I thought it would be interesting of making a comparison between the Saudi and Finnish cultures every once in a while. They tend to be each others opposites sometimes!
These posts are not intended to be taken too seriously. I’ve written them with a dash of humor with them so please read accordingly!

This cultural comparison will be about moving to a new house and how the newly wed couples participate in moving process.

In KSA, typically the newly wed husband and wife will have lived in their parent’s homes until they get married. The girl will usually be around 19-25 and the boys a bit older because they have to save up money in order to get married. It’s required by Islam that the husband provides financially for everything. The couple will then move to the new apartment or house after the wedding celebrations called the walimah. At that point the house will usually be ready to move in, furnished, cleaned and renovated.

In Finland single young girls and boys will move out of their parents houses to live by themselves as young as 18 years old when they are considered legally adults. The rest will leave around their 20’s to other cities for studies and move into small apartments or shared student housing. Typically the age women and men get married is 26-30 after they have graduated and got jobs. They might move in together many years before actually getting married. Finnish women tend to be very independent and like to do things on their own initiative. All expenses will normally be divided 50/50 between the couple.

First I will shortly describe how in general the native couples would resolve the emerging issues. Then I’ll illustrate how the scene unfolds when these two cultures combine, Saudi husband and Finnish wife in KSA!

Choosing the new home/apartment
Saudi couple: The husband to be will search for the new apartment/house and choose whatever he can afford according to the preferences his fiancée has listed. The prospective wife will go see it separately with her mother or if she wishes to go along with the fiancee, her mahram (father, brother) will accompany them.
Finnish couple: They will usually move into one or the others apartment, whichever is more convenient for two people. Rent will be divided in half between them.
Mixed couple: Husband and wife will look for suitable house together and choose in agreement. Saudi husband insists on paying all expenses. Finnish wife refuses and insists on paying half because she is accustomed to doing so. They make a compromise and wife pays 1/3.

Furnishing the apartment
Saudi couple: Husband will search for furniture in few different stores depending on his budget. He will let the future wife know which store he has picked it from and it will be marked for the fiancée to look at. Wife to be will visit the store separately and approve or disapprove. Husband pays for all expenses.
Once decision has been made husband hires workers to carry the furniture to the new home, or he does it himself with his relatives. In the meantime the prospective Saudi wife goes to have her hair done at the salon.
Finnish couple: They will combine their existing furniture, or go buy new ones together and share expenses 50/50. They carry the furniture together or with help from friends.
Mixed couple: Couple looks for furniture together in different stores and come to mutual agreement. Saudi husband wants to pay for everything, Finnish wife refuses and they end up making the same compromise on the payment. Husband insists on carrying everything, wife refuses to let husband do all the work. Compromise is made and husband carries the heaviest things and wife gets to participate.

Cleaning the new home
Saudi couple: Husband will hire a maid/ maids to clean the whole new home. Mother of husband or wife will likely supervise. If he cannot afford the maid, his sisters will most likely do the job for him. Meanwhile the Saudi wife to be will be shopping for new shoes and a handbag.
Finnish couple: Presumably the wife will do majority of the cleaning. Husband might pitch in as a consequence to wife’s persistent nagging.
Mixed couple: Husband suggests to get a maid to clean the whole house. Wife refuses because she wants to do everything herself in order to get the wanted result and she is not comfortable with hiring maids. Husband agrees and volunteers to help.They start cleaning the house together. After a while the wife gives in and agrees to hire a maid. Maid arrives to clean house, but wife supervises and insists to clean with her. Husband pays and is relieved he is excused from cleaning.

Decorating the new home
Saudi couple: Most likely the wife will choose most of the decorations after they have settled in. Couple goes shopping together after the wedding, wife picks out what she likes and husband pays and carries everything.
Finnish couple: Wife will choose and pay most decorations, husband is not that interested.
Mix couple: Couple go looking for decorations together, same dilemma with payment arises. Alternatively wife wants to go shopping on her own, buys and carries the stuff home. Meanwhile Saudi husband is home watching football.

Renovations
Saudi couple: Husband will hire a Pakistani or Indian worker to conduct all renovations while Saudi wife will go out shopping with her friends. Husband pays for both.
Finnish couple: Most renovating will be done by the couple themselves. If they must hire help the costs will be evenly divided.
Mixed couple: Husband wants to renovate himself what he can, wife insists she can participate but husband refuses she overburdens herself. Husband then hires the Pakistani to do the rest and Finnish wife is pleased to be excused.

Returning broken things
Saudi couple: Husband will drive to the store and take care of everything; on the way he drops off Saudi wife to have a manicure/pedicure at the spa.
Finnish couple: Whichever of the two has more time goes and returns the things.
Mixed couple: Couple goes back to store together. Wife complains about broken/malfunctioning goods and causes a scene and a few raised eyebrows from onlookers that are not accustomed to females voicing their opinions. Husband gets embarrassed by the attention and makes note to self that next time he will drop off wife to the spa to have a manicure/pedicure and go by himself to the store.

Assembling furniture
Saudi couple: Husband will hire a Pakistani or Indian worker to come to the house to assemble all furniture. Saudi wife is visiting her mother in the meanwhile.
Finnish couple: Couple assembles most of the furniture together.
Mixed couple: Saudi husband wants to impress his wife and attempts to assemble all the furniture by himself. After a while he gets frustrated and goes and hires the Pakistani guy. Finnish wife is proud of her husbands attempts and makes him some special Finnish desert.

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  • SeikkuJuly 19, 2010 - 6:52 am

    Hah hah haaaa.. Funny :)
    -Seikku-ReplyCancel

  • DentographerJuly 19, 2010 - 11:17 am

    Mashallah,i must say the husband is lucky to have the finnish wife,
    i really enjoyed your post,its intresting but very true how u portrait the saudi wife so passive and spoiled,though am lucky i have an exception.

    may god bless you and ur husband,he seems so eager to make you happy the saudi way,and then realize that its not the same in finland.

    i always loved to hear stories about mixed couples,and this was the highlight of my readings today :)ReplyCancel

  • happy daysJuly 19, 2010 - 9:57 pm

    hehehhe… funnyReplyCancel

  • SoileJuly 21, 2010 - 12:13 pm

    :-) I agree, this was a funny and interesting post! Keep ’em coming!ReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryJuly 24, 2010 - 1:40 pm

    Hahaha this was very funny and charming. It made me laugh a lot. :) Your husband seems to be a very understanding fellow! That’s really nice.ReplyCancel

  • HasnaJuly 24, 2010 - 2:07 pm

    Well we Finnish and Arabs have at least one thing in common : we both are stubborn.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 25, 2010 - 10:14 am

    hello everybody and greeting from Finland!!
    been very busy with my nieces lately :)

    Thanks for your comments, I will definately write another cultural comparison later, I found it quite funny too!

    Any suggestions on the topic??

    Hasnah I agree, we are both very stubborn ;)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 29, 2010 - 1:33 am

    does any1 know where to get cheaper cost abaya or hijab? i tried shukr but prices r too expansive. any1 heard of deenistyles.com plz tell me on my yahoo id: rubiadaislami if they try and its safe thanks jazakAllah khair may Allah blessReplyCancel

  • Blue PearlAugust 2, 2010 - 9:13 am

    Salaam alaikum dear one, Just dropping by to say رمضان كريم, May Allah make your fasts the fasts of those who fast sincerely, Inshallah. Barakallah feekReplyCancel

  • AliceAugust 12, 2010 - 4:09 pm

    Like this article. I recognize myself in some of your points! When we moved to our house, I insisted on cleaning it myself although we could hire some professional help. Later we thought of painting it and again I volunteered to do it myself- unheard of for a local woman! Luckily I changed my mind and some workers painted the house fast and easy.ReplyCancel

  • ipv6January 13, 2011 - 2:36 pm

    that was nice..

    Anyway I think the Finnish and Bedouins got lotta thing in common,their ancestor live and roaming in a rough environment both in desert of sand and the latter, ice.

    While the fin, past their creativity & hard working’s genes into a modern thriving technological marvel, while the nomadic Arab counterpart become so pamper wth the discover of massive oil well that they become so spoil and lazier fat cat not even interested of doing even a simple task left alone a very complicated thingy.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 16, 2011 - 12:43 pm

    Hello! It’s really very interesting and funny post, thanks a lot! But i cannot understand why Finnish couple divide all expenses and share all them work not only cleaning the house )))ReplyCancel

  • irish rose sarahJuly 27, 2011 - 6:02 pm

    I know I am late, but that was soo funny. I love comparisions and my cousin gave me a list of comparisions between arab guys and girls I think. I’ll post it inshallah if you want.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 27, 2011 - 10:11 pm

    hi irish rose sarah and thanks for your comment!
    That would be very interesting to hear so please go ahead and post it!ReplyCancel

Tribalism is alive and deeply rooted in the Saudi culture. Read more about what tribalism actually means here.

Tribalism can have some positive aspects to it. It creates close family ties and high respect of elders. Knowing ones roots and the names of ancestors hundreds or even thousands of years back can be educational and inspiring.
However tribalism should NOT create such pride and arrogance in people that they begin feeling supreme to others based solely on lineage. It should NOT cause the society to become racist and hateful. Tribe should NOT determine marriage suitability. Tribalism should NOT effect negatively the health of a whole nation.

But in Saudi-Arabia, unfortunately often it does.

Islam does not support tribal mentality

Ironic perhaps that tribalism is against the teachings of Islam, yet it seems to be what the national identity is based on.
Islam teaches that all human beings are equal in the eyes of the Creator as far as their status of human beings is considered.
“O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” (Quran 49:13).

Prophet Muhammed despised tribalism

Tribalism was practiced before and during the times of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Interestingly he belonged to a very prominent tribal family called Quraysh which at the time ruled Mecca.
Despite his high status Prophet Muhammed tried to eradicate this backward and racist practice.

The Prophet used to say about tribalism (Asabiyah): “Leave it. It is Rotten ” narrated by Bukhari and Muslim.
He said on pride and boasting of lineage:
There are indeed people who boast of their dead ancestors; but in the sight of God they are more contemptible than the black beetle that rolls a piece of dung with its nose. Behold, God has removed from you the arrogance of the Time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but an God-fearing believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.” narrated by At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud..

In his final sermon the Prophet stressed the importance of equality among all humans which in modern day Saudi-Arabia has been long forgotten:
“O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character.”

Ignoring and ignorance

Many more examples of anti-racist and anti-tribal Hadith exist.
So why do the Saudis continue this practice and choose ignore such teachings? I guess you can call it pride, keeping the “goods” in the family, racism, prejudice, closed-mindedness, ignorance.

Somehow I can understand the uneducated Bedouins being tribal since they know of nothing else let alone ever heard of genetics. That said I’ve never met a single proud or arrogant Bedouin, on the contrary they seem humble and never discriminate or look down upon others of different races.

 

Consanguinity has dire consequences

In tribal families marriages between cousins are very common. I was aware it’s common to marry first cousins, but after recently attending a “Hereditary Diseases Workshop” I learned the rate is a staggering 60%. Inbreeding like this causes alarming rates of hereditary diseases. Some disorders are 20 times more common in Saudi-Arabia compared to the rest of the world. There are tribes that have distinctive malformations that are recognizable from their appearance:
http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=30246

Tribal Infection

So what is the impact of  this disease “tribalismitis” on the nation? In short, it is making Saudis more sick by every generation and slowly weakening the their gene pool. Previously those born with metabolic diseases and blood disorders would die soon after birth, or never reach reproductive age. Modern medicine has enabled most of them making it to adulthood, only to be married off to a cousin and producing a new even sicker generation.

Saudis infected with “tribalismitis” present with congenital disorders, malformed babies, high infant mortality rates, high prevalence of mental retardation and hereditary diseases that significantly lessen the quality of life and are a huge financial burden for the government to treat.
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/333/7573/831

Everyday in my work I encounter patients that are admitted to the hospital either directly or indirectly because of an inherited condition. Some of them need expensive medical care frequently, not being able to live normal lives. Many patients require blood transfusions every month to survive. Some face death without a set of new lungs.

The innocent children

Innocent babies are born malformed and diseased and suffer immensely. There is unfortunately a very high prevalence of babies born with congenital malformations in Saudi-Arabia. These innocent children suffer because of the ignorance of their parents. It is absolutely heart breaking to see these children in the hospital.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12521776

There are couples I encountered that had seven sick children in a row. When the child reached a certain age, they would pass away. Regardless of the tragedy the woman was pregnant again. Another family had nine children that were all affected and died before they reached 10 years of age.

Strong roots are hard to weed

Tribalism is so deeply rooted that some families have even taken things into their own hands and turned to the courts. Here’s an example of a Saudi tribal marriage that was nullified by a judge based on tribal incompatibility.
http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/saudi-arabia/tribal-ties-weigh-heavily-on-saudi-marriages-1.186154
After 4 yrs of legal battles the Supreme Judiciary Council in Riyadh overruled the decision and ordered that the couple be reunited in matrimony.
http://www.wluml.org/node/5916

Hope for the future

Not all Saudis are brainwashed and fall into trap of tribalism. An inspiring article from Saudi Gazette tells about two very brave Saudi men Hussein Abdullah Al-Mansour and Ali Hadi Al-Hamzan, who embarked on an extraordinary road trip throughout the Kingdom to promote the message “No to racism. No to tribalism.”

Prevention is the cure

Saudi health officials have become more concerned about high rates of consanguinity and a few years ago launched a premarital screening programme for the most common hereditary diseases (thalassemia and sickle cell anemia). Couples wanting to get married have to go through mandatory screening.

While this might sounds promising, tribalism still effects peoples minds so much that 90 % of the screened high risk couples get married anyway. The rate is astounding.
The workshop for Hereditary diseases wisely concluded that prevention is the only cure for hereditary diseases.

Signs from God?
Perhaps hereditary diseases and genetic disorders are a sign from God to stop this nonsense. Maybe they are punishments for arrogance and pride and going against what God teaches humans.
Hopefully in the future Saudis will be more aware of the dangers of tribalism.

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  • AliceJuly 15, 2010 - 4:15 pm

    Assalam alaikum

    I agree with you. Unfortunately some negative effects of it can be found in other Gulf countries and, I guess, other Middle Eastern countries. Arrogance and pride exist in some families or particular persons more than in others. I believe it's not as widespread as in KSA. Yet it's definitely present. There are potential suitors turned down because their lineageReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryJuly 15, 2010 - 4:51 pm

    Salaam! Very interesting, indeed! I have definitely heard of tribalism as racism but to me, I don't know why but I never thought about the high rate of cousins marrying in Saudi! It all makes so much sense now. Thank you for the very well thought out article. You have given me much reading material and things to research! :)ReplyCancel

  • CATGIRLJuly 17, 2010 - 6:39 pm

    Hey dear! I am a female MBA from Karachi, Pakistan. Honestly just browsing through good blogs and finding literate & intelligent writers like you to talk to me on various issues. Nice blog outlook and awesome thoughts. I write on issues related to society, religion as well as some funny stuff. Best of Luck for ur blogging. I hope u can be a follower- if u like my blog? And don’t forget toReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 19, 2010 - 2:40 am

    @ Alice
    thanks for your comment!
    Yes I agree tribalism is a phenomenon spread throughout the arabian peninsula.
    Its very unfortunate for these innocent children to be suffering because of their parents ignorance :(ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 19, 2010 - 2:43 am

    @ The Burdened Mary

    I only recently started to look into tribalism more deeply and found these very disturbing things to be going on. What I dont understand is why some of the well educated families would take such risks by marrying from cousins just to “keep the goods in the family”..ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 25, 2010 - 10:11 am

    @ Catgirl

    Hi and thanks for visiting my blog !
    I’m sorry it took me so long to go check out yours, I’ve been very busy and am in Finland on summer holiday at the moment :)
    your blog is really nice and well written and I love your attitude ;)ReplyCancel

  • E.H AhmadApril 10, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    As salam… Dear Laylah thanks for the inspiring blog n writing… really enjoy reading it… actually now I'm writing on this sort of contemporary issues in KSA…I'm totally agreed the fact of tribalism that have influences a lot on consanguineous marriage in Saudi.I wish someday this issues will be improve and the gov shall make more public health measures in strengthening theReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 21, 2011 - 2:36 pm

    Thanks Laylah for this insight info, tribalism is much alive in most of Muslim country. I belong the hellhole of Somalia where tribalism put all the nation where it is now. At Saudis living in peace their tribalism, this can be eradicated if the social taboos are discussed openly, not in front of TV but unis, colleges, tents etc.

    AhmedReplyCancel

  • […] In a previous post I wrote about Saudi-Arabia and its raging epidemic of tribalism. Read more about it here. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The problems that arise from tribalism are numerous and seemingly only negatively effect the Saudi woman. In reality the strong tribal practices in Saudi-Arabia today have negative effects on everyone on all levels of society. Read more about tribalism in Saudi-Arabia here. […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The problems that arise from tribalism are numerous and seemingly only negatively effect the Saudi woman. In reality the strong tribal practices in Saudi-Arabia today have negative effects on everyone on all levels of society. Read more about tribalism in Saudi-Arabia here. […]ReplyCancel

I often get asked the question what do women in Saudi-Arabia wear under the abaya? Doesn’t it get terribly hot under the abaya? How does it feel to be forced to wear abaya? Isn’t it horrible for western women to have to wear abayas everywhere? What are abaya fabrics made of? Do Saudi women follow fashion under the abayas?
There are as many answers as there are women wearing abayas, so I cannot generalize. Also it depends on the weather, varies greatly between the chilly winter months and the intense summer heat.
Mostly people will not know or see what a woman is wearing under her abaya so the good thing to this is, you don’t have to think too much before leaving the house! It’s a relief for the husbands too, no more last minute “what shall I wear” “does this make me look fat” scenarios with the ladies! Also enables shopping in pyjamas if feeling lazy.

Abayas come in various types of fabrics and the woman’s comfort level will be directly related to what kind of quality her abaya is. In addition to the heinous polyester, abayas actually come in really thin lightweight fabrics!

Wearing one of these abayas made from natural materials feels almost as if you are wearing a “breeze” around you. Movement makes the air flow soflty around your body creating ‘air-conditioned’ environment. When the abaya fabric is really thin, it’s good that the color is black or dark. If it were a very light color it would be see-through (like some men’s thobes in the summer)! So the black color enables women to wear very thin fabrics. Some breathable fabrics like cotton, silk, linen and jersey make great abayas, but often they will be more expensive because of the cost of fabric is higher than polyester.

Sometimes in the summer months women will opt for sundresses, shorts, tank tops or even plain bikinis under the abaya. If that’s the case, it’s best to choose a closed abaya model. The one with buttons in the front might pop open if it gets stuck somewhere! For example it might get caught in the escalator, shopping cart or car door, or someone might step on the hem if it’s a long tailing one. Wearing only bikinis is a little risky in my opinion, but I know women who do it anyways. I also know women who have gone out butt naked under the abaya.

 

In the hottest months a good choice is wearing long dresses and skirts underneath the abaya. They are comfortable and airy in the summer and will cover her legs in case the abaya goes flying up in the air. It’s easier to walk swiftly (as western women usually are accustomed to) in a long skirt + abaya combo compared to pants +abaya which makes the abaya tangle and stick onto the trousers when taking long strides. Long dresses are also a woman’s friend when going shopping and there are no fitting rooms available. Jeans and skirts are easy to try on without having to remove the dress at all. If the only available toilet is an arabic style squatting one, well it’s much easier with a dress than pants!

Contrary to common beliefs, abayas can actually cool the woman wearing it. Abayas made from natural materials actually protect the skin from the dry heat, and thus cool off the body. Naturally if the woman is in direct sunlight with it, she’s going to start cooking after a while. But during the very hot evenings the abaya brings relief from the dry heat. I remember sitting outside with some friends one evening as we wondered how come we only feel the heat on our faces and heads? It was the only uncovered body part that’s why!

Before they invented polyester, abayas were in fact made out of fine goat wool, and other natural materials so it’s understandable why the abaya is compatible with this desert climate. It protects from the suns burning rays, the air dryness, dust and wind and cold.

Wearing the abaya in Jeddah or Dammam is another story though. It’s so humid abayas tend to stick to the skin immidiately when after stepping outside! Summers are absolutely dreadful there in abaya.

In the winter months it can really get chilly, especially during nights the temperatures can drop near zero. Riyadh which is surrounded by desert is one of the coldest places in Saudi. The cold winds are ruthless and somehow penetrate the skin to the bones. One needs to dress accordingly and stack up under the abaya! Sometimes in the coldest days people will opt for a shawl wrapped around the abaya. Others choose wool coats, trench coats and jackets on top of the abaya. Some women do the opposite, they wear thick coats under their abayas resulting in a bulky “Michelin Man” look.
Some conservative Saudi women that cover literally from head to toe will always wear very modest clothing underneath their abayas. I see them alot in the hospital, they will have loose long-sleeved “house dresses” called jallabiya. Their choice of shoes will be closed black shoes with socks and they will also have black gloves so absolutely no skin is showing. Many of these women don’t even remove their head scarves inside and around women.

More liberal Saudis will wear trendy clothes under their abayas. Saudis tend to be very fashion conscious and will don the latest fashion items. The majority of the stores found in western countries can be found in Saudi too. In Riyadh you will find all the most popular western clothing chains like H&M, Lindex, Miss Selfridge, Monsoon, Guess, Mango, Zara, TopShop etc..The famous department store Debenhams can be found in almost all of the largest malls.

The wealthy Saudis and princesses will shop at high end fashions stores like Gucci, Prada or DKNY and the likes. Department stores like Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue are popular among the upper class. Those women will typically wear classic designer clothing under their abayas. When going out for dinner parties or weddings these women will have Oscar night worthy evening gowns, racy dresses and elaborate jewellery hidden under their abayas. The cloaks will come off at the women-only events though.

Younger middle class Saudi women might opt to wear the latest trends seen in the western world. Skinny jeans and trendy tops combined with high heels are popular. The latest designer handbag is a must-have accessory with the abaya. Fashionable sunglasses and shoes are other ways for young women to express their   style.

Abayas themselves also have unique trends that vary from region to region and to other Arab countries. In the Riyadh some of the newest trends of abaya are lace inserts and puffy sleeves, large color blocks on the back of the abaya, wide sleeves with beautiful embroidery and abayas made totally of patterned or embroidered fabric.

Certainly, under each abaya there is a unique story..

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  • InaieJuly 4, 2010 - 11:28 am

    Great post. It helps westerns understand a bit more about life in the Gulf, or at least a little more about wearing abbayas…

    http://www.inaier.blogspot.comReplyCancel

    • AnnAugust 21, 2018 - 4:55 am

      Wearing one of those Anaya’s but why black. It is so hotReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 10, 2010 - 2:11 am

    @ Inaie

    Thanks and welcome to my blog :))
    Expats sometimes get so used to some things that we forget to people back home are very exotic!

    @ your eyes are countries

    Thank you for your compliment and welcome to my blog! Hope to see you around :)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 7, 2010 - 6:43 pm

    Thank God I have found your blog, it is sooo helpful. I am coming to Jeddah in a few days with my family so if you can give me an advise about a dress code for 9 year old daughter. Should she wear an abaya or regular clothes.We are muslims and I wear abaya anyways so there will be no changes for me.
    Thanks a lotReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 8, 2010 - 6:37 am

    Hi!

    Don’t worry for your daughter if she’s only 9 yrs she can wear normal clothing. Usually they would start wearing abaya when they are teenagers.
    Jeddah is very hot and humid at the moment so she will be much more comfortable sans abaya :)

    Just try to pic clothes that are a little bit more conservative, no miniskirts or tanktops etc and she will be fine!ReplyCancel

  • Life of MuslimaJanuary 28, 2011 - 11:12 am

    ooh Thank God i found ur blog,this is really helpful when i go to Saudi one day inshAllah

    Hej fra NorgeReplyCancel

  • LaylahDecember 28, 2011 - 4:36 pm

    Hi there yes it was from Riyadh but under very exceptional circumstances you will never see this on the streets of Riyadh.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousDecember 28, 2011 - 3:20 pm

    Hi, I am contemplating accepting a job offer in Riyadh. Am still a little unclear on the abaya in regards to western women. Can you tell me if the picture from above with the young ladies was taken in Riyadh?ReplyCancel

  • Cheeky ChicJanuary 28, 2012 - 6:36 am

    It was such an experience going through this post.
    I do not reside in KSA but do wear abaya and veil on regular basis.It is not as hot as KSA here but it does get very very hot in summer. Once one starts wearing it, one gets comfy. Last winter I had to visit Canada and the biggest issue for me was how to maintain it there too.Honestly people!! it is not about the custom or “RULE”,it is more about the the faith and habit we are following..Alhumdullillah I was able to keep up my Hijab and Abaya in Toronto City where I roamed as easily as I could..I did switch to loose long dresses from head to toe at times.But keep the essence alive. Abaya is a dress which doesn’t show your curves. That is all to it.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 15, 2013 - 5:06 pm

    Iam muslimah and inshaAllah moving soon jeddah saudi arabia where my husbant is,iam convert white women from finland.i wear head to toe abaya no hands show no nothing skin but..under my abaya is fashion show:D !” i love colours and sparkling things. So i cant say all women who wear that no skin so dress under it very very modest..not me:PReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 16, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    to anonymous from Finland-hope you don’t get too hot over there, it’s so humid in Jeddah!ReplyCancel

  • AbdulmajeedJuly 28, 2013 - 12:52 am

    The best example of abbaya is included in your topic when you mentioned some women “conservative”, because the purpose of abayya is to cover the dress and the body of the woman. One of the terms of abayya in islam is not to have a fancy color, otherwise it will conflict with the purpose of wearing it. So it can be black or any dark color that is not attractive, it became common to wear the black one since black is the best color to serve this purpose. On the other hand the young ladies are not really wearing abayya”as per the terms of abayya in islam”, i would say they are wearing black dress. In my home my wife wears a dress under abayya always something similar to the blue dress of the bedouin lady. I really like that dress” apart: i like traditional korean dress which is called Hanbok. I left this short comment and hope it is beneficial and clear to understand he abayya.ReplyCancel

  • Sans Abaya in Saudi | Blue AbayaFebruary 13, 2014 - 2:41 pm

    […] wrong. They would ask questions  very common for newbies to ask like: What’s allowed to wear underneath the abaya? Is it ok if the lowest or highest buttons are open? Should I always wear a shayla (head scarf) […]ReplyCancel

  • AthleneFebruary 24, 2014 - 1:14 am

    I’m moving to Riyadh in the next few months and obviously I need to buy an Abaya before I go. Where can I buy a light weight abaya that’s a non-synthetic material? I live in the South West of England.ReplyCancel

  • Jim FiegenschueJune 21, 2016 - 3:47 am

    Thanks for the description of various humidity and temperature and fabrics.ReplyCancel

  • Alison BrowningMay 6, 2018 - 4:37 pm

    I had a friend who wore what a, in the house with female friends and family she wore daring, tight fitting sexy dresses and full make up. I’m seriously heat intolerant and choose linen loose clothing in hot weather. I’d never manage in the heat there dressed in bkack.ReplyCancel

    • Alison BrowningMay 6, 2018 - 4:39 pm

      Oops predictive text wrote waht a not abayaReplyCancel

  • Anusha ShamaJune 3, 2018 - 3:42 pm

    Some times abaya starts flying in wind. I observed a few Saudi ladies wearing nothing under abaya. This is dangerous practice.ReplyCancel

  • MarniMarch 18, 2019 - 2:22 pm

    I am a western woman travelling to Saudi for the first time next week, on business. Really looking forward to it and your advice on what to weae inderneath my abaya is very useful!ReplyCancel

This is a playful post for all the ladies currently living in Riyadh. It might be a harsh environment and many things irritate us from time to time..Nothing is like back home. But what can we do? Other than getting frustrated and anxious, try to look at it in a positive way and make your life a bit easier. I say, make the best of it! Don’t spend your time complaining and moaning. It will only make you feel worse. Here’s a couple of suggestions how to make the most out of your time here.

Wearing abaya: Ok this is probably one of the most annoying things for most western women, you gotta wear it, so I say…make the best of it!
-get an abaya made of good quality material, not polyester which will make you a cooked vegetable in no time in the +50c heat. Best quality abayas you will find upstairs in Kingdom Mall, Royal Mall and Hayat mall. They can also make abayas to order.
-abayas come in so many different styles, show your personality with a pretty or individual abaya. Go to Dirah or Tayba souq and find tons of different abaya designs and colors. Design and personalize it! It’s what you wear out all the time anyways.
-go shopping in your pyjamas, under the abaya :D

-get an abaya made of cotton or linen you will have to pay a bit more but it’s worth it for comfort in the heat.

Not being able to drive: Very frustrating sometimes especially for women who enjoy driving and are used to doing it a lot.
– while you’re being driven around by your driver, make the most of your time! Read a good book, a newspaper, call a friend, or your mother! Do your makeup on the way (ok depends on your driver’s skills and how stable your hand is).
– if you have an suv or a husband /male friend that can rent one go out to the desert to drive! It’s fun but be careful don’t venture too far. Bedouin women drive around all the time, once you’ve passed the checkpoints you will be fine. Check out the book “Desert treks from Riyadh” available in Jarir book stores.
– go to the Reem race track!they have carting and women can drive too! Exit 11.
– rent quadbikes or beach buggies to get rid of the extra “driving withdrawal symptoms”. Available at red Sands area Mecca highway and the Thumamah area.

quadbikes women in Riyadh

Extreme heat: When temperatures start topping 45c everyday, it’s not very pleasant to be outside anymore.
-make sure your abaya is made from natural materials. Some abayas are so thin you won’t even feel like you’re wearing one.
-make the best out of the dry heat and dry your laundry outside! In minutes you will have wrinkle free dry laundry.
-take all your bedding and mattresses out, cook well on both sides..and you have gotten rid of all possible living things such as bedbugs or dust mites which the sunlight will have killed!
– to create curls in no time, after showering apply some moisturizing leave-in conditioner and/or heat activated styler. Apply hair rolls or tie your hair in couple small braids. Optionally cover your hair with a scarf to protect from sun. Go out for about 15 min to half an hour depending on your hair length and desired result (preferably in yard or pool area, can’t recommend venturing out in public). While waiting for hair to dry apply nail polish if you like, it will dry quickly in the dry heat by the time your hair is done. Now just remove the rolls and you will have curls that stay put for long!

Hard water: Many women have noticed that after a while their hair seems to fall out more and it becomes thinner. This is due to the hard water that is mostly desalinized and therefore lacks some essential minerals.
– buy some zinc and selenium supplements from any pharmacy.
– after rinsing your hair with tap water, follow by bottled water to make hair softer.
-get Sodium Laurel Sulfate free shampoo available at GNC!

Boredom: Very common symptom of living in Riyadh. However treatment options are numerous to begin therapy start here with Riyadh to do guide.
– start a new hobby, keep yourself active. Try golf, salsa dancing, horse polo, or scuba-diving!
– since you have the rare opportunity to live in the Saudi-Arabia and are surrounded by Islam, why not find out a little more about the religion? I guarantee you won’t be bored anymore! The WAMY centre opposite Owais souq is a great place to visit to learn more.
-Check out Dar Adh-Dhikr, an Islamic center for women and children (boys up to the age of 6) to learn Arabic and Qur’an in the Ma’athar area

western female tourists in Riyadh

Surrounded by desert: For some its a blessing, others..not. But why not take advantage of the lack of tourism in Saudi-Arabia, you will have most places to yourself and the nature is mostly untouched.
-explore historical sites just outside Riyadh,such as Diriyah UNESCO heritage site.
-visit Madain Saleh the other capital city of the ancient Nabatean people. You will most likely be the only people there. Although smaller in size than Petra, I enjoyed the atmosphere more here. It seems like stepping into the past. Discover more amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia here
-Take weekend trips to the seaside, don’t miss Jeddah which is a city with quite a different vibe and atmosphere than Riyadh and a beautiful historic district al Balad (also UNESCO world Heritage site)

-join the Riyadh Hash Harriers who organize desert walks every weekend and camping in cooler months, ask around from westerners for contact details!
hash harriers wak in Riyadh

-explore the mostly untouched Saudi side of the Red sea coast. start start scuba-diving. The lectures and pool training are in Riyadh, and open water training will take a weekend in Jeddah. The Red Sea is full of amazing underwater life! Top diving spots in KSA: Yanbu, Al Lith, Farasan Islands, Farasan Banks, Haql Shipwreck.

If you have a chance, go to the Farasan Islands, one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorite places! A wonderland for divers, there is virtually no other humans (except for the odd fisherman). Currently only two hotels on the main island (reachable by ferry from Jizan)

farasan island paradise

Gender segregation: Most public places will be separate for men and women, it might get frustrating to always find the right place but there can be some advantages to this too!
– you won’t have to queue in banks when you go to the ladies section it’s hardly ever crowded
– shopping at Kingdom center ladies only floor with own entrance.
-Panorama mall ladies only section
– as a woman you should be served first if there’s no clear mens/ladies queue, but of course this is not always the case. A polite smile might get you in front of the line.
-always take advantage of the ladies sections of Saudi airlines offices and get things done in 5 min compared to 5hours on the men’s side.
– on Saudi airlines (and most other national airlines) flights you can always change seats if you happen to be sitting next to a man,(if it bothers you) just request for another seat. They will give you a window seat if available, and if you’re lucky an upgrade to business class.
– at the airport pass the men in the baggage security check line, they don’t usually mind if you put your bag first, then pass through the ladies security check and you will be done in no time.

It all comes down to attitudes. We can’t change these things but we can change our outlook on them. It’s mostly up to ourselves how we handle it and a positive open mind will never do you harm!

 

POST UPDATED 8/2016

Disclaimer: this guide is aimed at ALL women, not just westerners, currently living in or planning to move to KSA. Written from pov of western woman in Riyadh for 8 years now :)

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  • Hania@desitalJune 25, 2010 - 6:47 pm

    i totally agree about the abaya thing. i am not a westerner or a non muslim. but i still enjoy the wearing anythuing when goign out part. just do your makeuup, wear nice shoes and your ready to go.hehe. have been here for a long time so i am accustomed with the getting bored part.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm OmarJune 26, 2010 - 3:01 pm

    Laylah- Excellent post masha’Allah! Can I have permission to re-post it on FHWS?ReplyCancel

  • DentographerJune 28, 2010 - 9:29 am

    Quick Question,who or where should i go if i wanted to visit Madayin Saleh?
    great post!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 28, 2010 - 10:20 am

    I absolutely loved the abaya advice! Thought all abayas were made of polyester . . . So, what material do you suggest we women look for?ReplyCancel

  • shwaybassJune 28, 2010 - 1:48 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about making the most of it. Thank you for your sanity! There are so many people who come here (and the Gulf in general) and want every little thing to be the same as home. They hang round in paranoid little groups discussing the latest rumours, based on nonsense, built on wild imagination. Someone told me last night that the more religious of our muslim friends wear the shorter pants in protest at being made to wear western-style clothes. A fashion protest! Ingenious!
    A positive mindset does wonders for your outlook; a negative one slowly eats away at your soul. I know – I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m never going back again! Amen.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 30, 2010 - 6:45 am

    Ask for very fine cotton, cotton-silk blend, have it made for you to be sure you get the right material! They will cost more though..I’ve paid around 500-1500 for my best quality abayas..but they are totally worth it! A new abaya trend seems to be very fine jersey material, it feels really soft and silky. Have seen it only in exhibitions though..try Faisaliah 3rd floor they might have it,.ReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryJuly 2, 2010 - 6:25 pm

    This is my first time commenting here because I JUST found your blog, but I love what you have written! I think it is very easy for women in Riyadh to forget that fun is just around the corner if you go looking for it :) I will be certain to give some of your suggestions a try. As for abayahs…I bought a BEAUTIFUL abayah from Twaila in Granada Mall and I feel proud when I walk outside every day!ReplyCancel

  • ayahJuly 3, 2010 - 6:25 am

    assalamu aleikum!
    i love your attitude.. you are absolutely right, it's all about how we see it and this post was very inspiring! there's another good thing about sex segregation – if a woman is taking an elevator, a stranger man will not normally enter with her, thus saving us the uncomfortable feeling of being locked up alone with a stranger, unlike western countries :)
    greatReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 6, 2010 - 12:47 pm

    I couldn't agree more – it's about attitude. I love having a "chauffer" drive me everywhere, being able to "jump the line" because you are female is brilliant and abayas? I LOVE shopping in my pj's!

    My other half and myself are in the desert almost every weekend and are active geocachers – most are hidden in never heard of places :D and we get to meetReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 10, 2010 - 2:18 am

    @ The Burdened Mary

    Thanks for commenting and welcome to my blog, glad you found it :)

    @ Ayah

    Thanks for your compliment! yes that's true usually they won't enter the elevator especially if they notice the woman is Muslim. Ive noticed a difference though from when I started wearing hijab! Before it seemed men insisted on cramming themselves into theReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 10, 2010 - 2:21 am

    @ Anonymous..

    welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting.

    That's great you guys are taking advantage of outdoor activities that often! I wish we had more time and chances to go the desert!

    If you have some GPS cordinates you'd like to share please email me!
    P.S have you guys seen the Iris fields in Thumair?ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1January 28, 2012 - 3:41 pm

    Hi Laylah:

    So is it worth it? In other words is it worth you having to give up on so many things such as running/jogging, riding a bicycle, sky diving, driving, in-line skating, and so many other activities. Of course I am sure I could insert many more items that I would think is not worth it. So again is it worth it?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 29, 2012 - 12:28 am

    Bigstick-thanks for your comment, you ask is it worth the sacrifice? Well first of all not all the things you mentioned I have to give up (running,bicycle,skating) they can be done but with certain restrictions..
    Second, why concentrate on the negative?
    There is so much I can do here that I wouldn’t be able to do in other countries :) check my post about good sides to life in Saudi for few examples.
    So, I loose some things yes, but I gain others.

    I would say yes, it’s worth it.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 31, 2012 - 8:01 pm

    Being in an elevator with a man…what the heck! If he is a good Muslim or Christian, or maybe just a good man, what is the fear. It’s the same argument Saudi men use for not letting women drive: if they get stuck at night on the side of a highway…. well if a good Muslim man pulls over, again what is the problem! Are all men rapists?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 23, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    Heya Layla,

    I love your post and had a few questions: do you go in a mixed group to scuba dive? What about the harriers are they a mixed group? Is there any sailing and/or lessons in the coastal towns of Saudi Arabia? Is it leagal for a woman to drive a boat??!!!

    ThanksReplyCancel

    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:08 pm

      Hey there! Yes you can go on mixed group or women only if you request that from the operator, but then the boat crew is always male so there's no way you can have an all female setting that I know of other than all private. Women can drive boats but I haven't seen many :)
      Harriers is mixed group. I have not heard of sailing lessons but there might be in Jeddah.ReplyCancel

  • HahnApril 10, 2012 - 12:33 pm

    Hi Leyla,

    I just found your blog last night, and I’m glad I did.
    Very well written, mind and eye opening, and very informative, absolutely love it!!.
    I’ve been living in Riyadh since 2009, and from the lack of socializing, I don’t even know much about Riyadh until I read your blog ( except for Harry Potter Caped Guys ;)….encountered with them many times ).
    So I’d like to use this opportunity to thank you for your amazing blog, and now I will continue stalking your posts … I finished reading June 2010 archives.

    HahnReplyCancel

    • LaylahApril 10, 2012 - 8:59 pm

      Hahn-thanks and welcome to my blog! Glad you found some use from it!ReplyCancel

  • mJune 26, 2012 - 12:42 am

    Laylah,

    You have a very well written and entertaining blog here. I am thoroughly enjoying reading it. I’m a man in the U.S.

    And it sounds like you have a very nice life there that you’re greatly enjoying. Good for you!

    I like the chivalry of some of these little customs, like women going to the front of a line at the bank. It’s funny, I have never thought of that before, but I think that would be a nice, generous habit to get into right here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even if I had to wait 20 minutes or more, I would be pleased to see a lady be able to do her banking and be on her way in one or two minutes.

    Thanks for your terrific blog. I will keep reading.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 24, 2012 - 2:37 pm

    I blοg οften and Ι gеnuinely thank yοu for your іnformation.

    Τhis great aгticle hаs гeallу ρeaked my іnterеst.
    I’m going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.ReplyCancel

  • Imran HossenMarch 15, 2013 - 9:51 am

    Hi the burdened marry..
    its nice to see a writing from a Saudi girl.. it seems now the Saudian girls are growing up with modern mentality with the Muslim aspect….
    thanks
    ReplyCancel

  • AsiaAugust 19, 2013 - 6:14 pm

    Hi Layla, thanks for this great post! Sure do need it esp. on trying times (like recently coming back from a long vacation. the first few weeks can be really very depressing!) And one of the things I hate coming back to here, is the reckless way of driving. It seems like they don't care much for "life". I get nervous everytime my husband and I go for a drive. I know there areReplyCancel

  • faiza farhanJanuary 14, 2015 - 2:46 pm

    I have heared that there is bus service in riyadh for ladies where they can go for shoping in a group ? And do they go in texis ?are they safe ? My another question is can women in riyadh wear abaya other than black colour ? Or black abaya or gown is must ?ReplyCancel

    • AbdulrehmanNovember 29, 2015 - 11:44 am

      Dear sis faiza farhan,

      there is a bus service but its not for public, there are taxi which are safe especially if you are with a foreigner driver. Abaya is must in Saudi Arabia and it should be black colored…ReplyCancel

  • Reenad ShaikDecember 4, 2015 - 1:10 pm

    also there is ice skating at royal mall every thursday especially for ladies! its super fun! i had been there with my best friend and we had a blast! we are allowed to take of our abayas there and justtt YAYYY!ReplyCancel

The hospital I work in gets quite a few bedouins coming in for treatment from all around Saudi. It’s a large tertiary referral hospital, which means many patients were referred there because they could not be treated elsewhere or their cases were so difficult or rare it needed special care. Which makes these patients even more interesting! Bedouins come to our hospital from all over Saudi-Arabia, but mainly from the tribes that originate around the Najd area. Read more here  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Najd

What is generally meant by the term “Bedouin” is the nomadic Arab people who dwell in the desert areas reaching from Western Sahara to the Arabian Peninsula. Bedouins used to follow water and pastures and were nomadic, not staying in one place for a long period of time. Nowadays many of them have settled in certain areas and formed small towns cities like Dammam on the east coast of KSA.

The Bedouins are divided into tribes of which the largest ones are Al-Shammari, Al-Harbi, and Al-Mutairi, Al-Qahtani, Al-Subaie, Al-Dossary all originally from Najd valley and around. Most patients will have one of these very common surnames, kind of like mr. Smith or in Finland mr.Virtanen.

I work on an inpatient ward where nurses are typically assigned to 3-5 patients at a time. We look after them the whole 12 hour shift, usually for a few days in a row. This enables a lot of one on one time with the patients and since the patients will always have private rooms, women will be relaxed and at ease. I feel very lucky to have been able to take such an intimate look into their lives, culture and traditions.
In my opinion Bedouins are generally the nicest patients in all aspects. I’ve found them to be friendly, genuine, warm, curious, easy-going (hardly complain), they have excellent sense of humour, are talkative and just about the most hospitable people you will ever meet. Hardly any of them speak English though, and sometimes their Arabic accents are difficult (sometimes impossible!) for even our Saudi nurses to understand. So basic Arabic language skills are really essential for more interaction with them. But actually even before I learned Arabic I found it was easy to get along with them by using sign language! They were always in for a little fun!Saudi bedouin woman weaving

Typically the Bedouin patient will have one or two sitters present at all times. Read more about the way Saudis visit the sick in hospitals here. They will have large families and it wouldn’t be strange to see ones with over 10 children. Visitors often come every evening and they will enjoy a meal or coffee and dates together.

Bedouin patients tend to have a few peculiarities compared to other Saudis. Especially the really nomadic ones have habits that they continue in the hospital, like sleeping on the floor rather than the bed! They will take the sheets off the bed and put them on the floor. Not even the pillow is needed. The sitters have a sofa bed available but it’s hardly used. Bedouins like to keep things simple and they don’t like “modern-day luxury” such as bedding.
When the patient has guests they will usually eat on the floor and with their hands. A sheet is spread on the floor and people will gather around it. Chairs and tables might be regarded as unnecessary luxuries. The youngest son or daughter will serve the food and tea or coffee out of respect to the elderly. They will most likely have their own tea or coffee pots with them in the hospital.

Guests will typically bring along dates, arabic sweets, camel milk or date filled small cakes called mammoul. The nurse will be invited to have a taste of their coffee and foods, sometimes they insist that the nurse joins them on the floor. If I have time on my hands I will sometimes join them for their dinner which they tend to eat very late. Usually long after ishaa prayers, near midnight!

I’ve encountered Bedouin patients that didn’t know how to use the western style toilet. Some even made their business on the floor next to it. It’s the first time they see a toilet seat and they don’t know what to do with it.

The male Bedouins will often chew on miswak,which is a stick used to clean the teeth. Unfortunately some of them also spit on the floor after using it!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Bedouins don’t like to “waste” water. In other words take showers or wash their hair too often. I guess this comes from living in such harsh environments with constant lack of water. They use the water very sparingly to wash themselves, mainly it’s used for performing ablutions (washing before prayer). It takes a lot of convincing or sometimes even doctors order to get them to wet themselves totally under running water!

Since they’ve been living all their lives in the desert, I figure their bodies have become accustomed to being warm all the time. The Bedouin patient will usually ask for the air conditioning to be turned off because they feel cold. It’s actually not possible to turn central AC off, so then they will ask to get extra blankets even during hot summer months. The men wear thobes made out of thick wool in the winter, which for them seems to end around May when the temperature starts raising above 40. Especially in the winter months they will have layers after layers of thick clothing even though the heating is on max in the room. The women and the men like to keep their own clothing on instead of changing to hospital gowns.

When a Bedouin patient has fever he/she will be very afraid of “cooling” themselves. The more they have fever, the more the clothing and blankets will be on. Sometimes an offer of applying an icepack will result in surprises and suspicious looks. They might politely take it, but when the nurse leaves off it comes! This is sometimes a bit frustrating because the patients are convinced that warm is good cold is bad!

Bedouins love henna. Older men will sometimes color their beards with it, resulting in an orange tinged tone. Older ladies with grey hair use henna which results in the same orange tone as the mens beards. The women will color their long naturally coal black hair with it resulting in a nice dark red tinge. Additionally they might apply decorative patterns on their hands for special occasions like Eid and weddings. The everyday henna for the hands is applied to the palms and tips of fingers so that it looks like they have very dark orange nail polish on. First time I saw this I thought to myself boy are those some dirty hands! The women will do the same with the soles of their feet and toes.

Some elderly women have tattoos on their faces sort of look like map signs. I’m not sure what they use to do them but the color is usually dark blue. It will look like small markings resembling X’s or T’s around her cheeks, forehead and temples. I found out this is a sign that the lady in question is of high status within her tribe. She might be the eldest woman of her tribe.

Most elderly patients will likely not know their exact age and might only be able to give you an estimate. Older generation Saudis didn’t register births and they also count age according to the Hijri calendar. Also Saudi-Arabia didn’t register female births until the 1970’s. Estimating their age is not easy because of the harsh weather and constant exposure to sun, Bedouin often look older than their actual age. I’ve had very old Bedouin patients, some reaching over 100 years. They might have been healthy and never visited a hospital up to that day they come in.

Another peculiar thing which I’ve noticed is some of the older generation have a thin thread tied to their waists. First time I encountered one I immediately wanted to cut it off because of infection risk. They strictly refused and seemed horrified of my suggestion to remove it even though it was already harming the skin because it had become too tight. I’ve seen this on both men and women.
The reason for this is that they don’t want to get fat so it’s a weight control belt! The thread is there to remind you that you’ve eaten too much when the thread feels uncomfortably tight.
I wonder would this be worth patenting? The Bedouin weight loss belt!

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  • NadiaJune 20, 2010 - 8:13 am

    Salam aleikum,
    that was very interesting post, I enjoyed reading more about bedouins.ReplyCancel

  • SoileJune 20, 2010 - 8:42 am

    Great idea, that weightloss belt, maybe I should consider it too :-)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 24, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    Nice post and greetings from a Mother of Harbee (Masrooh) son :) no matter how long they are in the city, they remain Bedou!!ReplyCancel

  • DentographerJune 28, 2010 - 1:08 pm

    i just love how the things i got used to see get described by someone who find it totally new,very intresting points :)

    let me explain what are the facial tattoos are for,as i believe each tribe have its own “signature” tattoo that ladies do them as a sign of belonging to them,though i dont know who will ever see it as i know some bedouin women cover their faces from every living human around them even their husbands!ReplyCancel

  • OrchidthiefJune 28, 2010 - 10:59 pm

    very interesting post laylah!!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 30, 2010 - 4:10 am

    @Dentographer
    Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog!
    I found out that those markings on the elderly bedoiun ladies faces are in fact a sign of status. So it means they are senior elderly of that tribe. Most bedouin women will reveal their faces to other women, however they are very particular when it comes to covering it from unrelated males!ReplyCancel

  • ipv6January 13, 2011 - 2:50 pm

    Just curious, when do they start register male births?ReplyCancel

  • Karen KingApril 9, 2012 - 5:54 pm

    Thank you for an interesting article. One of my female relatives received the start of a beautiful tattoo on her hand from a Bedouin woman during the time she spent in the desert after the 1915 genocide. She was convinced by this woman that she would be more beautiful if she had a tattoo. Work was begun on her hand; a beautiful scroll in dark blue ink. Unfortunately it caused a great infection. That’s when the tattoo project stopped.

    Henna is so important to all cultures in the Near and Middle East. Armenians use henna as celebration body makeup. You know you’re going to an Armenian wedding when someone dips your little fingers in henna; that’s your ticket in to the party!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahApril 10, 2012 - 9:28 pm

    Karen King-Interesting story! Which desert was this? So the ink was permanent?ReplyCancel

  • MadsJuly 20, 2012 - 5:21 pm

    hello, i just stumbled upon your blog…you have a wonderful lucid style of writing and your posts are all very interesting (at least all the ones that i’ve read)!! very observant, very down-to-earth descriptions :) like a sponge that eagerly soaks up everything around it! but never have i found a disrespectful remark in your blog even though the culture is SA must have seemed completely alien to you. keep up the good work, i fully enjoyed myself reading your work.ReplyCancel

  • FUEL For The FIRE by Beth GoehringerMay 3, 2014 - 3:58 pm

    Thank you for all your wonderful information. It’s very helpful. I am writing Blood and Fire (the sequel to Fuel For The Fire) which includes a Bedouin teenage girl in Jordan as an important supporting character.ReplyCancel

  • […] those smiles on the faces of paediatric patients. Read more about quirky bedouin patients here:bedouins-as-patients Why I love working with Saudi patients here: thank-you-my-dear-saudi-patients Learn about the […]ReplyCancel

  • […] some other strange habits of Bedouin patients check this post: bedouins-as-patients Read about Saudi women who never remove their veils here: the […]ReplyCancel

There are surprisingly many differences between the grocery shopping experience in Saudi Arabia vs. in the expats’ home countries.
Here are a few tips for newbies in Saudi Arabia- How to grocery shop in KSA!

Where to Shop

The most popular large grocery stores in Saudi Arabia are Hyper Panda, Tamimi, Carrefour, Danube. Lulu’s and Euromarche. For imported American goods go to Tamimi. For exotic fruits and vegetables, Asian foods, wide range of gluten free and organic produce go to Lulu’s. Danube is good when looking for for organic, gluten free and dairy free options, great fruit and vegetable section and bakery. Carrefour for imported European produce. Euromarche and Panda are the best budget friendly options. Panda has the widest selection of Saudi produce.

 

Prayer Times

Don’t forget the prayer times! Everything in Saudi closes for prayer for around 15-30 minutes. The length of the closure time depends on the store and how eager the employees are to return to their posts.

Some larger stores like the ones mentioned above, let you stay in the store shopping while the employees go to pray, or if they´re non-muslims they have a break. When they come back you can cash out. keep in mind you won’t be able to exit the store during prayer times.

When to Shop

To avoid zahma which means traffic, never shop on weekend evenings. Worst times for crowds are on weekends starting after Maghrib prayer to around 11pm. Fridays the stores will start to have lots of people earlier, around 3-4 pm (Asr prayer). Due to the crowds, traffic jams in parking lots and getting “stuck” inside the store during prayer times, a quick grocery shopping spree might turn into a 3 hour ordeal. Add another hour or two to get there and back and you’re looking at a 4 hour grocery shopping trip.

The largest stores are open until 12am-2 am. It’s much nicer to go shopping late at night if you have the chance, or an early weekday morning. Some stores are even open 24hrs a day, like Hyperpanda on Takhasusi road. There’s even one infamous store on exit 20 which is open 25 hours a day. Imagine that, an extra hour for shopping!

Cultural considerations

-Try to avoid bumping into or getting too close to Saudis of the opposite sex. They might feel awkward because they are not used to it. You will notice the Saudi men usually give way to the women in the aisles, they do this out of respect and they want to be polite to you. Not because they are scared/disgusted/arrogant (most common misperceptions). So be polite and and mindful of other shoppers.

Chose the right cashier

Female cashiers began working at “family section” cashiers in Panda’s in 2015 and they’ve become mor and more common in other grocery and department stores ever since. If you are a single male (single here meaning shopping without any females) you should always go to the male cashiers to avoid any problems. Men accompanied with their wives can go to the female cashiers. Females shopping alone can chose either one.
All the staff in the store apart form the cashiers are male. The staff is everywhere, there seems to be a different guy responsible for every 10 sqm of the store. There will always be someone sweeping the floors, filling the shelves and working at the fresh food sections. Surprisingly when asked, the staff might not know the answer to your question because their area of responsibility is so narrow. The yogurt shelf guy doesn’t necessarily know a thing about the bread or know where the pasta might be located. The frustrating aspect of this is that they hardly ever say “I don’t know”. Instead, they will just point you to a random direction (often in the wrong).

How to queue in line 

-Be aware that in general Saudis do not acknowledge the concept of queuing, or standing in line, example of which you can read here: How not to queue in Saudi Arabia.
What line? Is there a line here? Especially when you’re going to have your fruits weighed, there seems to be no order in which the staff attends to the customers. Usually the Saudi women will go first, then whoever is the loudest or has best skills in line-cutting will be served next. In this situation you can use your female gender to your advantage, try to go behind or next to the loud Saudi lady and have your bag ready immediately when she is done, place your bag ON the scale! This will not guarantee success though.

Special considerations for female shoppers 

– If you’re a young woman, watch out for gangs of teenage boys and young men on the lookout for a date. Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, they come to grocery stores sometimes to hit on girls. Shopping malls are off-limits to them because of this exact behaviour. They might follow the girl they are interested in the store, trying to exchange numbers. Sometimes they will try to hand you their phone number on a sheet of paper or napkin. In the recent years this has become less common and looking for dates has moved back to the shopping malls and public events.
-Be careful with your abaya when going on escalators, it might get stuck. Another annoying occurrence is it sometimes might get jammed under your shopping cart, or fellow shoppers carts.

-At the cashier always have cash! So many frustrating times I have encountered problems with any kind of cards. They will run around the store with your card trying to get it work, but you still might end up having to go to the ATM.

Say NO to plastic bags 

-Please try to save the nature and encourage the packers to use less plastic bags! Take your own reusable grocery bags (they can also be bought at the cashiers in Danube for example) Check out this post: 10 ways to recycle in Saudi Arabia 

In Saudi Arabia there will be one or sometimes even two men packing your groceries. They are trained (I would assume) to put different items in separate bags, which is a very peculiar phenomenon for most westerners. If you buy for example bread, milk, deodorant, cookies, chicken and eggs, everything requires it’s own bag! This total waste of plastic is just mind-boggling and needs to stop. We can all do our part in reducing the mindless and pointless usage of plastic bags, which end up in the desert, the ocean and the beaches ruining the scenery and destroying the environment. There is no harm in telling the bagger you prefer your groceries bags to be packed full of things. If this fails, there is also no harm in going to help the bagger to pack the groceries and fill them up full yourself.

Any tips for grocery shopping in Saudi you want to add?

Happy shopping!
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  • Tara Umm OmarJune 12, 2010 - 10:25 am

    Just went to Hyper Panda last night. By the time I left at 1130pm it was still busy! During the summer when kids are out of school, it will get worse. I absolutely hate grocery shopping here because my husband can only take me on the weekends anytime after isha. He hates accompanying me inside because of the fitnah inside the malls and most of the time he is just too tired (Friday is his only day off). Its just as well because if he comes with me then he hurries me up. He does not do well in crowds lol. Shopping late on a weekend means that you get whatever produce that’s left over because the workers aren’t stocking to fulfill demand until the next day. The vegetable stands are always a nightmare. I loathe this part of the shopping the most. Besides having to choose from the crappy produce that has been picked over by hands who knows how many times, there are never enough workers manning the scales! One worker and 2-3 scales sitting unused. There are also men who have no respect for letting the women go first. I had been patiently awaiting my turn at an unused scale when another worker came up to it, I should have been first but he took the produce of a Saudi guy who had just then waltzed up to the counter. This is another thing, the non-Saudi workers are too afraid to tell people to wait their turn. I try to avoid this part of shopping by finding already packaged fruits/veggies with prices on them. It doesn’t always work because of course not everything I need is packaged! I shop for two weeks worth of groceries so that I can stay away from the store for two weeks…my cart is usually overflowing by the time I’m finished. Since my husband is not with me then I will have to put my own stuff on the conveyor belt which I don’t mind except for when I have to bend over the cart, my butt is in the air, my boobies are spilling over the inside of it and I can feel the men’s eyes on my every move. When I pick up a heavy water case or a case of juice, some of the looks my way are wide-eyed because they can’t believe a woman is picking up such “heavy” stuff by herself. If one of the baggers aren’t busy, they’ll help me so I give them a tip for that. Other trouble I run into is not being careful to make sure something has a price on it. Then having to explain in Arabic that I really want it, I need it! Sometimes they’ll send the bagger to get a price and other times they can’t understand my Arabic lol. If I try to speak in English, its no use. Most of the Saudi cashiers don’t understand English either. I’m just dreaming of the day that I can shop during the day when there are no crowds.

    By the way, the Tamimi inside Sahara Mall and on Dabab street are the worse to go to at night and certainly on a weekend night.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 12, 2010 - 9:08 pm

    Hi Tara!
    Yes I agree, grocery shopping is usually a nightmare!
    I’ve found that Danube (not the one inside Hayat) and Carrefour are the best to visit at night.The store inside granada mall is quiet at night times too (cant remember is it actually Hyperpanda or carrefour..)Most Hyperpanda are horrible on weekends! Especially the one on Takhasusi!The best time to visit hyperpanda is in the early morning when saudis are still asleep :)
    If a man cuts in front of you in the weighing line, just say excuse me I was here first and shove your stuff on the scale! Works for me most of the time. If not I will usually have a say with the weighing guy in hopes of him treating the next women better.
    ya I get those looks too when I load 5litre water bottles on the conveyor belt, and then I lift them back into the cart quickly before the bagger puts them in plastic bags :) I assume people are thinking “poor woman having to do all that work, where is her husband” as if women cant do anything by themselves! So annoying but it wont stop me from doing it.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm OmarJune 13, 2010 - 1:13 pm

    Hi Laylah,

    It would be heaven to shop at Danube if only my husband would drive me that far and I had a bigger grocery allowance. You must mean the new Danube on Takhasusi?

    We used to live in the Granada area last year. I’m allergic to the Carrefore at Granada Mall unless I can get there during the day on a week day. Sometimes I can see bus loads of expats from the nearby compounds but they are civilized if you know what I mean lol.

    The Hyper Panda I go to in Rawdah used to be a Geant. To add to the nightmare of shopping, its so hot in there as if they don’t have the a/c on! I’m thinking about going back to shopping at Carrefore down further on Khurais Rd. After I figure out which is cheaper, Carrefore or Hyper Panda.

    As I’ve said before, you’re brave. I don’t want to deal with a man if my husband is not nearby in the store or parked outside. But if its a woman, oh hell no! She better think twice because I’ll take her on lol.

    We gotta do what we gotta do and that includes not always having a man doing things for us :-)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 13, 2010 - 4:57 pm

    Hi Tara!
    yes I mean the one in the new Panorama mall on Takhasusi, its always very quiet. Dont know how long that’s going to last though.

    Yep, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do lol!ReplyCancel

  • ipv6January 13, 2011 - 2:58 pm

    ah the shy guy again,
    send my regard to your man and say dun be shy!
    chuckles.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 18, 2012 - 8:00 am

    And I thought its only my abaya get stuck under the trolley:), I always go to carrfure at granada always before magrib and its never crouded so I enjoy my grosery shopping . thank u Laya for useful infoReplyCancel

  • AnonymousAugust 24, 2012 - 2:38 am

    Having worked for both Carrefour and hyper panda in the past as store GM I can tell you Hyperpanda may be cheaper on price for groceries but Carrefour are certainly better in terms of the quality of the produce…

    If you want too check for yourselves you only need compare potatoes, onions and tomatoes you will see a clear difference.ReplyCancel

  • Noureen AghaMay 21, 2018 - 1:48 pm

    Thanks a lot LAURA for this informative topic.
    Besides these shopping malls, one more shopping site in Riyad is AL-SADHAN which is not as vast as Lulu etc but still it has almost all items from grocery to vegetables, fruit and bakery products. Its shoes and garments are cheap and one sometimes low quality. One has to carefully search garments etc. Its bakery segment is wonderful.ReplyCancel

  • Sara Ali KhanAugust 8, 2018 - 2:37 pm

    Hi Tara!
    Yes I agree, grocery shopping is usually a nightmare!
    I’ve found that Danube (not the one inside Hayat) and Carrefour are the best to visit at night.The store inside granada mall is quiet at night times too (cant remember is it actually Hyperpanda or carrefour..)Most Hyperpanda are horrible on weekends! Especially the one on Takhasusi!The best time to visit hyperpanda is in the early morning when saudis are still asleep :)
    If a man cuts in front of you in the weighing line, just say excuse me I was here first and shove your stuff on the scale! Works for me most of the time. If not I will usually have a say with the weighing guy in hopes of him treating the next women better.
    ya I get those looks too when I load 5litre water bottles on the conveyor belt, and then I lift them back into the cart quickly before the bagger puts them in plastic bags :) I assume people are thinking “poor woman having to do all that work, where is her husband” as if women cant do anything by themselves! So annoying but it wont stop me from doing it.ReplyCancel

This week I went to the King Khalid exhibition which is going on this month at the National Museum Riyadh here are some pics I took:

The King Khaled exhibition was at the National Museum in its own separate building. They welcomed us very warmly and we were treated like VIP guests. I guess they don’t get many blondes coming in! We got our own english speaking well-mannered guide for the tour. The exhibition was beautifully displayed and had lots of interesting artifacts. There was photography of the Kings life on the walls, and the the rooms were divided according to the theme. The guide took us through the various rooms highlighting the Kings political career, achievements, hobbies, personal and religious life. They let us stay inside during the Ishaa prayer and we got to sign the special guests book. When I wrote something in it in arabic they were amazed :) They said the exhibition should be there for at least another month, and there are no special days for women or men only its allowed for everyone. Around the National museum theres a big park area with fountains, creeks and sitting areas, nice to walk in the evenings with the beautiful lighting.

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  • EmmaJune 6, 2010 - 2:07 pm

    Hi, do you know for how long this exhibition at the National museum will be there?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 6, 2010 - 5:22 pm

    Hi!It will be there for about a month and then they move it to another city.ReplyCancel

  • LailaJuly 12, 2010 - 8:15 pm

    I happened to stumble upon your blog, and I am so happy I did!

    I love your posts about Saudi, and being a local myself it is refreshing to see my country from a foreigner's point of view–both the good and the bad.

    Anyway, the reason I am commenting on this particular post is because I was one of the women selling at Blue Harbour Exhibition, and my close friend is theReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 25, 2010 - 6:42 pm

    Hi Laila!

    Just noticed your comment now!

    Anyways were you selling jewellery?
    I bought earrings from someone also called Laila :)ReplyCancel

Camels, the animals designed specifically to survive in the harshest of environments – the desert.Every single detail of the camel has been carefully designed and constructed to perfection.

It is one of the few animals specifically mentioned in the Quran:

“Have they not looked at the camel – how it was created?” (Surat al-Ghashiyah: 17)

A patient of mine recently gave me some freshly milked camel milk to taste and mentioned all the health benefits that it has.  It was so good that it inspired me to find out a little bit more about this amazing creature!

Camel Anatomy

Numerous anatomical and physical adaptations have allowed the camel to survive the incredibly harsh environment of the desert. Heat storage within the body of the camel, selective brain cooling, fur, concentrated urine from unique kidneys, adaptions in the respiratory system, special physical features, unique blood consistency and hormones all serve as important characteristics for the camel in terms of thermo-regulation.

The camel actually increases its own body temperature during the scorching heat of the day. That way it minimizes water loss from evaporation. In the night it cools its body temperature down 7 degrees Celscius, saving almost 5 liters of water this way.
To protect the brain from overheating, the camel has an ‘air conditioning” system installed.

The extreme survivor
The camel can survive up to eight days in 50-degree temperatures without eating or drinking-circumstances that would kill a human in 36 hours. It usually drinks 4 times in the summer and only one in the winter! Most of the time the camel is in a state of dehydration, but when it gets hydrated its physiological system quickly adapts to the massive change in body volume.

When the camel does find a source of water it stores it up. Camels can drink up to a third of their body weight of water in ten minutes meaning up to 130 litres in one go.

What’s in the hump?
Contrary to common beliefs, the camel doesn’t actually store water in the humps, but they consist of about 40 kg of fat!  Concentrating body fat in their humps minimizes heat evaporation and creates and insulation throughout the rest of their body. When this tissue is metabolized, it acts as a source of energy and yields more than 1 g of water for each 1 g of fat converted through reaction with oxygen from air. This process of fat metabolization generates a net loss of water through respiration for the oxygen required to convert the fat.

camel closeup
Special features
The camel’s red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable in order to withstand high osmotic variation without rupturing when drinking large amounts of water. WOW!
The kidneys of the camel of course play an important role in water conservation.They have a special shape being able to produce very concentrated urine and thus increasing water retention. The concentration of the camels urine is higher than seawater, it resembles syrup in consistency. This also enables the camels to drink salty water without problems. Also the levels of hormones responsible for water levels significantly increase in the dehydrated camel.

Most of the food sources in the desert are dry and thorny so the camel’s digestive system has been created according to these harsh conditions. The animal’s teeth and lips are constructed to enable it to eat even sharp thorns with ease. Its stomach, which has a special design of its own, is strong enough to digest almost all plants found in the desert.


How camels survive in sandstorms
The eyelids of the camel protect the animal’s eyes from dust and grains of sand. However, they are also transparent and that enables it to see even with its eyes closed which would come in handy in the midst of a sandstorm. Its long, thick eyelashes are created to prevent dust from getting into the eyes.

There is also a special design in the camel’s nose. When sandstorms blow, it closes its nostrils with special lids. The nostrils are also designed to reduce loss of water through respiration with a unique cooling system and nasal passages that are able to absorb water that passes through them.
camel black white
The camel’s feet are specially created for the desert so that it doesn’t get stuck in the sand even if  its carrying hundreds of kilos loads on its back. The animal’s wide toes stop it from sinking in the sand and function just like snowshoes. Its long legs keep its body away from the burning heat of the desert floor.

Protection and perfection

The camel’s body is covered in thick, hard fur. This protects the animal both from the burning rays of the sun by reflecting the heat and from the desert chill in the night which can go below zero.
Some parts of its body are covered in thick protective layers of skin that comes into contact with the ground when it sits on the scorching sand. This prevents the camel’s skin from burning.
These thick layers of skin are not calluses that develop over time; the camel is born with them. The equivalent to a human baby being born with thickened skin on the soles of its feet! This special design brings out the perfection of creation in the camel.
The thickened skin cannot be explained by the logic of the theory of evolution That and all its other extraordinary features reveal one evident truth: That the camel was specifically created by God to help man survive in the desert.
 camel feet and toes

 

Camel in arabic actually comes from the word beauty. Arabs have known the curing affects of camel milk and urine (yes URINE) since the times of Prophet Muhammed who advised people to use it to treat certain illnesses like liver diseases and rashes. Recently scientists have proven this to be a fact. Camel milk on the other hand is especially beneficial for type1 diabetics, helps the digestive system, is cholesterol free, rich in vitami C and it even tastes good!

Read more on the health benefits of camel milk and urine here.

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  • AnonymousJune 15, 2011 - 4:33 pm

    I heard camel urine is very good for hair. I’m currently undergoing lots of hair loss and hair thinning. I wonder if camel urine will help? And if yes, where is it available in jeddah?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 15, 2011 - 6:18 pm

    hi, i would like to know where i can buy camel urine?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 16, 2011 - 9:42 pm

    In Riyadh the best place to try find camel urine is at the camel souq,you would have to ask around because it’s a certain type of camel that is needed.
    I also heard that the urine is good for hair loss, but I don’t know where to get it from Jeddah sorry!maybe try the outskirts of the city where they keep camels.ReplyCancel

  • JeanJanuary 28, 2012 - 5:35 am

    Great blog overall! Lots for people to read and learn. As a nurse, you offer a unique perspective in dealing with Saudi women patients. ( I assume it is women..?)ReplyCancel

  • […] Recommended Article: “Camels – Miracles Of The Desert” […]ReplyCancel

Since my last post showed a rather negative side of saudi culture, this post will display one of the many positive sides to the Saudi way of life.
Visiting the patients in hospitals is a very important thing here, it stems from Islam and its teaching to visit the sick.

A patient in saudi hospital is rarely ever left alone. He/she will almost always have a “sitter” staying in the room with them. These sitters are family members, they might be a son, a daughter, a mother or father, a grandson/daughter, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. The most important thing is the patient is never neglected and left alone, he or she will always be looked after by the family. The family might also provide a paid sitter in addition to family members.

Since my last post showed a rather negative side of Saudi culture, this post will display one of the many positive sides to the Saudi way of life.
Visiting the patients in hospitals is a very important thing here, it stems from Islam and its teaching to visit the sick.

A patient in Saudi hospital is rarely ever left alone. He/she will almost always have a “sitter” staying in the room with them. These sitters are family members, they might be a son, a daughter, a mother or father, a grandson/daughter, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. The most important thing is the patient is never neglected and left alone, he or she will always be looked after by the family. The family might also provide a paid sitter in addition to family members.

As a westerner this came to me as a surprise, a very positive one of course! In western countries like my home country, sadly patients rarely have visitors, they might come on weekends only,or only on holidays if patient is for example in elderly home. Some of these people might have been forgotten in these elderly homes with absolutely no relatives visiting at all..

It would be considered a disgrace and great shame to put ones parents in an elderly home here. Elderly homes do not even exist!There is no need for them, it is an honor to take care of ones parents and have them live in your home.
The sitters take care of all the basic needs of the patients. They will help them eat, even feed them if they cannot themselves, they will assist them to shower and to toilet, and anything else the patient needs. I think this is just awesome! The families here are so close and its amazing to see how dedicated they are. For example, I would bet you no average western man would “babysit” their very ill, possibly demented, bedridden mother. Would a western man change her diapers, feed her, turn her in bed, rub her feet, read her books or recite Quran/read Bible? The average Saudi man on the other hand would NEVER say a bad word or get irritated if the mother is demanding, forgetful or confused.
In the Quran there is several verses stressing kindness towards parents, here is one “..be dutiful to your parents, if one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.(Quran 17:23)
Type into Google “kindness to parents” and all the top 10 results are from Islamic sites :)

And how about a husbands dedication to his ill wife? They will go through anything to please their wives, they truly are great husbands. This also comes from Islam, the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “the best among you (men) are the ones who are best in treatment towards their wives.”
The elderly patients will be the most respected, they might have great great grandchildren visit them!
Children are much valued in Saudi culture and family sizes are often large, I’ve come across parents with 17 children!The more common amount is around 6.

A patient might have many visitors at a time, sometimes so they fill up the whole room. They will bring tea or arabic coffee, dates, chocolates, flowers, cakes, pastries etc to offer the patient. When other relatives come they are then served to those sweets also. Sometimes the whole family will eat a meal together in the patients room. You might even see them sitting on the floor on a carpet eating and chatting. Saudis are the most hospitable people I have ever met. They will always invite the nurse to have a cup of tea or coffee, to have taste of the foods, and will generously give chocolates and other goods, even if they are poor they will want to give you something.dallahovalblack

Often the visitors will come in groups of either men or women, and they will visit the patient separately, although if they are close relatives they will go in together. Sometimes when many women visit at a time the whole room will smell like their lovely perfumes, or they might even burn some bukhoor inside the room (mind you it IS forbidden). Bokhoor is a kind or special wood that is slowly burned and the smoke smells really good. This is also used as a welcoming gesture to guests.

I’ve been lucky to have met many lovely Saudi families and become friends with some.

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  • AnonymousJuly 12, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    thank you for this post.Lovely reminder to muslims all over the world.ReplyCancel

  • UmmNoamMay 13, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    Dear Laylah,

    first of all alf shukr for your beautifully written blogg – it is not only a pleasure to read but has also contributed to help me out of ignorance about what Saudi culture looks like :-) By now, I am even considering moving to Riyadh (with my job I can be posted anywhere worldwide) because thanks to your day-to-day stories I can picture how everyday life in Saudi Arabia looks – thank you again!

    Your entry about Saudi culture and visiting the sick and the comments have left me very thoughtful.

    I do agree that there are different cultural values regarding family life and care for each other in many Arab countries in comparison to the so called “West” (have you seen the frontier somewhere between East and West? I haven’t yet…). But then again, there are also some other aspects as to how you treat family members and how you care for them, that, in my opinion, need to be taken into account – before judging all the Westerners alike.

    For one thing, no matter which culture you observe, there is always an individual side to it: Am I a person who is able to/willing to care for my parents? Are my parents willing to be taken care of by me? Is it for the best for me and my parents to live under the same roof? Or will it be living hell for both generations?

    Then there is also a “physical” aspect to it: am I physically strong enough to lift my bedridden mother out of bed? Do I have the physical energy after a long day at work to care for her properly? Or wouldn’t she be better taken care of by a professional in a home for the elderly (if such a home exists)?

    And then there is another essential aspect – society and infrastructure (which both has a lot to do with the values you find in a culture): do women work? Or do they stay at home? How many children are there to take care of one or both parents? Is it only one child? Do they even live in the same city? Are there any other options than to take your parents into your home? Because if there aren’t any other options – well, you like it or not, you won’t even ask that question and society will never know whether you did it out of respect for your parents or because there simply was no other choice. Do you and your partner both have to work to earn enough for a living? Do you have kids on your own? Are you a single parent?

    I’m just asking… I am German originally, I haven’t lived in Saudi Arabia, but I have lived in several other countries, among others in Egypt and Mexico – both countries where family is very important indeed.

    But still there was not one single approach as to how to deal with age demented or seriously ill elder family members.

    How much are family members able to shoulder? I personally believe that before one judges someone whose parents live in a home for the elderly (which nowadays in Germany at least have improved a lot and offer from Yoga classes to professional medical care really a lot), it is important to look at those other factors, not only the cultural factor.

    Alf salaam and thank you again for your mind-opening and inspiring blogg :-)

    KatyReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 10:48 pm

    Dear Layla,

    Being a doctor working in the Kingdom, I fully agree with your perception of the hospitality and kindness of Saudis towards their parents and sick family members. It is usual to see entire families descending upon the patient during the vening visiting hours! They all chat, pray together, eat together after spreading out a carpet between two beds, as you observed, and also welcoming nurses to join them for a quick bite.

    Very well-written post. I also agree with the views of one of your readers, that there is no ONE WAY to handle all patient-support problems. Each family will find its own way, depending on their own, individual circumstances.

    TaherReplyCancel

  • […] becomes alive at night and quiets down for the day during the Muslim fasting month. Read more here on how the Saudis usually visit the sick at […]ReplyCancel

  • Bedouin Patients » Blue AbayaMarch 6, 2015 - 7:43 am

    […] or two sitters present at all times. Read more about the way Saudis visit the sick in hospitals here. They will have large families and it wouldn’t be strange to see ones with over 10 children. […]ReplyCancel

I often hear people complaining or boredom and lack of activities in KSA, especially from the expats who have moved to conservative Riyadh and assume there’s just nothing to do, or that they as women are not allowed to go out and do anything! Which is of course completely untrue.
I’m always short of time to do things in Riyadh so there’s plenty of option you just need to know about them!
Of course it depends a lot on yourself, how active you are in trying to find things to do. It IS more difficult here, but it doesn’t mean that theres “nothing to do”.
I ask these expats, what did you to do back home on your free time then? Often they’d reply: go to cafes, restaurants, friends homes, the gym, shopping, library, museum, art gallery..Well you can do all of that here too!
things to do in riyadh

Expats in KSA usually have more variety of different types of activities available compared to locals, due to the fact many of the activities take place inside compounds which have “no Saudis allowed” rule. Available things to do also depend on if you’re male/female because of the gender segregation. Western compounds have a variety of different sports and hobbies to undertake. Ranging from dance classes, martial arts, aerobics classes, language courses, photography, baking, arts & crafts classes, theme days for families, rugby, football, soccer matches, concerts, etc etc. Embassies also arrange concerts, art exhibitions, national days, and parties. For most compounds  you must know someone who lives inside to get into these places. To know about some of these events, add me on snapchat by username; blueabaya.

As for cafeterias and restaurants, the choices are endless. For some suggestions check out the Riyadh Restaurant Reviews page. Don’t miss having “High Tea” at the Faisaliah tower Globe and combine it with a visit to the viewing platform ( to go up to platform only is 60 sar charge pp). Expats often take off their abayas and the atmosphere is relaxed. Upstairs is the more intimate Cigar Lounge for romantic evenings. Take note there is a minimum charge which as of October 2017 was 300 sar pp.

the shooting range at Dirab Golf and Country club

For men there are numerous terraces you can sit outside and enjoy the warm evenings.
3rd floor Centria mall Lenotre cafe, Hualan and Lusin have a lovely terrace for families!

There’s plenty of male only gyms all around town, female only is a bit more difficult to find, but they do exist. There is one in Almultaka center, Nuyu, KORE, Almanahil inside DQ (diplomatic quarters) to name a few. There’s also a walking/ running track that goes around the DQ.

If you want to start golfing there are many good places to get started and have lessons like the Intercontinental right in middle of the city has a golf course. Also Riyadh golf club and Dirab golf club have courses, the Arizona compound has their own course too! Dirab also has polo and horseback riding. It requires membership but you can try it out for free.

Women are allowed to golf and even drive golf carts in Saudi!

There are places just outside Riyadh about 20-30 min drive away where you can rent quad bikes for couple hours and drive on the dunes. Yes women can drive them too! My favorite is Thumamah area, on weekdays it’s almost empty, you can have the vast desert to yourself. Weekends it gets packed with young Saudi men, especially in the afternoon and evening this place is super crowded and not worth the time to get there an back. Go in the morning!

The Red Sands area west of Riyadh along the Mecca highway is a beautiful place to go just for the scenery. Also possible to rent quad bikes there.
There are numerous other desert treks and picnicking spots around Riyadh, but again I will only mention my favourite Rawdhat Khuraim. Once you get there you will not believe you’re in Saudi-Arabia, it’s so green! Check out this post: 10 Beautiful places to Discover in Riyadh’s Desert for more tips!
Then there’s a lot of historical sites to explore around Riyadh, like Old Diriyah’s Turaif district. It’s a historically interesting site to visit including the famous Salwa palace. During 1745, a strong Islamic reform movement took place over here. Diriyah was the largest city in the Arabian peninsula in the first part of 19th century Turks destroyed this city and afterwards Riyadh captured it. Walk amongst the ruins of mud and brick built houses, palaces bath houses and mosques.
EDIT 2017: At Turaif district is still closed for the huge restoration project. Estimated to open in 2018. You can visit the Bujairy Square, opposite of Turaif.
 For more info on Historical Diriyah check this post: Ten Things to do at historic Ad’Diriyah
diriya palace ruins POSTCrd

Blue Abaya’s guide to Riyadh Historic city of Ad’ Diriyah

 

Another popular family activity is rent your private “villa” or chalet or private pool for a day, in Arabic called isteraha. They can have inside anything from big grass fields, football fields, basketball, gardens, kids playground, indoor/outdoor swimming pools and large rooms with AC, TV and all luxuries you want. Because Saudi culture is very private, they like to rent out an isteraha for weekends so that the whole family can join. Some people rent them for special occasions like birthdays and Eid holidays. Renting a private villa/isteraha is the best way to enjoy a day of family swimming, as mixed swimming pools in Riyadh do not exist. It’s actually quite affordable and some even have staff if you want to take care of catering and looking after the kids.  There are literally thousands of isteraha to choose from around Riyadh. Just search with the term #chalet or #isteraha on instagram and you’ll find them. For more Riyadh swimming pools check out this post: Top Ten Swimming Pools in Riyadh 
The summer heats are a good time to visit The King Abdul Aziz Historical Center and the National Museum. It consists of a remodeled mosque, the old original Murabba’ Palace with main Diwan renovated as “living museum”, the “Memorial Hall” on the outlines of an old courtyard house, a modern exhibition hall for the car collection,  the new Al-Dara main lobby and multipurpose hall, a documentation center with a separated men’s and women’s library each, an art gallery and a large internal garden.
Nearby and definitely worth a visit, Riyadh National Museum will take you a good three hours to walk through. The whole area is surrounded by parks, waterfalls, fountains and picnic areas. It’s especially nice to stroll around in the beautiful evening lighting. It’s possible to walk to the now restored old water tower, there is a restaurant on top with nice views of the city. The whole Historical Centre area covers some 360,000 square meters!
 The nearby area called Dirah (Deerah, Derah),where Musmak castle is located there’s a clock tower next to the huge souq area. You can easily spend hours wandering around the antique, gold and carpet, Bisht, abaya, souvenir and furniture souqs of Dirah haggling and having endless cups of tea with the shopkeepers. Check out the directions to the Bisht Souk here.

For families with kids, (small or grown-up) you can go to various theme parks and amusement parks on the outskirts of town, just make sure it’s singles/families/women’s only day accordingly. Most of them are situated along the Thumamah highway.

And when it comes to shopping, new shopping malls seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after the rain! One of the nicest ones is Riyadh Gallery which has a nice little river and fountains among cafes in the middle.
Most of the biggest malls (Hayat, 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 coasters!

Riyadh gallery mall

For a very different experience visit the huge sheesha cafes on Damman highway. The biggest one is over 10000 sqm and fits 2000 people at a time! If you’re a football fan go on a match day and the place will be packed and the atmosphere is fun and welcoming. This activity is mainly for males, but they do have family sections also.

 

If you’re into bowling, there’s a couple places around the city centre you can practice your skills. This seems to be very popular among Filipino expats! There’s one in Khozama hotel next to Faisaliyah tower, one in the Intercontinental hotel, Ritz Carlton and King Faisal hospital has one too, but you would need to go as a guest of an employee.
 There are numerous Art Galleries in Riyadh, check out Naila, Alaan Artspace, Lam, and AMA for starters.
Living in Saudi Arabia is a great chance to start or try out scuba-diving! The Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia has some of the best diving spots in the world. Riyadh has two good dive shops, Blu Reef Divers and Desert Sea Divers. If you’re already a diver, explore the untouched Farasan Islands in southern KSA.
Every month there are women-only exhibitions held at hotels or exhibitions halls like Nayyara and the Kingdom tower ballroom which are great to discover new interesting businesses established by Saudi women, and to mingle and get to know Saudis. Every first Monday of the Month Kingdom compound has Ladies’ coffee morning 9-12, free entrance and no need to register. Keep up to date with these by following Blue Abaya facebook page!
 That’s a long list of activities and things to do in Riyadh! For more ideas check this page: Things to do in Riyadh 
For families with children: Riyadh with Kids 
The Best Events in Riyadh: Follow Blue Abaya on Facebook! 
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  • Usman Bin IhsanJuly 6, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Thank you very much for your guidance. When I reached here from Pakistan, this place felt bone dry and there seemed nothing to do. There is also an element of missing your family and friends back home.

    Now, at least I have a list of places that need to be explored by me before making my final impression about the place. Unlike the stories I heard back home about how Saudis react to foreigners, they seem pretty less real, I have been treated very respectfully by locals in my office and the place I live in north Riyadh.

    Thank you very much for your contribution to making us feel Riyadh like home.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 11, 2012 - 11:00 pm

    Really Romaizan restaurant is closed? Oh NO :( One of the best places for some “normal” dining in Riyadh..thanks for letting us know! I should write an update post on things to do in Riyadh, seems many places have changed and or closed down!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 11, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    I wanted to leave a comment for your statement that “Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere”.
    Yes, you were right, it used to have a good restaurant and I heard that it is closed without any reason stated by compound management and also I visited my friends in romaizan compound but I saw that it is in very bad shape looks very old due to no maintanance especially swiming pools has teared carpets and tents.ReplyCancel

  • Mohamed SafwatFebruary 5, 2013 - 2:48 pm

    what about the shooting sport? where can i find it?
    the search engine brought me here to the pic. you are posting. but i found no details about it.
    could u plz. guide me if u have such piece of informationReplyCancel

  • LaylaFebruary 5, 2013 - 11:30 pm

    Hi Mohamed!
    What kind of shooting do you mean?
    The only kind of “shooting” I know of is paintball :)
    they have a paintball at the Panorama mall amusement park.
    also check this paintball company:http://www.1stpaintball.com/about/ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:02 am

    Is there any real gun shooting ranges here in riyadh? eg.. gun rentals and use it in ranges…

    Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:05 am

    Hello Good Afternoon!

    I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

    Thanks and regards..ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:06 am

    hello Good Afternoon!!

    I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

    Thanks and regards…ReplyCancel

  • Anonymus1November 9, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    HI,
    Is there any place I can go for softball playing in Riyadh?
    Thank you,
    A resider from the states.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 10, 2013 - 7:12 pm

      hey there, are you male or female ;)ReplyCancel

  • RooshrishaJanuary 30, 2014 - 7:20 pm

    Hi, is there an art classes for kids here in Riyadh.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJanuary 30, 2014 - 10:50 pm

      yes check out the Areej art cafe at centria mall.ReplyCancel

  • AbdulsalalmFebruary 5, 2014 - 2:04 pm

    please we need to know the location and coast per one person
    and the time for MaleReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 5, 2014 - 4:07 pm

      Hi there,
      just to let you know we are not a tour or travel company, we do not organize tours, sorry!ReplyCancel

  • SarahMarch 20, 2014 - 8:13 pm

    Yibreen has a very rude lady employed as manager.
    She shouts at customers.
    I had been there to return a product I purchased and there she was asking me to leave the premises or she would call the security guard.
    She was asking me to GET OUT pointing at the door.
    I had purchased a loreal color vibrancy shampoo and conditioner for SR 620 and since I was not getting my hair colored by them as my doctor advised me not to.
    I had previously had an allergic reaction to dye and was giving medication for the same .
    So I cancelled my hair coloring and went to return the shampoo and conditioner.
    I had payed by my debit card and she said since it’s credit she can only give a voucher which I have to use within the same month.
    The money could be easily reverted to my acc as I did not use a credit card.
    As I said this she started yelling and shouting at me in front of all present.
    SAVE YOURSELF FROM BEING INSULTED.
    DO NOT VISIT YIBREEN !
    I am sharing this to let people know especially if you are calm like me and would not like to be involved in fights , Yibreen is not the place for you.ReplyCancel

  • SarahMarch 20, 2014 - 8:21 pm

    This happened today at Yibreen.
    I had got a haircut done with them 3 days back and was scheduled for hair color today.
    I had informed them that I need to check with my doctor first.
    I purchased the loreal color vibrancy shampoo and conditioner just last night and went to return it today as I was not getting my hair colored.
    This was the rudest person I met in my life
    No to brag about it but I could employ 10 managers like her with the same salary she gets, the attitude she showed was beyond description.
    Yelling , asking clients to get out for just returning a sold product is all one can get at YIbreen Spa Riyadh.ReplyCancel

  • liiaApril 21, 2014 - 12:56 pm

    Hi, how do i look for an istireha? Also, where would one go shopping/getting a mens thobe done? TqReplyCancel

    • LaylaApril 22, 2014 - 5:26 pm

      Hi liia, there are lots of isterahas on the dammam rd for example, and on the thunmamah rd, you know the one that goes to Janadriyah? If you know where the Splash waterpark is (also on thumamah rd), they have small isterahas with private swimming pool you can rent for the day! For the thobes go to Tayba souk!ReplyCancel

  • Shabana WasimJune 13, 2014 - 10:51 am

    Godd informations!
    ReplyCancel

  • AmeenAugust 16, 2014 - 3:52 pm

    Is there any rifle club in riyadh or a place where male can learn shooting / using rifles?

    Thanks,
    AmeenReplyCancel

  • Mai LingDecember 1, 2014 - 1:24 am

    LOL it upset me very much when you told me women are allowed to drive golf carts it made me feel like so sorry for people that cannot drive – especially in a place where you need a car, because it is so hot etc.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaDecember 3, 2014 - 4:23 pm

      Yeah, it’s kind of sad, but also we can try and look at it form the humor point of view :)ReplyCancel

  • Nicole JordanMarch 8, 2015 - 6:24 pm

    I have been a very loyal and regular customer to Yibreen for so many long years now for so many reasons but naming view, their professionalism and highest courtesy. So for Sara to say such negative incident about Yibreen, I can assure all readers that kicking someone out of any salon/Spa due to turning a shampoo would be too difficult to believe. I cannot believe that any manager would do that unless there is another side to her story she is omitting to support her claim.ReplyCancel

  • Bush BushJuly 25, 2015 - 6:27 pm

    Very nice :)ReplyCancel