than the men. I doubt if the girls and women pictured are even Saudis, in reality they might be from neighboring countries!
    Appearing on such a public video is a big taboo.
    I can see how the absence of women in such promotional videos can be concerning and it raises suspicions for westerners who don’t have a clue on how the real life in Saudi is.
    Saudi women are very visible in the community, albeit not as much as the men. Nevertheless they do other things than just SHOPPING as the videos display. It’s a shame they spread such a distorted picture of the women here.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 8, 2011 - 3:26 am

    Lina-I don’t think the rules ban single (did you mean unmarried) men from entering the Kingdom but rather it means they should arrive in groups. Even a married man could not travel alone or as a couple, they would have to bring the kids along to be granted entry. No honeymoons to Saudi I guess!

    aalia-LOL I really don’t know about “too old to be attractive enough” factor but I guess any women under 30 is a minor to them. Funny there is no mention of age restrictions to boys.

    CFJ-Im glad I was able to shed some light on Saudi to a Saudi lolReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 11, 2011 - 3:33 pm

    Hi Izdiher! If you mean how that window pops up when you try copy something, you can get it by pasting a html code on your blog. Google “disable right click” and you should find the code with that.ReplyCancel

  • ♥●• Izdiher·•●♥September 11, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    Its loaded with information .

    I want to ask you about copy writing the blog .Like you have and no one steal my stuff.

    Help me

    jazak Allah khair.ReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 12, 2011 - 5:01 pm

    Lovely videos, they really do want to make me visit Saudi Arabia…except I’d have to convince a male relative to accompany my young self, then somewhere find two other people willing to go, not to mention a Saudi sponsor etc etc. With all this, I think the abaya would be the least of my worries – in fact, it actually seems like the easiest solution when travelling to a country that requires more conservative dress, as instead of buying an entirely new wardrobe for one trip you can just put it over whatever you feel best in :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 13, 2011 - 4:13 am

    Sylvia-thanks for sharing your views!
    It does sound like a mission impossible doesn’t it?
    I hope they relax the rules someday and you and many others are able to visit the Magic Kingdom :)
    And you’re right, the woman could actually travel really light and not have to think about her travel wardrobe too much!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 14, 2011 - 2:48 am

    Why does saudi need to be so open to the world?
    I think more tourism in saudi will not be a positive. Why do more ppl need to go and contaminate my country as they do in all other countries?. As soon as tourism comes in..guess what? brothels will pop up..more places to drink alcohol, loss of identity and culture.
    Look at dubai..that could be saudi in 15 years if they allow so much tourism.
    If foreigners are complaining that the laws are too hard to follow or that single women have it hard..well don’t come, that’s why we make it so hard to get there is less appeal.
    Maybe ure view is different as ure not saudi yet want to live here and want to see more change, but for the ppl living in saudi..we like it the way it is. Look at other countries that have been affected by a large amount of tourism..its not a good outcome. please try to see the entire picture not just from ure own eyes.

  • ♥●• Izdiher·•●♥September 18, 2011 - 10:51 am

    Jazajk Allah khairReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 19, 2011 - 7:37 pm

    Saudi Princess-How does having more tourism equal to brothels popping up?FYI there are brothels in your country already.
    Tourists are not that stupid that they would come to SAUDI ARABIA just to visit a brothel. I mean come on are you for real?

    Speaking of brothels, look what happened to Bahrain because of all the Saudi tourists that go there.

    How will tourists bring more places to drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia, huh?Isnt it against the law after all?Saudis will drink their alcohol hidden in their homes, not publicly. There is probably more alcohol in KSA than you can imagine.

    Dubai allows alcohol thats different.I agree they might have lost part of their cultural identity on the way.
    But opening Saudi to tourists does not mean it automatically becomes another Dubai.

    Have you not visited Oman, for example? Their culture and customs and nature is well preserved despite the large number of tourists entering the country annually. There are many ways to preserve nature.
    Tourists leave Oman with the image of friendly hospitable people and a unique amazing landscape and nature. Why wouldn’t you want that for your country?

    Why do you insist on people seeing Saudis as racist, backward and hostile to outsiders?
    What good does this do, honestly speaking?

    You failed to provide any realistic reasons why tourists should not come into Saudi.

    Luckily, not all Saudis, in fact only a small majority are so closed-minded as you seem to be.ReplyCancel

  • Blog Hate Mail: The Hall Of ShameDecember 3, 2014 - 4:31 pm

    […] The next hate comment I saved was posted as a reply to a comment “Saudi Princess” left on the article “Tourism in Saudi-Arabia Faces Many Obstacles”. The Princess wrote how she thought allowing tourists into Saudi would contaminate her country, how brothels would start popping up and alcohol would be served everywhere(as if the Saudis are not already doing a pretty good job on all of those). Check the full post and comments here: […]ReplyCancel

  • BilalunesMarch 8, 2015 - 9:55 pm

    Layla can you give me your full name?

    I want to use this article as a reference.

    I like it, this a really useful topicReplyCancel

    • LaylaMarch 9, 2015 - 8:41 pm

      Hi Bilal! thank you, I’ve sent you an email!ReplyCancel

Dearest Riyadh,

I hope this letter finds you in good health and inshallah the dust is not covering you too much. How have you been doing otherwise? How is your great grandfather Old Diriyah doing? I have been wanting to visit him for a long time but it has been too hot! I heard he has done some serious gardening in Wadi Hanifa.

Is the traffic still overwhelming you and are the fumes making your lungs hurt? As a nurse I worry for your health! Perhaps you should get some more greenery and parks to ease the pain. I bet your inhabitants would enjoy having serene places like that too.

Certainly they would prefer a park for their picnics instead of the dirty and dark parking lots or construction areas they use now. I honestly never understood why you allow those rich folk to keep perfectly good land as empty wastelands in your best areas. At least demand them to plant some trees in those ugly eyesores! Imagine how beautiful you could become! Like your name implies, “Gardens”.

riyadh industrial city sunset

Speaking of construction, have you ever counted how many cranes you have? You must hold the world record! Or perhaps your Uncle-Dubai wins that title.
Have you ever considered obtaining some of the qualities your Uncle has? Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying you should become just like him. I know he has his faults. But everyone should always try harder and strive to become better cities don’t you think?

Maybe a cinema would be just the thing to would cheer you up?
You could implement it with your own Saudi twist! Have a separate hall for women and men and put guards at the doors. That way you could keep the religious police from ruining it!

That reminds me, do you still have the annoying problem with cockroaches? They seem to get their tentacles into everything don’t they! How will you ever get rid of them? I guess it’s impossible to totally eliminate pests like that. It becomes especially difficult when lots of people are harbouring them and the government is not helping you fight them off. I feel for you.

Do you think the street cats deserve the bad treatment they get from most people here? After all they are God’s creation and we must look after them, not try to kill them! I try to feed them every once in a while I hope you don’t mind.

I wanted to ask you, have you seen any Saudi women driving on your streets? If you do, please be mindful and fix those potholes, make clear road signs and set up street lighting. But the biggest problem of your streets will always be the road hooligans, don’t you think?

Lastly I wanted to thank you for all the amazing experiences you have given me!

Riyadh, you are like a box of dates from Salehia. One never knows what’s inside the somewhat ugly exterior unless they give it a taste first. Many people assume there’s always just a hard seed inside, not even bothering to bite into the date.  Little do they know that it can also be filled with nuts, cookies or even chocolates. It’s just waiting to be found.

dear riyadh it

Hope to hear from you soon!

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  • AngelAugust 23, 2011 - 10:53 am

    masha allah very well written :) and very beautiful LaylahReplyCancel

  • FajinaAugust 23, 2011 - 12:22 pm

    Like you rememberd me in your last post i will say mashaAllah!! A very interessting picture, and even the letter you`ve written is an interessting way to write about a town !!ReplyCancel

  • SoileAugust 23, 2011 - 3:26 pm


    Oon postannut mun ABC’t.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 23, 2011 - 3:33 pm

    Thanks Angel and Fajina!Soile I will check them out now!ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalAugust 23, 2011 - 3:41 pm

    mashAllah the way you rite is really good. Cute letter and I LOVE the picture!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 24, 2011 - 6:19 pm

    Thanks CFJ!!ReplyCancel

  • Ms RosenstareAugust 24, 2011 - 9:07 pm

    Onko sinulla tietoa jos blogi “Sand gets in my eyes” jatkuu jossain muualla?
    Seuraan myös sinun kirjoituksia, mielenkiintoista luettavaa!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 26, 2011 - 11:49 pm

    Moi Rosenstare!Kiitos kommentista! Tietaakseni ei jatku enaa, sen pitaja lopetti vahan sen jalkeen kun blogi blokattiin saudeissa..ReplyCancel

Something I learned the hard way in Saudi-Arabia was the importance of saying mashallah, maashallah, mashallaah, or mash’Allah. When I had just started working as a nurse I was full of excitement and I was very talkative with my patients. I wouldn’t give second thought to complimenting on a Saudi woman’s beauty, admiring her pretty dress or beautiful children. Then one day when I was returning to work and was anticipating on having the same patients assigned to me I was in for a surprise.


The family had thought I had been “too friendly” and had complained to the head nurse about me. They had mentioned how I didn’t say mashallah when I praised their kids, despite them requesting it. They had instructed me in Arabic to “say mashallah” and I hadn’t understood so they had gotten suspicious and requested another nurse. I was devastated, but I took it as a lesson. I was also another push for me to start learning Arabic. The hospital didn’t allow nurses who had been working under one year to take the Arabic lessons, so my only choice at the time was to learn it on my own. I started writing down and learning new words everyday at work. Read here about expats working in Saudi Arabia and learning Arabic.


So what does mash’Allah mean? The literal English translation is “as God has willed it”. It’s used for whenever someone or something is being praised or admired. It’s supposed to be a reminder that all good things come from God and are blessings from Him. Saudis and other Arabs also strongly believe that saying it prevents the “evil eye”. Sometimes Saudis might say mashallah when just looking at something nice.


When lots of children are present and people are talking about them, every other word seems to be mashallah! It can be quite frustrating to always remember to say it, but for Saudis it comes naturally and they expect westerners to know to say it too. The family at the hospital obviously was afraid that I had given them the evil eye. It might sound superstitious to some, but it’s dead serious business here.

So be warned, if you’re coming to Saudi-Arabia and see a cute baby (they are everywhere) don’t forget to say mashallah!

What a cute baby MASHALLAH!

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  • Lady StaplerAugust 16, 2011 - 7:48 pm

    Very informative, now I know.

    Good thing, they only asked that you say Mashallah when praising children, in our country – Philippines, traditional parents with newborns would demand that you wipe a little bit of spit on the soles of their kids to ward of the evil eye, eeew I know, but these traditional folks would not stop till you wipe saliva on their kids for fear of the babies incurring illness from having been in contact with an unfamiliar individual. It totally contradicts hygienic practices and its very hard for me as a nurse to explain the benefits of not succumbing to such rituals when they are adamant about it.

    I guess each culture has similarities when children are talked about.ReplyCancel

  • FajinaAugust 17, 2011 - 7:47 am

    Thank you for remember me, to say mashAllah, i will try to do it more often :) not just only for “rescue someone from the evil eye” just to prais Allah swt more often.

    By the way, is that your little princess? A very beautiful baby, mashAllah ;)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 19, 2011 - 2:30 am

    Lady Stapler-thanks for your comment! It was very interesting to read. I guess the evil eye is not only feared in the arab culture then.

    FAjina-thanks for your comment and yes that is a very cute baby mashallah ;)ReplyCancel

  • CAugust 19, 2011 - 3:28 am

    It’s because of evil eye :)ReplyCancel

  • Denise BomfimAugust 20, 2011 - 8:58 pm

    Salam, Laylah! Mash´Allah! Your blog is beautiful!
    Here in Brazil we also say “Mash´Allah” when we´re near a baby (specially country people say that, it is an old custom)

    Visit my blog, too:

  • LaylahAugust 22, 2011 - 3:13 am

    C-yes that is I think the main reason in Saudi for people saying it..

    Denise-Salaam aleikum and thanks for visiting my blog!I stopped by yours but didn’t understand because of the language barrier :)ReplyCancel

  • nicoleAugust 28, 2011 - 1:17 am

    I am always forgetting to say mashallah and my husband is always reminding me! :-) But last night I was having iftar (or fatoor, as the Saudis say) with a very good friend of mine, a fellow American Muslimah, and her little daughter, Juju, who is 20 months old, was playing near the door, and Juju put on a pair of her mother’s shoes, picked up my cell phone, waved at us, and said in her little baby voice, “Salaam alaikum!” It was the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen and neither I nor her mother had ever heard her say that, and before I could even think about it, the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Ohhhh, MASHALLAH!!” So maybe I will get the hang of it yet. :-)

    Thanks for your post, and I love your blog! :-)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 29, 2011 - 2:38 am

    I notice myself still forgetting to say it all the time..I guess it needs some getting used to before it comes 100% naturally everytime :)
    That sounds like one very sweet girl!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 23, 2011 - 2:24 am

    Lol, i always refuse to say mashalla when someone ask me to say it.. He:SAY MASHALLA.. Me:i won’t he:ana zalaan me:invite me to dinner and i’ll say it. he:Ok just say it. me:mashalla, yalla lets go to eat :)


  • LaylahNovember 28, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    Faisal AlIslam- thank you very much for your comment! It’s based in Islam yes, but what I meant is culture here in Saudi is that even non-muslims are expected to say it all the time :)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 28, 2011 - 3:15 pm

    Asslamo Alikum,
    Saying mashaallah is not culture-based thing. Instead, it is related to islam.
    Allah SWT said (68:51)(And indeed, those who disbelieve would almost make you slip with their eyes when they hear the message, and they say, “Indeed, he is mad).”
    from the tafsir of this ayah, we can prove that the evil eye is real.
    Also, prophet Muhammad PBUH told moslims to say mashaallah when they see something that they like, even of their owns
    Conclusion: Saying Mashaallah is a prophetic teaching. Therefore, every moslim should follow it if they love the prophet PBUH.
    Allah said in the holy quran (59:7) (So accept whatever the Messenger gives you, and refrain from whatever he forbids you. And fear Allah: verily Allah is Most Stern in retribution.
    I hope it helps!

  • AbuYazeedUKDecember 30, 2011 - 3:09 am

    Faisal Al Islam – Good post. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The Evil eye is real”ReplyCancel

  • Cheeky ChicJanuary 28, 2012 - 6:13 am

    I guess this NORM is more related to the religion than a region.In my country they always say Masha Allah when they experience something extra ordinary;some one is talented/looking beautiful/cooked well/is blessed with something.I never knew it was that customary in Saudia.But many things are more intense specially from where they generate.Since Islam took birth from there thus it is more in to their souls..:)
    Very Great writing indeed…

  • AnisahJune 2, 2012 - 7:33 pm

    I never believed in the evil eye. I wouldn’t say that just to appease superstition. But that’s just me.


  • AnonymousFebruary 6, 2013 - 1:06 am

    The term is related to the tern InShallah (God-willing) in Arabic. It is recited by Christians as well when they is “God-willing”. Term has influenced other cultures as well including Spanish speakers who say Ojala=God-Willing or “I Hope so”, Yoruba speakers in Africa, Cuba and Brasil who Oxala. It is also used in Brasilian Portuguese especially.

  • Abdul Razak MansarayMarch 10, 2014 - 6:24 am

    I will make it a practice to say Mashallah ReplyCancel

  • LolaJune 18, 2014 - 9:17 pm

    Mashallah is used in many cultures it means God willing.Now regarding, Portuguese speaking countries they use it a lot as oxalá, the origin of the word is Arabic when Portugal was invaded by Muslims. :)ReplyCancel

  • mytubeMarch 8, 2015 - 5:33 am

    Mashallah. Interesting post :)_ReplyCancel

    • Laura of ArabiaNovember 14, 2015 - 3:12 pm

      Hello mytube.I’m getting tons of spam from the same ip address you’ve used to submit this comment. Any idea what that might be about? I’m going to have to block that IP..ReplyCancel

    • Laura of ArabiaNovember 15, 2015 - 9:45 am

      I keep getting spam from the same ip address as you used for this comment. Any idea what could cause this?ReplyCancel

  • OishiDecember 9, 2017 - 6:53 pm

    It seems to me if you don’t say MashaALLAH, you are giving an evil eye; basically you are an evil. How about them reading Surah falak and naas, feed the baby healthy food and take care of it instead of saying ohhh my baby will be sick because you failed to say MashaALLAH.ReplyCancel

  • Mohd. OmarJune 27, 2019 - 1:36 pm

    Maashahallah. It is really wonderful blog you have created. Actually though I say this greetings with people around there has not been a chance to say to a Saudi citizen. Today a guest has arrived and he has a big business travel trolley he pulled from his car to our office. On entering with Salam I offered his to pick up the bag so it can be reached to first floor meeting room. But the gentleman Saudi said no no though I know you are a strong man. Instantly my words come out Maashahallah. Then it struck me to check have I said the right word to him. Yes the meaning is wonderful then your blog to read it. Maashallah.ReplyCancel

Ramadan is here and Muslims all over the world will be fasting this month. Saudi-Arabia turns into a much more accommodating place for fasting people to live during the holy month. There are many exceptions in everyday life that enable easier days of fasting, especially for Saudis it seems.

Other fasting Muslims on the other hand and the millions of non-Muslims working in Saudi-Arabia might not live this month as smoothly as the Saudis do. Ramadan in Saudi is certainly a very different experience for a Saudi, a Muslim and a non-Muslim.

I wrote some previous posts about Ramadan in the Kingdom here and one on hospitals and Ramadan here.

Less work, more spending
There are millions of non-Muslims living and working in Saudi-Arabia that are greatly affected by the holy month.
Almost all opening hours of business will change, stores will open only from late afternoon up until 2 am. This of course means heavy traffic in the evenings and not much to do during the day for the people who aren’t fasting. Schools start later for Muslims and there are less working hours for Muslim employees. Researches have found that the productivity in Muslim countries decreases almost by 50- 80% during Ramadan but on the other hand markets grow due to increased spending and giving charity.

Who does the work during Ramadan?
At the workplace the non-Muslim employees are discriminated against in many ways. Starting with working hours, non-Muslims work like in any other month while the Muslims work less total days and have shorter hours. This discrimination sometimes brings discord to the workplaces.
Muslims might take more breaks during the day, arrive late or leave early. This is generally not frowned upon as long as they are Saudis. Other nationalities even if fasting, will be expected to abide strictly to the working hours.
In the hospital where I worked only the Saudi employees were allowed to leave the workplace during prayer times. Sometimes an employee might have been absent for an hour during prayer time. Especially the male employees seemed to do this because they would go out to the hospital mosque unlike the female employees who prayed in empty rooms.

The untouchables
All this might add up to the Saudi employee spending almost half less time at the workplace than the other employees during Ramadan.

Or at least that is how it seems to those left behind at the workplace to do the job while the Saudis are gone.

The non-Muslim employees might feel they are forced to do most of the work because the fasting colleagues are resting or absent. The fasting workers are exempt from the physically heaviest chores.
No one dares to complain about a Saudi colleague, they have a sort of untouchable status at the workplace.

Forbidden Eating
Another phenomenon that might make Ramadan a less pleasant experience for those not fasting is the expectation that all non-Muslims must eat and drink in secrecy during the daylight hours. At the hospital for example even keeping water bottles visible was viewed as almost criminal activity. I think it’s strange that kind of culture exists that everyone else must change their normal daily routines so that the fasting Muslims won’t get offended by the sight of food, when all over the rest of the world and other Muslim countries Muslims fast successfully while the world continues at the same pace. There are also many Muslims who are not fasting because they are exempt, the pregnant women, elderly, children, people with illnesses and breastfeeding women.

I have witnessed how this behavior made some people feel humiliated, discriminated against and it doesn’t exactly indicate religious tolerance either. Thankfully I witnessed that many of the fasting Muslims themselves, especially those from Western origins, thought the “rule” of hiding food was unnecessary, even ridiculous and had no effect on their fast or self-discipline anyways.  Many of these Muslims told me it’s another cultural “Saudi rule”, not a religion based one. saudi hospital entrance riyadh

The toughest Ramadan?
What about the housemaids and drivers? Their month must be the toughest of all especially if they happen to be fasting. Sadly the maids are often the ones having to take care and feed the children during the daytime while the fasting mothers are sleeping through the day. In the afternoons the maids are preparing the food for the family and likely guests too. Evenings and nights they cater to and clean up after the iftar parties. Some families even send their maids to their relatives houses for extra work. When do they have the chance to sleep?

The drivers don’t have it mush easier. Their working hours become longer and they might be forced to skip their night sleep because of family members needing rides to shopping malls or friends houses in the middle of the night.
Naturally there are also Saudi families like my husbands that give their maids extra money or gifts and more free-time during this month, but in general there is a lot more work during Ramadan for the housemaids.

In any case Ramadan is an exceptional month and an ordeal for everyone living in the Kingdom. For some, like the overworked maids, it may be like a nightmare while to others an enjoyable nightly party.


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  • Chick Flick JournalAugust 7, 2011 - 6:52 pm

    That’s sad. They do need breaks and they need to eat. It’s not fair for them. I haven’t lived in Saudi for long, I was a child, I don’t really remember how it was and I barely visit now too. I feel sorry for the non muslims thereReplyCancel

  • JenniferAugust 8, 2011 - 4:05 am

    Seems like intolerance is everywhere. I saw a man with the sticker on his car that said “kafir” in English & Arabic, another guy wearing a T shirt w/ the word “kafir on it, walking in a Muslim shopping center :( Worst yet, an old man the first day of Ramadan started shoving food in his mouth looking at me and saying “look I’m eating, I’m going to hell” while I was shopping in Cost…. Ignorance everywhere.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 8, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    Jennifer where did you see these people, I mean in which country? That is very odd! Why would someone want to do that is beyond me. What do they think they are accomplishing? Very ignorant indeed.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 8, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    Chick Flick Journal-did you use to live in Riyadh?
    You’re right its not fair for everyone, they are not treated the same.ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalAugust 9, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    Yeah But only for a few years I was 3 and I left when I was 6ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 11, 2011 - 2:25 pm

    Ok so you wouldn’t remember much :) are your memories mostly positive?ReplyCancel

  • SuviAugust 13, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    Kiitos taas mielenkiintoisesta postauksesta! Vaikka kirjottelit jonkin aikaa sitten suomlaisen ja saudi -aviomiehen eroista huumorilla höystettynä, olisi kiva silti kuulla lisää käytännön tasolla :) Miten suku hyväksyy ulkomaalaiset vaimot yleensä? Naisen asema ja kulttuurit ovat niin erilaisia, olisi kiva kuulla miten yhteinen elämä onnistuu käytännössä :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 13, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    Kiitos Suvi!
    Pitaapa taas kirjoitella lisaa noita kulttuuri ero juttuja kunhan kerkian!
    Se miten perhe suhtautuu ja hyvaksyy riippuu paljolti perheesta ja millaisia kokemuksia heilla on lansimaalaisista naisista ja sitten kuinka konservatiivisia he ovat. Omalla kohdalla on suvun hyvaksymiseen mennyt hieman pitempaan, aluksi olivat kovasti vastaan, mutta kun he huomasivat miten tosissamme me molemmat olimme niin pikkuhiljaa ovat lammenneet :)ReplyCancel

  • Mrs AquariusAugust 15, 2011 - 9:42 am

    This is a great post that highlights some of the issues relating to life in Saudi especially during this blessed month of Ramadan! My husband (Australian) is a muslim and he works with a lot of Saudis and I do get to hear about how the Saudis take looong breaks and even during the other months ALL Saudis cannot be found anywhere in the office after the Asr prayers (approx 3.15pm)! My husband is entitled to shorter work hours, but will still work longer if his job requires him to.
    I always feel so bad for the maids, drivers etc. The lack of effort and work moral amongst a large number of Saudis still annoys me, but on the other hand that is the reason why my husband got his job here!
    I just wish that all expat workers in this country would get to work under safe and fair circumstances with proper pay for what they do.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 15, 2011 - 11:45 pm

    Hi Mrs Aquarius and thanks for your comment!
    It looks like you know exactly what I’m talking about ;)
    Although it might seem most Saudis are a bit on the lazy side, there are many who are very dutiful. My husband does not falls into that category, he always stays in the office for the required hours and sometimes longer if needed :)ReplyCancel

    • Jamshaid NiazNovember 14, 2012 - 1:34 pm

      I hope your husband doesnt have some other interests, warning signs!!ReplyCancel

  • goodbyereality411August 16, 2011 - 8:43 pm

    This was a very informative post.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 19, 2011 - 2:31 am

    hi there goodbyereality and thanks for stopping by!ReplyCancel

  • […] Ramadan is also a busy time for the Saudi religious police, also known as the ‘mutawa’ or Hai’a. The members of the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue will be on the look out for all things haram in the shopping malls, reminding people to go pray and enforcing strict dress code. This year the MOI issued a statement that expats eating or drinking during daylight hours will risk being flogged and or deported from the Kingdom. More about that in this post (written tongue in cheek) Ramadan-The Favorite Month of the Saudi religious Police.Ramadan in Saudi Arabia can be and is a wonderful experience for many. However, the non-Muslims and some expatriates might find this month especially gruesome due to certain rules and regulations. Read here about the two sides of Saudi Ramadan. […]ReplyCancel

  • KhaderMay 31, 2016 - 11:12 am

    Ramadan is a month of blessing, fasting, self control and charity, So keep doing this things, Allah will surely reward you in this world as well as in here after.ReplyCancel

  • […] Some of the things I had been “warned” about did happen, such as the strange hiding of all foods from sight and some colleagues skipping work. (Read more about it in this post The Different Sides to Ramadan in KSA) […]ReplyCancel

  • AllaudinApril 7, 2018 - 10:42 pm

    when is ramadan 2018..?ReplyCancel

  • Akbar ShaMay 6, 2019 - 10:33 am

    Very informative post.ReplyCancel

This post is not to be taken too seriously and YES it contains sweeping generalisations of both cultures. This is a humorous comparison of the typical Saudi man and his Finnish counterpart as husbands..

The Saudi man is very romantic, sweet talk is what he knows.
The Finnish man doesn’t talk or kiss as the saying goes.

When the light bulbs need changing the Saudi man calls the Pakistani electrician to the rescue.
The Finnish man thinks, I might as well change them all to new.Saudi vs Finnish husband

If the wife is in a bad mood the Saudi man sends her to her mother’s house for pampering,
while the Finnish man is stuck with the wife and her constant rambling.

When the Saudi man comes home he expects a hot meal.
The Finnish man only can only dream of such a great deal.

When the wife is not home the Saudi man orders home delivered shwarma because he doesn’t know how to cook.
The Finnish man creates a nice dinner by looking in the cooking book.

If the Saudi´s favorite football team looses he heads for the sheesha place to unwind.
The Finnish man is already in the bar watching ice hockey and getting drunk out of his mind.

If the team wins the Saudi man calls his friends to celebrate.
The Finnish man will stay in the bar until very late.

When the car needs the oils changed the Saudi man sends the driver to get it fixed.
The Finnish man asks his wife to do it and not to forget the beer and chips.

When their child is born the Saudi man goes to the souq to get his wife gold and diamonds.
The Finnish man heads to the bar to get drunk with his friends.

The Saudi husband leaves a trail of thobes and ghutras for the wife to launder,
while his Finnish counterpart wears the same socks for a week then throws them on the floor for the wife to pick up and murmur.

As soon as he comes home the Saudi man sits on the couch to watch football and wants his wife to bring tea,
while the Finnish man sits watching ice hockey and asks for a beer or three.

If the pipes need plumbing the Saudi man calls an Indian plumber to do the job,
while the Finnish man pours some vodka down the drain to flush out the clog.

The Saudi husband shows his love by giving his wife chocolate and a foot massage,
The Finnish husband thinks it´s enough he took out the garbage.

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  • I'm FarsillaJune 30, 2011 - 2:04 am

    hahaah nice 1!!


  • SoileJune 30, 2011 - 8:57 am

    OMG, so funny! Didn’t know you were so good at riming :-)ReplyCancel

  • CJune 30, 2011 - 11:40 am

    Hehehehe love it!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 30, 2011 - 9:44 am

    thats very funny!dont know which husband would be better (or worse) looool

  • AliceJune 30, 2011 - 7:12 pm

    yes, it’s funny :) very nice, thanks for writing itReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 2, 2011 - 8:59 am

    Now how many time did you mention the word “Beer” ??:)ReplyCancel

  • DentographerJuly 2, 2011 - 12:40 pm

    Lovely, missed the contrasting humorous posts of yours, congrats on the baby!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 9, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    thanks guys! I will try to write more of these in the future then :)ReplyCancel

  • EL GORDE Mohamed MouâdAugust 4, 2011 - 10:25 pm

    CLAP CLAP CLAP! Very nice post :DReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 5, 2011 - 8:26 pm

    Hi there Mohamed and thanks for your comment!ReplyCancel

  • fatma87September 13, 2011 - 6:19 am

    hi layla i love your blog so much,, im indonesian whos married and living in riyadh ,, congrats for your sweet little saudi princess :-)ReplyCancel

  • asultan1September 24, 2011 - 11:30 am

    Haha that is quiet humorous.
    Thank you for sharing it ! And thank you for taking the time to take a look at my blog.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 26, 2011 - 1:12 pm

    hi fatma thank you and welcome to my blog!!
    Alia- I love your blog!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 27, 2011 - 7:22 pm

    Thanks Peggy!oh yes the Finnish man will always make up excuses to have a beer :)ReplyCancel

  • PeggyOctober 27, 2011 - 5:30 pm

    Oh the references to beer and vodka are not far off! We make jokes in our family about how much Finns like a drink…or two! This is fun, well done Laylah. :)ReplyCancel

  • rose waterDecember 14, 2011 - 9:51 pm

    LOL I loved this. My Pakistani is (luckily?) more like the Saudi husband. Lol. And my Pakistani husband indeed changes light bulbs around the house :-PReplyCancel

  • LaylahDecember 17, 2011 - 1:13 am

    rose water-thank you!That’s good you don’t have to call another Pakistani man to change the lit bulbs LolReplyCancel

  • Nour AbdulFebruary 14, 2012 - 11:22 am

    Hahaha…This is one entertaining post Laylah.My husband is an Iraqi but i’m not sure what kind of Iraqi traits that he’s carrying.Perhaps I should do one Iraqi husbands vs Malaysian men..LOL.
    By the way, I’m Malaysian married to an Iraqi and lives in Malaysia.ReplyCancel

  • AsmaFebruary 26, 2012 - 6:41 pm

    I love this! It’s really funny! Made me smile :)ReplyCancel

  • lellipusMarch 6, 2012 - 11:13 am

    Todella hauska postaus ja ilahduttava blogi-löytö :)ReplyCancel

  • lellipusMarch 6, 2012 - 11:14 am

    Ihana ja mielenkiintoinen blogi :)ReplyCancel

  • Karen KingMarch 12, 2012 - 11:09 pm

    My Italian man is like your Saudi husband – minus the diamonds and gold. I prefer to buy my own, but that's because I'm an American woman who can and does buy her own stuff. On the other hand, Italians (like the French) invented romance…

    Notice that, as an Armenian-American, I'm not marrying an Armenian man. They never love you as much as they love their moms and thenReplyCancel

  • Nuha نهىOctober 29, 2012 - 11:04 am

    I just got married to a Saudi alhamdulilah
    The lines you said about Saudi men are so true that its a little scary and funny at the same timeReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 15, 2012 - 11:23 pm

    cute; but it’s telling that so much of the difference is not due to culture but to economics. notice how many times the Indian/Pakistani or the worker is mentioned when it comes to the Saudi husband ‘doing’ something. He doesn’t really do it himself, does he?ReplyCancel

  • StephanieJanuary 13, 2013 - 5:08 pm

    very cool! i am inspired now to do my own blog entry comparing american boyfriend and jamaican boyfriend (i am an american living in jamaica w/ a jamaican man, obviously). love this blogReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 16, 2013 - 12:32 pm

    Hi Stephanie! thanks for the comment looking forward to reading it!ReplyCancel

  • ReguettonMay 19, 2014 - 3:36 pm

    OMG is funny but oh so true!ReplyCancel

  • jashimSeptember 15, 2014 - 1:33 pm

    so cool!!
    i like your authentic comparison and all of your posts are so nice. i spent so much time here reading your posts

    much love :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaSeptember 16, 2014 - 5:10 pm

      Thanks Jashim, nice to hear from you! I hope you will keep visiting :)ReplyCancel

  • Dee MangalinoNovember 12, 2014 - 9:13 am

    These are the traits that I hope would not vanish in Saudi. Our country used to have these men, now I think we can count it on our fingers.ReplyCancel

  • Aftab VhoraDecember 5, 2014 - 6:40 pm
  • Nabila AslamNovember 1, 2015 - 3:15 pm

    I’d totally want a Saudi husband provided that I’m the only wife! :DReplyCancel

  • MuathJanuary 14, 2016 - 9:07 am

    it’s hilarious.. I really enjoyed reading it.ReplyCancel

  • Tommy Thamer BerryFebruary 7, 2016 - 5:19 pm

    I’m a Saudi and I prove that, :DReplyCancel

  • LESLIE K DAVIDMay 17, 2016 - 1:38 pm


    The posts are good and I like these.. true multicultural mosaic. Me an Indian open to all cultures. I enjoy reading you posts n going thru the Blue Abaya. It is so positive. I am learning Arabic level 2 .. soon will upgrade to level 3.

    LESLIE DAVIDReplyCancel