“Do you live in a tent in the desert?”
That’s what I usually indirectly get from people when they first find out that I’m from the Middle East, particularly in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I can’t help but crack up because I have only ever been in a tent once in all the years I’ve lived here, and it was because a classmate brought a camping tent to class one time just for the banter.
I migrated in the kingdom in 2008 with my mama and sister to be with my papa, who had been working here for about 7 years then (now 16 years!). Then I flew back to the Philippines in 2012 for college. Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot of things about Jeddah and the Kingdom, the do’s and don’ts, and the difference between the Arab culture and mine.
Most of it is cool, some really cringe-worthy and hilarious, but needless to say, they’re all interesting and unique.
I’ve been meaning to blog about Jeddah again since my previous one (5 Things Filipino Jeddah Kids Say) was from months back. So if you want to know random things about Jeddah, then keep reading!
1. Strict Photography Rules
As you read through, you will notice that I can either provide an okay quality photo or a stock photo. That is because of the strict policies here when it comes to picture taking in public areas! Don’t get me wrong, I can take a sly photo if I wanted, but I didn’t want to get in trouble so I’m playing on the safe side. It’s not a common practice to just casually take a photo of a public area in Jeddah.
Random “No Picture Taking!” signs can be found in most places, especially government offices. As much as I wanted to take pictures of the infrastructure and amazing, top of the line architecture, I didn’t wanna risk it! I like to keep my record clean, plus I don’t wanna be bothered paying fines.
2. Dress Code for Women
Women in Saudi Arabia, not just in Jeddah, are required to wear this black cloak called abaya. It is meant to be worn on top of your regular outerwear and it is basically a requirement for the ladies. It will be against the law to not wear one!
Of course, it’s not required to wear it when inside the house, or school, or another country’s embassy or consulate.
Sometimes, it’s fitting to wear the tarha when you’re getting weird looks from people. It’s a headdress worn to cover one’s hair. I was a bit unfortunate once when I was out and not wearing one. A police approached us and told us to wear it!
There was also one time during the Ramadan Holidays, a concerned citizen approached papa and asked him if my mama, aunts, and I could wear our tarha just in the spirit of the holidays. He was very polite and discreet about it, so we wore our tarhas in respect.
I have to admit, every time I fly back to the Philippines and freely wander the streets without having to wear my abaya, I feel like I’m stripped naked!
3. Bachelor and Family Separation
In various establishments such as restaurants and select shops, there will always be two doors: bachelors and family or women. It’s one of the things about Jeddah that I find most peculiar. Depicted in the photo above is a McDonald’s in a food court. The counter is separated by a divider instead of actual doors. Yes, it’s real.
While other people see it as gender inequality or sexism, it is actually just a way to keep the privacy of families and single women intact. My favourite are these restaurant booths with actual drapes that you can shut close so you can eat in peace!
Aside from restaurants and food chains, bachelors and families are separated in specialty shops such as Sephora. I always feel bad whenever I go in Sephora and my papa has to wait outside!
This also applies to schools. There is always a separate campus for girls and for boys, but the administration is the same. When I was still studying, I remember our school having this small square window that was a little “access” to the boys section. There was only a wall separating the two sections, and the small window was used to submit and distribute papers like quizzes and exams.
Driving Ban for Women Yes, women can drive now.
Just recently, King Salman just ordered to lift the driving ban for women. About bloody time!
Before the decree, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that banned women from driving. I remember jumping with joy in the middle of the night as I scrolled through Facebook and read an article from Arab News. Finally! I’ve been wanting to drive for the longest time. I’ve recently applied for a student permit in the Philippines and I might just have an actual Saudi driving licence come 2018!
It is a big news for the Filipino community and the rest of the expats in Saudi Arabia. It is an even bigger news for us women who are sick of being dependent to a male relative when it comes to transportation. Better days are coming!
5. Prayer Times
The Muslims in Saudi Arabia pray five times a day. The timing varies, but one thing’s for sure: shops close during prayer times.
This means, if you’re in the grocery, they will either ask you to leave or lock you in! I prefer being locked in because that just means I can continue shopping. The downside is I have to wait until the prayer is over before I can pay for my stuff at the till.
You will also hear their prayer anywhere you are. Mosques are situated in roughly every few blocks, and they have this megaphones on top of each building. No one else prays harder than the Muslims.
6. Women Perks
Women are literal VIPs in Saudi Arabia. I’m not even kidding. You’re paying for something and there’s a line of men, they’ll be like, “Oh, you’re a woman. Come pay first.” I cut the line, no problem. You’re in a car and some other car tries to cause trouble, and they see you, a woman, in the car? They leave you alone.
Having a child with you probably promotes you to a VVIP. I have never seen anything like it. So if you think women in Saudi Arabia are extremely oppressed and pitiful, about time you change that point of view!
7. Sandstorms (yes they’re real)
Face masks are an essential when you are living in Jeddah. Sandstorms are even more annoying than rain, because you get sand in your nose, eyes, hair, clothes and inside your shoes! It’s also very dangerous to drive in motorways when there’s a sandstorm because visibility can drop to zero.
The smell is also very distinguishable. Just like the rain, you smell this sand smell and you know a sandstorm is coming. So take out that face mask and protect your lungs!
8. Holiday Sales
It’s very hard to control your expenditures whenever there’s a sale. It’s important to keep track of your money if you’re living in Jeddah, because shops during Ramadan are notorious for sales, the stuff are almost free!
Notice how shops in other countries put up a huge sign that says “90% Sale!”, and then there’s a microscopic sentence below it that says “on select items”. It’s my pet peeve! Why lie to us?! Be like Jeddah shops, they never lie. They never use that crappy marketing. If there’s a 90% sale, there’s a 90% sale and 100% honesty.
9. Weekdays and Weekends
Brace yourselves. This is by far the weirdest, most interesting, and most confusing fact of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Our weekend is Friday & Saturday, and weekdays are from Sunday to Thursday.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine actually starting your week on a Sunday? If y’all hate Mondays then we hate Sundays just as much. Thursdays are our favourite, and Saturdays are our family days. It’s a bit hard to adjust if you’re new to the setting, but soon you’ll adapt and find yourself saying, “Aaah, I can’t wait for Thursday.”
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The Saudis indeed have preserved their rich culture very well, and they have brought most of their tradition towards the 21st century. Now, they are sharing it with all the expats in the kingdom, and while they have very strict laws that people may deem unnecessary and sometimes harsh, these laws have worked for them and have been the guiding force of the citizens in the kingdom for ages.
I have been living here for roughly 4 years, and been associated to the Saudi culture for most of my life. I am most thankful for my parents for giving me the chance to explore this part of the world, and I will definitely carry all the experiences and memories for the rest of my life.
What is the most interesting thing about your country? Share it in the comments below!
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