Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Riyadh’s Most Aptly Named Clothes Shop

My memories of shopping at malls in the UK are of gangs of surly teenagers, packed shops and poor service. It might not be fair but that’s how I remember it.
I love the malls here in Riyadh. As a man they actually make shopping almost bearable. They’re always clean, they’re rarely busy, I’ve never seen any surly teenagers and generally the service is pretty good. In some shops the service has been absolutely stunning.
It can also be a slightly surreal experience for a foreigner. One of the first things I saw was a ninja (a lady in a full abaya with either her face totally covered or just a slit to see out of) buying make up at Mac. Obviously she couldn’t try it on and the (male) staff could not see her skin tone to help her pick the right colours. It just struck me as odd. Because their eyes are often the only thing you see, women here wear a lot of eye make up. I wonder if they also do up the rest of their faces when they go out shopping.

You see a lot of ladies here carrying Louis Vuitton hand bags. I always thought a large part of the appeal was that people can see you carrying something considered expensive and desirable. But if no one knows who you are or can see your face it suddenly doesn't seem to make as much sense.
Barring a few exceptions (e.g. nurses, ladies' toilet cleaners, shop assistants in ladies' malls) women are not allowed to work, so you see guys doing things here that they would not be seen dead doing anywhere else in the world. Dressing mannequins in clothes shops (and boy can you tell!), selling make up and perfume and (most bizarre of all) selling ladies lingerie. In a country as conservative as this, it seems odd to me that ladies buy their lingerie from men. I wonder how many people apply for the job when they have a vacancy.
Women are not allowed to try their clothes on and there are no female changing rooms. Refuse any offer to use the store room to try clothes on. A western woman accepted such an offer at Granada mall and was attacked by one of the staff. Fortunately she was unharmed.
This means that when a woman sees an item of clothing she likes, she has to hope it will suit her, estimate the correct size, buy the clothes, take them home and try them there. Then return the ones that do not fit.
Riyadh’s most aptly named clothes shop? Guess.


Entropy said...

Salam Mr. Englishman,

nice observations in the mall :-)
I just wanted to let you know that we -women- do know other women when we see them in the street or in the mall even when they are all covered up beleive it or not! It was funny reading your comment, but made me think yeah it seems kind of strange but I guess since we grew up in this situation it didn't seem strange to us :-)

Ohh, and Welcome to Saudia

Margrave said...

Entropy, thanks for the post and thanks for the welcome to KSA!
As you pointed out, this must be a skill you've picked up as you've grown up here.
If my wife decided to fully cover herself I think I'd have to buy her a pair of large pink novelty sunglasses just so I could pick her out.

Entropy said...

"I'd have to buy her a pair of large pink novelty sunglasses"

Or just ask another woman, they can easily identify non-professional Abaya wearers... yet another talent we learned to fine tune ;-)

I enjoyed your blog, you seem to be one open minded expatriate, we don't come across alot these. Well maybe we just didn't find our way to their blogs YET :-)

savannah said...

found you via saudijeans blog...

we lived in the kingdom during the 80's with our 4 children...things haven't changed much, it seems. i have fond memories of being there, especially as a thirty-something mom who no longer had to drive carpool!

be well and enjoy the expereince!

Blonde American Girl said...

1. Buy desired clothes
2. Take them to the ladies toilet and try on
3. Return immediately to store for refund or exchange if they don't fit

At least, I know it works in the Eastern Province.

And the surly teenagers are only missing because mall security has gotten better in recent years to the point of banning them entirely from the premises

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable blog. Almost like viewing a screenplay! I am a Saudi who has lived part of her life abroad, and can relate to much of what you are saying.
As for the Malls, my aunt tells me that many and many keep coming up everyday. So, soon enough, there'll be a mall for each citizen.
In Almamlaka Mall, there is actually an only Ladies section, top floor. It is interesting, yet it made me pround to see how many Saudi ladies were working there. Not only that, but the quality of the service provided at the large brands are excellent. As interesting as it is though, it makes me feel sad sometimes -especially during the weekends- to see the teenage girls and college girls stacked up there..all dressed up and all in make up..being seen only by other girls. You can clearly touch how repressed many of them are. But hey, what are multiple cell phones for?

Keep up the nice work.

Devil's Advocate said...

I have to say that when I was in Jeddah, my friend was wearing her abaya and decided to add a face covering to her normal hijab. I was frustrated b/c as I waited for her I could not identify her. I believe the non-interaction between males and females is a huge cause of the problems in this type of society. Does anyone think it will ever change?

Anonymous said...

Very intersting
I never really thought about how strange it was in the mall untill u mentioned some pretty wierd stuff. About the whole lingerie issue I think thier working on a law that would make all lingerie stores exclusive to women only.

Omair said...

hey .. I'm a saudi guy from Jeddah. I lived long periods of my life in the US. Hence, I know what you're talking about and I feel somehow the same when I visit Riyadh. However, I can tell if the all covered up lady is someone I know or not.hehe ...
And about guys and malls, it sucks for us though lol. I mean I know how bad guys here can be but comeon I didn't do anything wrong to be forbidden from buying something nice for myself or someone I care about.

Afterall, welcome to the kingdom. And if you are up to an adventure come and have a dive or two in the Red Sea. It's amazing you will not forget it.

hedoorientia said...

Very amusing! I am of course curious about how everything works and how I'll be able to cope when I get to Riyadh this summer.
Btw - I think you should add "ninja" to you the vocabulary list! Is it a well-known and widely used word for the all-covered?

I enjoy reading your blog! :)

Natalie said...

I really enjoyed your comments. Even as a Muslim woman, I describe Saudi as another planet. Yes, the women do put on a full face of makeup under all that. We take off our face cover in social groups with women and at home. The thought in this culture is if it's worth doing, its worth overdoing...
I think the strangest thing (besides the lingerie salesmen) is the perfume boys outside stores trying to get you to try perfume.
Things are changing a bit though, women are working more often then before in lots of different professions.
Oh, and most of the malls here have a separate area adjacent to the rest rooms for trying on clothes. You still have to be able to estimate your size though, because the clothes come from all over the world.

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