I sat at dinner one night with my boss, his wife, and my coworkers, bracing myself against the barrage of questions and concerns that were being fired at me one after the other. I’d just announced my plans for moving to Saudi Arabia, so I expected curiosities. Hell, even I was mostly clueless. But nothing could have prepared me for the ridiculous nature of the questions coming from the mouths of otherwise intelligent people. Will you live in a tent? Do they have electricity there? What about the war? So many people, even now, ask about the war. What war, people?! That’s like asking someone in Michigan if they’re doing alright with that hurricane that just hit the coast of Florida. Knock it off.
People are naturally curious, and I can’t blame them for being a little clueless when it comes to life in Saudi. This is, after all, a place that is nearly impossible to get into. And thanks to the closed nature of society here, combined with the country’s horrible reputation in international news media, even Samantha Jones herself couldn’t dispel most of the myths and rumors about how things go here. But I’m going to do my best, so without further ado, here are the most common misconceptions about life in Saudi Arabia.
Women can’t show their ankles (or wrists, or faces, or hair, etc).
While all women, regardless of nationality or religion, are required to wear the abaya, hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and yes, even hair, can remain uncovered. You may be harassed by the religious police if your manner of dress doesn’t fit into their own personal views of modesty, but that’s rare for most people, and if it does happen, simply ignoring them will send them on their way.
Religious police carry sticks.
I do believe that stick wielding used to be a thing and that women used to get swatted for being “immodestly” dressed. But as long as I’ve been living or traveling here for the past seven years, I’ve never seen or heard of a Hai’a member carrying a stick.
Women can’t go out unless they’re accompanied by a guardian.
If this was the case, I would have jumped ship long ago. While we do need someone to chauffeur us around from place to place, be it a taxi driver, private driver, or family member, women do not need to have the company (or permission) of anyone to leave the house or go about their daily routines.
You have to walk behind your husband.
Confession: I sincerely believed this when I moved here. I had no idea that I could walk beside my husband, hand in hand, smiling and enjoying life. I was certain it was forbidden but happy when I discovered that I was among those who were sadly ignorant about Saudi life. To this day, seeing a couple holding hands here makes me giddy.
Women can’t ride in the front seat of the car.
I thought this too. The first time The Mr. took me out I climbed into the back seat and he looked at me like I was crazy. It’s an easy assumption to make because women ride in the back seats of taxis and cars which are being operated by private drivers. But when you’re married to (or related to) the dude behind the wheel, hop on in the front.
Saudi Arabia is a dry country.
Well, technically. But, just like in every other category of life here, money talks when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Whether at embassy functions, housing compounds, or private homes, both are readily available if you know the right people and have the cash flow. Or if you’re crafty and daring enough to brew your own.
Everyone is rich.
Nope. In fact, there is a problem here with poverty. There is indeed an incomprehensible amount of wealth here, and sometimes it feels like I’m the ONLY person I know who is broke, but there are plenty of struggling, middle to lower class families just trying to make ends meet.
Camels obviously come to mind when you think of Saudi Arabia. I was sad when I arrived for the first time and didn’t see any around town. Or when I took my first desert camping trip. In fact, the first time I saw a real live camel in Saudi Arabia was when I went to the red sands with Layla. The shame! So, no, camels are not abundant in the city. At least not this city. Unless you’re in the meat aisle at the grocery store. BTW, camel is for real tasty.
I’m sure there are plenty of misconceptions about Saudi life that I have missed. Let me know about the things you’ve heard or have believed about the Magic Kingdom in the comments section below!