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.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Being English

Is there anything more English than...

  • Sitting on Swedish furniture.
  • Eating Indian food.
  • Drinking Belgian beer and French wine.
  • Watching American programs on a Japanese TV.
  • Driving a German car.
  • Deep distrust of foreigners.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Brainwashed Saudis

I caught this clip from a Lebanese TV debate regarding women on Saudi television from Alien Memoirs.
The wonderfully articulate woman and the increasingly uncomfortable looking man make gratifying viewing. What was interesting was her claim that Saudis are brainwashed. Of course they are. The vast majority of Saudis are practically zombies. Automatons. Drones.
But so are the rest of us.
The English are brainwashed into believing that Britain is "great", the British Empire was a good thing, God will save the Queen
, Christianity is the way, and that innocents are dying for "democracy" rather than to make the rich even richer.
We have a noble and heroic spirit. Never was so much owed by so many to so few.

Americans are brainwashed into believing that America is "beautiful", the American Empire is a good thing, God will bless America, Christianity is the way, and that innocents are dying for "democracy" rather than to make the rich even richer.
They have a noble and heroic spirit. Remember the Alamo.

This is all nonsense.
Our schools don't teach us how to think, they teach us one version of events as fact. They want us to be patriotic, cause no trouble and pay our taxes. Free thinkers don't make good citizens nor good employees.
If you want to learn how to think for yourself you're on your own.
Brainwashed Saudis, brainwashed English, brainwashed everyone, I wish you luck.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

A Saudi's Home Is His Castle

In England there is a saying that an Englishman's home is his castle, meaning that his house is his little kingdom to rule. It's ironic when you consider that the majority of us live in houses like this:
Englishman's Castle
But in Saudi Arabia, a country where privacy is everything, a Saudi's home often really is a castle. They have the high walls, the fortifications, the jaw-dropping impact of "Wow! Look how huge it is!"
Saudi's Castle
The huge numbers of vast palatial houses in Riyadh continues to amaze me. If the country was not so dry I am convinced that many would be surrounded by a moat, with a drawbridge to let the select few in and out.
Castle with a moat
I'm sure that my father would have loved a Saudi house when my sister was a teenager. She wouldn't have been able to step out of (or into) the house without him knowing about it.
It reminds me of the debate about the Great Wall of China. Was the wall to keep the enemy out or to keep the Chinese in?

Monday, 9 July 2007

T For Two

Thanks to Alwan for sending me this fantastic photograph which was apparently taken at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry here in Saudi Arabia.

T for Two
The sign on the wall may or may not have been added by me…

But seriously, who built this?? In a country where married couples can't walk hand in hand, who believed that two Saudi men would enjoy sitting next to each other whilst answering the call of nature? In my experience most Arab men don't even like to use urinals (even when they aren't in a thobe).
So what did they imagine would happen?

Two men squatting side by side on the toilets.
Man one: …and I'd advise waiting until the stock hits around 2 riyals before you sell it.
Man two: Well the market indicates, oh hang on… uhhhhhh uh huuuuuuuunnnnhh uh uh huuuuuuh huh huh. Phew… As I was saying, the market indicates that…
Man one subtly wraps his ghutra over his nose.

I think not.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Cultural Sensitivity and More Man On Man Action

The Middle Eastern chaps at work are forever putting their arms around each other and distributing shoulder massages, hugs, kisses and handshakes. When they come into work they often greet each other like long lost friends. Liberal numbers of kisses are deployed on large numbers of cheeks, often accompanied by subtle slurping noises.
Despite having lived here for almost one year, this behaviour continues to amuse and surprise me. I cannot help my innate Englishness. In the West you're lucky if you get a mumbled "Good Morning" when you arrive at work. I am not used to all this male physical affection. In Riyadh I am Margrave, the untouchable.
Last week one of the guys was departing for a holiday. He was going to be away for ten days. I anticipated some frenzied man on man action before he left. I was not to be disappointed.
I watched cautiously as he gradually kissed and hugged his way through the entire team.
He was getting nearer and nearer to me.
I grinned nervously.
I looked him over. He's a big man. If he gave me a bear hug I could be lost for weeks. He might board the plane for his holiday without realising I was still stuck under his arm, my muffled screams drowned out by the hum of the engines. I hoped he was going somewhere nice.
I mentally prepared myself.
He walked towards me… this was it. Stiff upper lip, old chap.
…he thrust out his hand to shake mine.
No hug. No kisses for Margrave. Not even the briefest of shoulder massages. Just a handshake.
He wasn't touching me, but his cultural sensitivity was.
To me it's still odd that holding your wife's hand in public is frowned upon, but being touchy feely with your male colleagues is business as usual.
I wonder what my colleagues think of me. Margrave the emotional retard? Hell, maybe they're right.

Perhaps, just once in the future, I'll copy their behaviour in a Western work setting somewhere. Can you imagine the responses from the Western men as I slowly kiss my way through them all?
Margrave the untouchable, indeed!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Fat Brits, Fat Saudis

Dear Saudis, be ashamed. Be very ashamed. You're almost as fat as the British and we're one of the fattest groups of fat fatties you've ever seen.
This is one of the downsides of thobes and abayas, with no discomfort coming from your ever tighter trousers you can hide beneath your flowing clothes in blissful ignorance. Its only when you can't see your feet that you realise you may be over eating a bit...

Monday, 2 July 2007

Margrave the Happy Philistine

Whilst in Singapore we went to a Jazz show at Singapore's "Durian", the Esplanade theatre.
Singapore Esplanade

The concert included the living legend Jimmy Cobb and I was really looking forward to it. I consider myself a Jazz fan, or at least I thought I did.
The show started well enough but after the opening instrumental tracks I started to wonder when they were going to stop warming up and actually play something. There were many old folks (including some Important People) in the audience and as I people watched I noticed some of them were already falling asleep.
The music was starting to make me feel like I was trapped inside a giant elevator.
I realised I was spending more time looking at my watch than watching the concert. The guys on stage were clearly superb musicians but I was bored. I was also becoming convinced that everyone else was bored too, but was too pretentious or polite to admit it.
My legs were crossed and my foot started to vibrate rapidly. I started to wish I was in a bank in Saudi, with prayer time rapidly approaching. At least no one would glare at me if I stood up and left.
Finally, I saw redemption approach as the singer walked on stage. Roberta Gambarini has a fantastic voice so things were sure to get more interesting.
Audience: *polite applause*
Roberta: Thank you. Thank you.
Audience: *more polite applause*
Roberta: *small talk*

I looked at the audience. Half of the old men were still snoring, but half of them had been sufficiently stirred and were now sleepily leering at her. Possibly. I tried not to wonder what they were thinking.
Roberta: We're now going to perform a new arrangement of (famous song) by (famous person). We've added vocals and I personally wrote these lyrics. I'd like to sing them for you now.
I perked up a bit. This should be nice. I wondered what she'd sing about.
The music started.
Roberta: Daboob daboob boob dooby doo, shabaa shabaa shabaa shabaa.
Me: What the hells??
Roberta: Shabaddy shab, shabaddy shab, shabaab baab babby bab.
My mouth hung open.
Roberta: Squeee oon, squee oon squee oon squeen oon, uh huh uh uh uh uh.
I looked around to see if anyone was laughing. No one was. I covered my mouth with my hand.
Roberta: Scuddudda bang, scudduda bang, bang bang bang bang bang!
I wondered how long these lyrics took to write and whether they'd been translated into any other languages. I tried to guess what the Arabic version would sound like. With growing impatience I realised that even I could translate these lyrics into Arabic.
I’ve now discovered that this type of singing is called "scat".
Now I may have had a bad upbringing but to me "scat" has always been the mixing of porn with poo, including eating faeces. No, really. Perhaps this explains my shit eating grin at the end of the concert.
Not having to pretend to enjoy free form Jazz. Another positive aspect of living in Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Saudi's Best Named Drink?

Can you believe that "Bliss House" resturant in Riyadh serves a drink called a Hitler? I couldn't handle a large one, so I ordered myself a "Little Hitler".
Only in the Middle East.

The Boys Are Back In Town

Well, this boy is anyway. Our trip to Asia included a stay in possibly my favourite country, Singapore. Beneath all the clichés like "it's a 'fine' city" or "it's too clean" (hey idiot, do you really want the place to be dirtier?) is an exceptionally well managed country full of hard working, law abiding people. The women can even wear shorts and singlets with no subsequent breakdown in law and order, public lewdness or mass orgies. Watch this space.
Of course clichés are often based on fact. For instance, where else would you be told what to do when driving towards a dead end?

Turn Around

On the flight back to Riyadh we were seated behind three Saudi gentlemen whose behaviour astonished me. It's an example of one of the cultural differences between me and some of the Saudi men that I'm still struggling to get used to. I'm tentatively calling it the "Prince Complex".
When they arrived they rammed their hand luggage into the overhead locker, carelessly throwing around the bags that were already there. Why care about those next to you?
As soon as they sat down they immediately reclined their seats all the way back. Or at least they tried to. The seat in front of me was mysteriously broken and wouldn't recline (I have strong knees.) Why care about those behind you?
Their ghutras came off and were draped carelessly over the seat in front of them. Why care about those in front of you?
Every few minutes they called for the flight attendants because this wasn't right and that wasn't right. I could see the attendant's eyes roll every time they walked away. No one else is as important as me.
When they tried to purchase some perfume and the attendant explained that the airline didn't accept Riyals (Saudi currency) they believed that complaining about it constantly would suddenly change the airline's policy. Don't you know who I am?
Their behaviour cast a cloud over me and the mixed feelings I had regarding my return to Riyadh. I was looking forward to being back home, looking forward to serene Thursday morning shopping, dreading driving on the roads, wondering when I'd next have a nice glass of wine, and finally of course dreading immigration and customs.
I don't really know why I dread them so much. They've never once treated me badly. In fact my experiences with Australian customs and immigration have been far, far worse than my experiences in KSA. Oh and did I mention Indonesia? It’s the only place in the world where the immigration official has asked me for a bribe.
By the time we reached immigration in Riyadh we had been travelling for a very long time. After recently reading KR Khan’s post
about customs I was wondering what they'd do with the DVDs we had with us. They were all mainstream movies and TV series and I assumed they contained nothing that would offend. Of course, having not watched them and knowing a little about what can be deemed offensive here I couldn't be absolutely sure.
After the traditional jockeying, elbowing and wrestling at the luggage carousel we picked up our bags and joined the queue for the X-Ray machines.

My mouth went dry.
We were so tired and we just wanted to go home. The last thing we wanted was to have to sit with the customs guys whilst they watched all of our DVDs. I made a mental note to pack some popcorn on our next trip back to Riyadh, just in case.
I hoisted our two suitcases onto the belt and watched them nervously as they made their tiny but crucial journey.
Customs: You! Open that suitcase!
Ahh hells.
Customs: And that suitcase too!
Ahh bollocks!
My mouth went even drier. My tongue seemed to be sticking to the roof of my mouth. I started mentally counting how many DVDs we brought with us. We had four huge TV series that alone would take ages to scan through. Then there were all the movies.
Customs: Show me the bottle!
Me: *mouth stuck shut* Gnunf?
Customs: The bottle! The bottle! Show me the bottle!
Me: Umm?..
My wife calmly searched for the bottles of cooking sauce she'd packed in the suite case.
Mrs Margrave: It's just cooking sauce.
Customs: *hears* It's just squiggle squiggle.
My wife showed him the bottle.
Customs: *reads* squiggle squiggle.
Mrs Margrave: *pointing at the "Cooking Sauce" label* C-o-o-k-i-n-g s-a-u-c-e…
Customs: *hears* s-q-u-i-g-g-l-e s-q-u-i-g-g-l-e...
Customs: Ok.

He wasn't in the least bit interested in our DVDs. They were on top inside the suitcase but the only thing that concerned him was the slightly beer-shaped bottles of cooking sauce. I was very surprised and now assume that they aren't as concerned with married couples' tastes in movies as they are with those of single guys.
Despite the fact that customs was very busy he was actually polite and he even cracked some jokes. Mr Saudi Customs Man, whose name I do not know, I salute you.
It's good to be home.
Bloody hell! It's a bit hot, isn't it?!