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, 1 July 2007

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?!


Kamran said...

I never knew that married life gets you through the Saudi-customs-DVD-fiasco so easily! That's hell of an incentive to consider while opting for it ;-).

Alwan said...

hay, welcome back !

Just recently, the Saudi customs were instructed to be less strict about movies and books. However, they still very strict when it comes to Alcohol since customs' officers get rewarded if they catch Alcohol.

Margrave said...

Hi Alwan, I hope you're well.
How exactly does the customs office get rewarded? Does he get to keep the bottle?! (joke!)

Schwa said...

When I was seven or eight and we were leaving Riyadh for summer vacation, I had my bag thoroughly searched by some panicky security after it went through the X-ray machine. Turns out they thought a large slide whistle I had brought looked like a makeshift gun, especially as the slide hooked around and gave a convenient place to stick one's finger that looked like a trigger guard.

alwan said...

Hi Margrave,

I think those who complains about Saudi customs haven't been in an American airport recently! :)

Hosam said...

welcome back margrave...we missed you...

to be honest i noticed the same thing... they're less strict when it comes to (DVDs,books, magazine..)... my last two trips i brought a couple of DVDs and magazines and it all went through..
but i guess it all depends on the customs employee mood!! nothing is certain!!!

Chris said...

Hi Margrave, enjoyed the post: very funny!

Personally we've got to the point where we'll drive for four hours and fly from Bahrain rather than go through King Khalid Airport, and we've got Diplomatic status so wouldn't get our bags searched anyway!

Anyone who can write amusingly about that place deserves my admiration.


أبو سنان said...

Some Saudis certainly do think they own the world. I say this as an American guy married to a Saudi woman. But she's okay, she's not a Najdi Bedu/Riyadhi type, rather a Hijazi, so she's different.

As to the DVDs, they havent been getting down on those as much anymore. But I wouldnt try to bring in "Girls Gone Wild" just yet.

Sim said...

the mysteriously broken seat in front of you scenario made me laugh out loud. i do the same thing! only i use all my body weight to make sure the person in front of me cant recline.

Thanks for the Saudi customs update. will definantly be stocking up on magazines for my flight back to Riyadh.

Ravindra Rao said...

I have lived in Dubai for nine years. In Dubai (and UAE), a policeman gets out of his car and walks to your car. I was stopped a few times, particularly at night, but never treated like this.

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cyril said...

we Asians have a tough time during the immigration once we land, no matter how early our flights are we are made to stand in long queues and not allowed to use the other counters no matter even if they are free reason reserved for the saudis and the whites!! treating as if we are children of lesser Gods! I wanna scream on them for being discriminatory... but alas! the Gandhian nerves are not inherited. I did also have a similiar 'tongue sticking jaw' experience becos of the cds that i was carrying and mine being the g0spel ones but good it was just laughed off by the officer.

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