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.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Lost In Translation #4

What happens in Chub city? Is this where the chubby kids go to play with their toys after an afternoon eating McDonalds?

Chub City

I wish this was the name of a fast food joint, the honesty would be refreshing.

Lost in Translation #3

As you can see, the mosquitoes in Saudi Arabia are on the large side.
What do you need to kill the mossies? A bit of Arse, that’s what.

A Bit of Ars

Sunday, 22 April 2007

International Exposure

When I was young(er) a close English friend believed that England was the best place in the world to live. I was convinced he was wrong. Our argument was as pointless as it was heated because our opinions were uninformed.
We grew older. I moved abroad and found that (in my opinion) I was right and he was wrong. I took great delight in telling him so. He didn't believe me. He had never lived anywhere outside England, but still he insisted that England could not be bettered.
A few years ago he moved to another country. So was England still the best place in the world to live? No! He confidently told me that his new home was the best. This seemed incongruous. I took great delight in telling him so. He didn't believe me.
This friend is an intelligent man but this opinion of his was not (sorry mate!). How can you rate your home when you have no comparison? Our governments love to declare or imply that ours is the best country and we are the best people. We want to believe it so we accept the flattery. If we haven't travelled how can we question it?
Everyone deserves a good education and this should include travel. The only Saudis that have approached me to introduce themselves had all lived overseas. They were articulate, confident people. Diverse experiences open our minds, but unfortunately we are not all so privileged.
Governments can help those that cannot visit the outside world by allowing the outside world to come to them. It's no substitute, but it's better than nothing. Think of Dubai with all the recent international acts: the Rock festival, the Jazz festival, Shakira, Bob Geldof and others. Think of Bahrain and the recent Formula 1 Grand Prix. Think of Saudi… for the privileged the world beckons, but for the rest there is nothing. This is a great shame.
I wonder what they think of their country and their culture. Is it the best in the world? Is it the worst? Until they have some international exposure a surprise is waiting for them, just as it was for my old friend.

Speaking of international exposure, whilst we were in Dubai it was the (Daily) International Spitting Tournament. Teams of highly trained athletes from all over the world gathered together to compete for the coveted trophy by spitting the farthest in the loudest, wettest and most gruesome manner.

Dubai International Spitting Tournament

Gentlemen, I salute you! From a safe distance, obviously…

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Real Alien

When I received the Saudi job offer my wife and I stayed open minded and did our research. We bought the Lonely Planet (did the authors ever live here, I wonder?), we went to all the Web sites and bulletin boards and I spoke to people that were either former or current residents of the Kingdom.
Whilst I was mulling over the comparatively minor issues of giving up alcohol, pork and my illusions of safety, my wife was also having to consider sacrificing her right to work, her right to drive and her right to wear what she likes.
In truth our desire to see the country and the region made the decision easier than many would expect. That is, until I saw pictures and videos (2) of the camel spider.
Khalas. My mind was made up.

Me: "Religious persecution and unbearable temperatures are one thing, but I'll be damned if I'm living with these monsters! That's it! The move's off!"
The wife: *withering look*
Me: "Oh alright…."

When I read that "camel spiders prefer the shade" I had images of me standing under the sun in 48C heat because I didn't dare share the shade with an army of angry camel spiders.
I read a story by an American in Riyadh that used to see them regularly in airplane hangers and he described them as the most aggressive creatures he'd ever seen.
As I have yet to see one in Riyadh I've calmed down and I no longer jump every time I hear a rustle in the bushes.
I now see similarities between Saudis and the camel spider. No, really. They're shy, elusive desert dwellers. They both prefer the shade and only come out at night. More seriously, they both suffer ridiculous myths which refuse to die.
I'm happy to add that unlike the spiders, Saudi's aren't aggressive. So far I haven't been bitten once…

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Saudi In A Nutshell?

Your wife comes to visit you in Riyadh. Her expectations are very low but she actually finds that life here isn't too bad and contemplates moving here to be with you permanently.
You head to the airport for her flight back to Europe and she's not allowed to leave the country because her visa doesn't have an exit stamp in it. There's been a cock-up. She has to stay. Her face goes pale. You're in the dog house.
The next day you to speak to a friend of a friend. He "knows some people" (wasta!). That night your wife has her exit stamp and departs the country. You're a hero. Well maybe not, but at least she's talking to you again.

As you're saying goodbye to your wife and child you have one last review of your one year old son's visa in his passport. You notice that right next to the cute picture of his little baby face are the immortal words "Not Permitted to Work."
Who says the authorities don’t have a sense of humour?

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The Brown Hole

Whilst heading home last Wednesday my wife called me to say drive carefully because there was a bad sand storm at home. I looked at the sky sceptically. There was some sand in the air but it looked no different from the last week when we'd had sand storms and "normal" storms simultaneously. To have a sand storm combined with thunder, lightning and torrential rain seemed a bit like showing off, as if a child had been let loose in the special effects room.
I agreed to drive carefully and continued onwards. Then I saw it. The brown cloud. It hung in the air ahead of me on the freeway, sucking light and cars into it where they were never seen again (possibly). It brought night into day and inspired such awe that even the weavers slowed down from 140km/h to 125km/h, changing lanes now only sporadically.
There was no avoiding it, so into it I drove. The car began to rattle and shake in the intense wind, the aircon stank the smell of rancid sand and my nerves began to jitter. My wife wasn't exaggerating, this storm was incredible! I could only just make out the car in front of me (at the agreed Saudi stopping distance of about six feet).

Two things occurred to me at this point.

1) The fact that so many drivers put their hazard lights on is a tacit admission that they never use their indicators on the freeway. How do you know when they're going to change lanes? In one of two ways:
a) The Saudi Swerve. They cut in front of you with barely an inch to spare. Don't be alarmed and don't be enraged. It's not an act of rudeness or aggression, it just.... "is".
b) The Saudi Drift. The laid back option for the modern man in touch with his feminine side. Rather than indicate the driver begins a slow, inexorable migration into your lane. You can speed up or slow down to avoid a crash, the choice is entirely yours.

2) How did people survive in this environment before science and modernisation came to the rescue? It's a testament to the human spirit in general and the Arab spirit in particular that people could thrive in such an incredibly inhospitable environment.
As an Englishman I have no comprehension of how this shapes one's character. During our first drive into the desert we got lost and had no phone signal. In England you'd probably only get wet (and maybe a bit of hypothermia), but out here a cock-up like this can be life threatening.

As proof of just how bad it was, this was the view from an apartment as the sand storm raged. It was taken during daylight hours.

During the Storm

You have to feel some sympathy for the cleaners.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Still Well Endowed After All These Posts

After this experience I keep my eye on which Google queries bring visitors to the site. I'd like to say I have a good reason, but we all know it's just because it makes me laugh. It makes you wonder what the Google staff do with all the data they capture from us.
Anyway, below is a sample of the queries that have made me smile. I suspect none of these people stayed very long….

1) act of sharing wife with englishman (Are we sharing mine or yours? Which specific act do you need information about?)
2) lingerie business haram (It's not haram but I still think it's an odd job for a man, especially in KSA)
3) dodo ninja man (Huh?! I don't think I'm the man you're looking for)
4) dammam porn (Well, I know it's more liberal than Riyadh...)
5) i am in love with a guy from saudi arabia (Congratulations! Which guy? Is it me? If it is I'm sorry, I don't think my wife is keen on "act of sharing englishman husband.")
6) can you drink beer in saudi arabia (I'm afraid the ban on alcohol covers beer. Can I interest you in some Saudi Champagne?)
7) saudi hand chop (At least the query wasn't "saudi hand chop pictures")
8) saudi driving doughnut (What's the difference between this and a normal doughnut? Do you have to use an Hyundai Accent?)
9) how do you say i love you in saudia arabia language (I have no idea, but be careful who you say it to)

10) russian lades (Russian ladies?? Thanks for visiting!)
11) take copied dvds through customs (I really wouldn't recommend it. Pirated DVDs are rife here anyway)
12) arabia porn (Umm...)
13) harem arabia virgins (Yes, yes, in Saudi we all have harems. The aircon bill is horrendous, but what can you do?)

Edit: I just saw another one!
14) nice tight arse (Thanks a lot for noticing!)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Margrave In Dubai

Did I say wow?
Just… well, wow.
What an amazing place. What a great melting pot of people and cultures. It's like Singapore on steroids.
The amount of construction is astonishing. It's amazing what you can get done with slave labour these days.
Slave labour? Well there's plenty of anecdotal evidence (and not just in Dubai). During my stay I heard about construction guys trying to strike because they weren't being paid. Some were so desperate they walked out into the crazy traffic so that their suicide would look like an accident. Families only receive money from accidental deaths.
We were withdrawing money from an ATM in one of Dubai's many fabulous malls and two foreign national guys came up and stood right next to me. Their close proximity was breaking an unwritten ATM rule so as I was completing my transaction I turned to give them the patented Margrave scowl.
When I'd finished one of them made a gesture with his card so I nodded my head and waved him towards the ATM. But he then shook his head and handed his ATM card to me. I realised this wasn't a gift, he didn’t understand English or Arabic (the only two languages the ATM offered) and so he needed my help.
So I ended up entering his pin number, showing him his balance and then helping him withdraw all of his money. After an embarrassed thank you he went immediately to the shop next door to (presumably) wire his money back home.
This is one of the many subtle ways in which people can end up feeling trapped and alienated.
Here is another example. Imagine you speak neither English nor Arabic, you're in the mall and you need the toilet. You live in Saudi Arabia, a country where almost all men wear ghutras (the "tea towel", if you're western and you need a hint) and women cover their faces. You look at this picture on the toilet door and wonder "is this for men or for women?"

Dubious Toilet Sign

Did you get it right or would you have been running for your life from the muttawa?

Ladies Toilet

The only uncovered woman in Saudi Arabia and she's on the door of a toilet. It's a funny old world. Is it just me, or does she look like she's in excruciating pain? Is she suffering from constipation or from the muttawa, I wonder?

Wouldn't it be less confusing to just use the following sign?


Tuesday, 10 April 2007

An Englishman in England

How do you recognise expats on holiday from their life in Saudi Arabia? When they're asked what they'd like to drink at a restaurant they say "wine that goes with pork". They get overly excited and take pictures like this.

delicious pork, you are sadly missed

Maybe we are easily pleased... but it was delicious.

You’ll also see them having one last rushed mournful beer when waiting for their flight to Riyadh at the Irish pub in Dubai airport. I was amused to see that I had the company of many men in Saudi national dress doing the same thing. Hypocrites? Hardly. Just people like you and I.

Monday, 9 April 2007

A Question For Suicide Bombers

Where exactly do all these virgins come from?
If they were virgins down here I doubt their reward would be an afterlife spent in your harem and if they weren't virgins down here then they aren't really virgins, are they?

If you really want to be an extremist, why not be one of these?

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic

When Children Squabble...

(Possibly) A gentleman from Iran writes....

My neighbour and I share a bit of garden in front of our homes. We always argue about who owns it. One of his friends recently put all these horrible garden gnomes on it without asking me for permission.
No one ever listens to me. It’s not fair.
So one night I sneaked onto the garden and kidnapped fifteen of the garden gnomes. Nobody could stop me, it was brilliant.
I then made them stand in front of the whole neighbourhood with confessions of trespassing that I'd cleverly written for them. I told the whole compound I was considering putting them on trial. If found guilty they'd spend years locked in my garden shed or maybe even have their little red heads cut off.
My neighbour's friend was really angry. He's a big bully so I wasn't surprised when he threatened to send all his rottweilers over and I just ignored him. So then he tried to get the whole compound to ignore me and be nasty to me. But they always ignore me anyway so I didn't care.
Eventually I got bored and decided to let the gnomes go home after they apologised and promised not to sit on our little patch of grass again.
I thought giving back something that doesn't belong to me would make me look strong and magnanimous and then maybe the compound would respect me as a big man.
But still no one ever listens to me. It's not fair.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to anyone who celebrates it. Undoubtedly Eostre is delighted to be remembered, even if it is only by accident.

Saturday, 7 April 2007


We've returned from a relaxing break away from work and the Kingdom. My spirits were low on the journey back as I was not looking forward to returning to KSA but it already feels good to be back.
Time has lent its perspective and I’d like to reiterate to anyone considering a move here that we do enjoy living in Riyadh.