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, 27 November 2006

Driving - Tailgaters

One thing I hate about driving here is the tailgaters.
On one of my first drives home from work I was doing 120 km/h down the freeway and this imbecile pulled up to a few inches behind me and started flashing his lights so I’d get out of the way. I didn’t. I drove for at least 5km until he finally turned off. The whole thing was ridiculously dangerous and whilst I know I should have pulled over I didn’t want to send him the wrong signal. Why should his idiotic driving be rewarded? What he really needed was a good kicking.
However…. last night driving home on the highway there was this car that pulled in front of me on the fast lane.

You know where this is going.
I pulled up behind him thinking he’d get the hint. We drove for about 1km like this and he still didn’t pull over. Despite the fact it represented everything I hated I decided I’d flash him.
- As I leaned forward for the stick it felt dirty and wrong.
- As I pulled the stick towards me I hated myself for it.
- I pulled the stick.
- My windscreen was suddenly covered with water.
- I retreated in shame.

My unfamiliarity with my new car saved me from becoming one of those flashing tailgating gits, but I am sure it’s only a matter of time.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

First Experience With Muttawa

Anyone even remotely connected to Saudi Arabia knows about the muttawa. For those that don’t they are the basically the religious policemen here. Most Westerners will experience them in shopping malls as they walk around asking the women to cover their hair. There are some sinister stories about them ( ) but in my first experience with one last week he was so polite we were actually unsure about whether he was muttawa or just a fuss-pot.
One story I recently heard involved a group of western women who went to Bata to do some shopping. Sometimes Bata is not the sort of place that western women should go to alone. Whilst they were there a group of guys groped them. The muttawa witnessed what happened and stopped both the men and the women. They then gave the women their sticks and invited them to beat the men who groped them. Unfortunately they didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity. :-(

Saturday, 25 November 2006

“Ween Al-Bagi” - Thieving Shops

There is an online protest growing at the moment here in Saudi about the practice of shops (such as Carrefour) who never give you your change if it’s less than 1 SAR. Now I know that perhaps that’s not much money, but I bet if you add it up over the year it amounts to a lot. At least Hyperpanda ask if they can give it to charity. Shame on you, Carrefour!
So yesterday when were at Carrefour and our bill was 120.49 SAR I just handed over exactly 120 SAR. The cashier didn’t ask for the change but if he had I intended to say I didn’t have any. It should work both ways, right?

Toilet Habits

Generally when a westerner sees one of those squatting toilets their hearts sink. I’m no different. I know it’s meant to be healthier for you, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I don't get the physics. I am not sure which bit should go where or when or how. The custom here seems to be to use the squatter and then use a hose (and then a paper towel) to clean yourself off. Fair enough, you probably come out a lot cleaner than those of us that use the western “scratch and sniff” approach.
But when the hose is used the floor ends up soaking wet and as a westerner a toilet with a wet floor only means one thing - someone has a bad aim. I know it’s not the case but I just can’t stop myself from tip-toeing into the toilet with dismay.
The toilet facilities at work are not good so the guys have to get into advanced yoga positions to clean their feet in the sink before they pray. They’re a lot more flexible than me.
There’s one guy at work who always turns on the hand blow-dryer before he "drops the kids off at the pool." I guess he’s shy.

I think the oddest thing I’ve seen in the toilet so far is the chap who was holding his keyboard under a running tap in order to clean it. I didn’t have the heart to stop him. I have visions of him going back to his PC, plugging in his keyboard and thinking "hmm it’s still not working, it must still be dirty…"

Friday, 24 November 2006

At the Car Wash

Car washing is big business here. It’s an easy way for workers to make a bit of extra money and (thanks to it being a bit on the sandy side here) cars require continuous cleaning.
We went shopping at a mall yesterday and when we came out to the car we found some guy busy washing it. He was well prepared with a bucket of soapy water and a prehistoric sponge. I’d never asked for the car to be washed and I’d never even met the guy before, he was just trying a cheeky bit of business.
I told him to get stuffed and didn’t give him any money. I feel bad about it but he could have at least asked.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Queue Jumping Ninjas – Defeated!

The cashier sent two lardo-ninjas packing and they were SO upset! He obviously wasn’t aware that they are more important than the rest of us! It was one of the most entertaining spectacles I’ve witnessed in this country. Go on love, waddle off to the back of the queue whilst we laugh at you!
Unfortunately in true "Shogun Assassin" style they will be back but for now check-out guy, I salute you.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Driving - The Capitulation

It's been one week. How has my driving changed?

  • I assume the minimum speed limit everywhere is 100 km/h.
  • I’m fifteen rows back at the traffic lights and they go green. I immediately beep my horn.
  • At traffic lights, six inches is the maximum gap between my car and the car in front.
  • I suddenly realise I need to turn left. I turn left from the far right lane whilst beeping my horn.
  • The slow lane is the middle lane, the overtaking lane is the left lane, and the alternative overtaking lane is the right lane. The “I’m in a hurry today” overtaking lane is the hard shoulder.

“Totsiens”, “hen hao ren!”

We’re going to miss you. Good luck in your new endeavour and stop trying to hide the fact you’ve got such a big heart. None of your friends are fooled anyway.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Muddy Waters

About two weeks ago though the weather suddenly turned and it’s now quite chilly. It rained yesterday (if you expand your definition of “rain” to include “small blobs of mud falling from the sky.”) I don’t mean a bit of desert drizzle but English summer’s day rain. If you’ve been to the UK you know what I mean, a cold grey day with a bad-tempered dampness that seems to permeate everything. They don’t see rain like this very often and when they do it causes carnage on an impressive scale.
Would you spend millions of dollars of drainage systems if you only got serious rain once in a blue moon? Of course you wouldn’t.
Would you change your insane driving habits just because the roads have turned into water slides? Hell no!
The result is lakes of muddy water and a huge number of car accidents. When you have an accident here you cannot move your car until the police arrive so the roads turn into parking lots and everyone tries to overtake everyone else.

The Saudis can handle it, they seem to have unlimited patience. Hopefully I’ll learn it soon too.

Monday, 20 November 2006

Unbelievable Manners

Before we came to KSA we read reports from many westerners who had lived in Saudi saying that the Arabs were amongst the friendliest people in the world. In these times of mistrust it’s tempting to assume the worst about the people here. Or at least, assume that they’ll be assuming the worst about me.
I’m happy to say that the people here continue to surprise me.
I was paying my bill in a popular restaurant here yesterday when I realised that I had been short changed and so immediately took it up with the cashier. After the dispute was settled I apologised to the Saudi customer I had interrupted. He responded by assuring me it was no problem and then he actually asked me whether I was now satisfied or if there was anything he could do to help me! I was humbled by how good his manners were.
Of course this isn’t the only such incident here either. My hope is that when I leave this country I’ll remember gentlemen such as him long after I’ve forgotten the queue jumpers and their ilk.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Queue Jumping Ninjas

Unfortunately not in the “Shogun Assassin” style, but in the “I’m an ignorant git and I think I’m more important that you style”. The women here do it all the time. Perhaps queues are only for wimps and infidels. Perhaps I’m just too English.
Last night in a clothes store a particularly large and cumbersome ninja decided that rather than queue with everyone she’d start her own queue at the exit from the tills. As she lumbered straight to the next free cashier my wife and I laughed at her behaviour and a Saudi chap in front of us (who had also been jumped by lardo-ninja) saw the funny side with us. When her majesty had been served he actually insisted that I go in front of him to the free till.

I can only assume that in some way he was trying to apologise for her behaviour. I thanked him profusely and wondered at the peerless manners of some people in this Kingdom, both good and bad. I'll forget her soon enough, but I wont forget him.

Friday, 17 November 2006

I Am Not A Piece Of Meat

I am not a handsome man. Ladies do not stop me in the street to comment on how I “look like Brad Pitt, only cuter.” But the women here leer at me. I am not joking, I’ve seen them. My wife has seen them too, staring out from behind their veils.
Last night a girl who had not covered her face gave me such a “come hither” look I was completely taken aback. She was probably only 14 or 15.
I am not saying that the women here are promiscuous. I wouldn’t know either way, but I seriously seriously doubt it. But perhaps all this covering up makes them suffer in exactly the same way as the men. The men here are the champions of leering. Who can blame them? They have so few outlets. Last night we went out to a garden center to buy some plants and my wife wore her abaya as usual, but she didn’t wear long pants. I caught two men leering at her ankles. Her ankles! Not being able to casually glance at the opposite sex makes you behave in the oddest ways.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

First Drive

I left work at 4pm to pick up my car because I didn't want my first experience driving in Saudi Arabia to be:
a) during Wednesday (the Saudi Friday) rush hour, and
b) in the dark.

Thanks to a typical cock-up followed by a prayer time, I ended up having my first drive:
a) during Wednesday rush hour,
b) in the dark, and
c) from somewhere I’d never been before and with no idea how to get home.

I wasn’t so much relieved that I got home in one piece as I was surprised. Somehow I didn’t even get lost. Thank you, Kingdom Tower!

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Shit Hospital, the Return

Today I returned to Shit Hospital so that my wife could do her medical for her multiple entry / exit visa. A colleague and his wife also accompanied us so that she too could do hers. My colleague's wife is six months pregnant, so as you can imagine she has a very visible bump.
At the hospital they test women's pee to see if they are pregnant as if they are they should not be X-rayed. So the nurse completed the tests, sauntered up to my colleague's wife and confidently informed her that she wasn't pregnant. We all looked at the bump. We all looked at the nurse. The nurse looked at the bump. His brow furrowed. He went running back to the tubes and did another test. He then came back and said yes, you are right, you are pregnant.
If I get ill, I'm going private.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Drivers License

It finally came through! It took a mere six weeks for my driver’s license to arrive from the UK via registered air mail! A word to the wise: use a courier. Now I just need to have my medical and have my driver’s license translated to Arabic and I can finally drive on these insane roads!