World’s Apart

8 Jun

The deal with being a western expat in The Land of Sand is this…

You MUST make sure that you get out every 3-4 months. It is what most people do in order to maintain a sense of normality in a world so different from your own. The extremes in religion, culture, language and lifestyle become too much after a while and a trip to somewhere new or old and familiar refreshes and renews one. 

So with that being said I need to add that we have been in Saudi for 4 and a half months now and have not yet left the country for the required RnR. This is partly due to the fact that we were waiting for our Residence Visas to be issued (which is now done) but mostly because we are still feeling fine and relatively normal. We have a very busy social schedule so we are never bored and prior to arriving back here in February, we spent 5 months in Cape Town where we had plenty of chilling out time. 

However, upon deeper introspection, I realise that maybe I do need to get out soon or I have just become so acclimatized to life here that I no longer see some of the things we in the western world may consider slightly strange. I was thinking about ideas for new blog posts when it struck me that anyone visiting Riyadh would probably be blown away by this phenomenon within a few hours of arriving. After all one has to eat, right… and this involves that very thing.

In Saudi Arabia (and some other Muslim countries) mixing of the sexes is forbidden unless it is within the family. So a man and woman are not permitted to go out for dinner together unless they are related, in other words, no dating. This rule applies to everyone, local and expat alike. You dare not be caught with a member of the opposite sex if you are not related to them by blood or marriage. And yes, there are people who walk around and check these things. They are called the Muttawa and are the religious and morals police. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING!

Anyway, as a result of these strict laws, single men and woman must dine separately when they are out. Restaurants have 2 sections: a Family Section for women and families and a Singles section for single men. Olaf may not enter the Family Section without me but is free to do so if I accompany him. I am allowed to be in the family section on my own though.

I took some pics whilst out shopping a few days ago. Once again, the pics are not great quality as I am not really allowed to take photos in public areas and these were taken in a mall. There is a cluster of fast food outlets around this food court and a communal eating area in the centre, much like any standard mall.

Below is Mac Donalds, notice the divider in the centre with a ladies section on one side and a mens’ section on the other. Heaven forbid women and men mix whilst ordering a burger!

And just incase you are unsure about how it all works, there are signs to help you on your way.

Below is the communal eating area. As you will see there are two ladies entering the Ladies/Family section. Notice the guy sitting at the table outside of the glass partitions. He is clearly a man dining on his own so cannot enter the family section.

Starbucks, also divided, with two of the ladies from the compound who graciously posed for me whilst ordering their drinks. Family/ladies section sign above their heads.

And I don’t even find this strange anymore. You see why I should probably get out for a while?

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47 Responses to “World’s Apart”

  1. Fay June 8, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Hi Philippa, I was just working on my own website and saw your mail coming in!
    I have to say; you are totally right that after a while you are “ok” with this “not mixing of sexes” BUT BUT I found and still find it unbelievable that the same MAN behind the counter can serve women AND men at the same time………..
    Once I was standing in the wrong line at Kingdom Mall…..so had to walk to the other side of the divider…to find out that the same guy took my order again!?!?!?! In Dutch we say: die zijn totaal gestoord (ask Madele or maybe Olaf knows this too hehehe)
    Take care and still have fun in the land of sand!
    Fay xxx

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 9:41 am #

      That is hysterical Fay!

      Please send us your web address so that we can watch your journey around the world.

    • ambrose4 June 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      Wow, the things we take for granted in the USA!

  2. Raul June 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    I don’t know if I could ever get used to that, but I guess you would have to. I’m amazed to see that even at a fast food place like McDonald’s.

    http://www.wutevs.wordpress.com

  3. Amanda June 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m glad I’m in the UAE instead of Saudi Arabia! While there are family and ladies sections/lines some places here women aren’t forced to use them and there expat men and women have much more freedom here.

  4. framez June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    as an Asian i love this.
    my views were different … http://vizakh.wordpress.com/

  5. Beaver Brown June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I am a barista at a Starbucks and was surprise at learning about the separation of the sexes. I always thought it a good idea to have a separate line for those who only order coffee from those who want the fancier drinks; especially between the hours of 6am and 9am.
    Good luck on your blog and I will be back to check it out.
    BvrBrn

  6. Veronica Twizzler June 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Wow, I couldn’t imagine that happening in America. But I wonder if I can handle it all if I ever visited there. Like what if you accidentally sit outside thinking it was outside dinning in general? I guess it really would take some getting use to and having an open mind to being close-minded.

    • lcadd June 8, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

      Hate to tell you this, Veronica, but you won’t be visiting there. Tourists aren’t allowed…although…I’ve heard you can now come if you go through a particular tour company in Saudi. If you were an immediate relative of an expat living there, they could get you a visa. I lived in Dhahran for three years. You get used to it, then go home for the summer, come back and have to remember all over again. I would come back from 2 months away during the summer and forget to wear my abaya when I went out.

  7. taylor June 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    wow – i’ve always known of these separation policies in saudi arabia and other nations, but had never seen pictures! i hope you get the opportunity to get some r&r soon. 🙂

  8. Lulu June 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    Hi
    Here, Muslim families who are very strict apply the same rule, but the rules are not applied in the daily life even though my country is one of the most populous Muslim country in the world.
    Thanks for the news!

  9. manu June 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    hey there!
    i just found your blog while i was blog-surfing… all the stuff you tell is so interesting!!
    then i read your about us and i realized that we have the same last name!!! maybe it’ s not such a big deal, but i am chilean (yes, from the little south american country) and there are no many brinkmanns here.
    well, i just wanted to say hi… so hi!

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 9:44 am #

      Hey there Mr Brinkmann!

      I am a Brinkmann by marriage. My husband is a German Brinkmann.

      Philippa

  10. interpretartistmama June 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    It’s so hard to belive that this culture, so radical from our own, exists and flourishes. Thank you for sharing, and for the (not so) hidden cam shots 🙂

  11. izziedarling June 8, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    This was so interesting. And, yep, it’s time for a little vacation …..

  12. sjraz June 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Wow! This makes me very grateful for my freedoms as an American citizen. Thank you for sharing! This is an eye-opener at the very least! It makes me wonder if the one guy at the counter treats the two sides differently?

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 4:07 am #

      I have always been treated well in the Land of Sand. I have never encountered bad treatment by people serving me in shops and restuarants because I am a woman.

  13. decidida74 June 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    I am hoping to visit SA one day. Enjoy it!

  14. Culture Choc 2010 June 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    Wow!

  15. joanspiller June 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    Interesting, we’re so far away from there and that sort of thing it is almost impossible to grasp ..

    Um, there’s no risk to you by sharing these sort of pictures?

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 4:04 am #

      I think that it should be fine posting pics like these. As long as they are not pics of Muslim women taken without their permission or areas that are under high security. If I suddenly stop posting, you’ll know that it was a problem!

  16. Songbird June 8, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    It must be very difficult to adjust your western lifestyle to theirs. Very interesting read!

  17. Vodka and Ground Beef June 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

    Wow. Is it safe to blog there? I’m kidding. Kind of.

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 4:01 am #

      So far, so good! Honestly though, I try to highlight what I see and not be disrespectful in my posts. I have no intention of being too controversial or forcing my views on others. It is just a glimse into life in the Land of Sand.

  18. lcadd June 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    I lived in Saudi for three years, and I liked when I got to the place of not thinking about the restrictions anymore. I went through a rough year of feeling almost anger about it, especially not being able to drive because I was a single female and that made me feel like I was in prison. I didn’t mind the abaya or the separation in restaurants. I had a single male friend who I went out with all the time, and no one ever checked our ID or hassled us in any way. But then again, we were in Dhahran, which is a tiny bit more liberal than Riyadh.

  19. popscure June 8, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    I can’t believe we’re in the 21st century…

  20. trapperhoney June 8, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    wow, that would take getting used to, but we are pretty adaptable people, when we want to be.

  21. Rana June 8, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    Sad but true!
    I’m an Egyptian who’s been living in KSA for so long and I’m not quite amazed to sense the irony in your post for I sometimes do feel it myself!
    But it’s not entirely impossible to go out with people of opposite sex. I do go out with friends, we hang out, we have fun. The thing is, it’s not entirely free to do everything. There are limits to everything.
    As a Muslim myself, I find it okay for I do put limits myself to how far the relationship between me and my “guy” friends could go. I’m definitely not an extremest! Not at all. That’s why I’m totally against those partitions. But then, not everyone think alike.

    I might need more than just a post to explain myself lol but anyway, I hope you get used to life overhere soon 🙂
    Did you visit Jeddah? It’s where I live. You should also pay a visit to Taif. Nature’s beautiful overthere. Totally!!

    Tc xx

    http://www.rpremises.wordpress.com , check it 😉

  22. Mike June 8, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    wow, that really is incredible. Amazing how different some cultures are verses you’re typical “western” society.

    whats the deal with public displays of affection. They are frowned upon are they not? Even if you are married, you could not kiss your husband in a public place could you?

    To be honest, i have no desire to spend any significant amount of time in a country like that. I’d briefly visit, but never longer then a week or so.

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 3:56 am #

      Public displays of affection are certainly not encouraged, but there seems to be no problem with holding hands (with your spouse of course!) I haven’t tested out the kissing thing though, think I’ll give that a miss! There is much to be gained from spending time in the middle east, but a visit to Saudi Arabia seems to be almost impossible unless you have immediate family living here.

  23. andydbrown June 9, 2010 at 12:36 am #

    Nice post! & Congratulations on making it to freshly-pressed. Nice to see a blog about the middle east made it! 🙂
    I’m living just “next doors” to you guys in Muscat, Oman. They have the same seating arrangements but can certainly mingle while ordering the burger, ha!ha!
    We are even starting to see young Omanis (of opposite sex! gasp!) sitting together in the family section (which is technically okay, as they don’t have “religious/morals police” here!) or even, horror above horrors, holding hands in public!

    You guys should give some thought to come over to Muscat during one of your shorter breaks. I think you’d love it.

    Enjoy your break and keep the interesting posts up. (Post now while you have freedom being away and no fear of reprisals, ha!ha! 🙂 )

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 3:50 am #

      Thanks Andy!
      We are actually considering taking a long road trip that ends in Oman. We are looking into the logistics of doing it and if it is really possible. Have heard only good things about Muscat and Oman in general.

      Philippa

  24. James June 9, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    Ladies section?

  25. word147 June 9, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    I couldn’t imagine that happening in America. But I wonder if I can handle it all if I ever visited there.

  26. tourisita June 9, 2010 at 3:47 am #

    I just stubled upon your blog and this is the first post I read. So very interesting. I really didn’t know this…I come from a muslim country as well but boy oh boy!

  27. Glen June 9, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    interesting stuff you got on here man, i enjoy your work

  28. Katerina Galati June 9, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Amazing post and very informative!! My cousin lives in Catar and i’m aware what it means living under such rules…

  29. Seuhle June 9, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    This is really a piece of interesting information 😉 do get your RnR ASAP though!

    I live in a Muslim country as well, and even us who aren’t Muslims have to adhere to most of the regulations for Muslims.

    It’s not that strict here though. Males and females are not allowed to sit together during a general assembly, but are free to mingle afterwards.

    Long trousers, shirt with long sleeves, etc. must be worn when entering a government building. Once, I got barred from entering the building for the Land Transport Department 😆

    I wonder if men over there are allowed to walk around in public in shorts? How about at work or school? Are males and females allowed to mingle?

    • dustbusting June 9, 2010 at 9:54 am #

      Having lived in Qatar for 2 years before coming to Saudi Arabia where the dress code seems to be similar to what you experience, I have to say that sometimes it is actually a blessing to be forced to wear an abaya. Anything (or nothing) goes under the abaya!

      It is not recommended that men wear shorts in public here but depending on where you are going, it is still done in mid-summer.

      Western schools, like the British and American School have mixed education. Not so for the local schools though.

  30. xiaomoogle June 9, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    “You MUST make sure that you get out every 3-4 months. It is what most people do in order to maintain a sense of normality in a world so different from your own” – this is so true. Although I’m not in Saudi, I’m actually in China and I haven’t left for over a year…

    When my friend came to visit, he was surprised and interested in everything, and I realised that unusual things just seemed normal to me.

    I had no idea that men and women can’t mix in public in Saudi, and that there are even people walking around to enforce it! But then here in China, there are other restrictions…

    Good luck in Saudi!

  31. festaderodeio June 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Hi, great blog! It is good to know how the other cultures are different from here, the occidental side of the world… We have no idea how they live until we get there, isn’t it?

  32. angirach June 16, 2010 at 2:42 am #

    Great look at things from another perspective. Please keep posting!

  33. angirach June 16, 2010 at 2:42 am #

    Great look at things from another perspective. Please keep posting! Your blog is awesome and I hope it gets the continuous recognition it deserves.

  34. albert poulis June 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Nice post And great information thank you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Mixing of the sexes is forbidden in Saudi Arabia (via News from the Land of Sand) « Freshly Pressed! - June 8, 2010

    […] Mixing of the sexes is forbidden in Saudi Arabia (via News from the Land of Sand) Posted: June 8, 2010 by AA in WordPress 0 The deal with being a western expat in The Land of Sand is this… You MUST make sure that you get out every 3-4 months. It is what most people do in order to maintain a sense of normality in a world so different from your own. The extremes in religion, culture, language and lifestyle become too much after a while and a trip to somewhere new or old and familiar refreshes and renews one.  So with that being said I need to add that we have been in … Read More […]

  2. World’s Apart (via News from the Land of Sand) « Just Another Blog - June 9, 2010

    […] The deal with being a western expat in The Land of Sand is this… You MUST make sure that you get out every 3-4 months. It is what most people do in order to maintain a sense of normality in a world so different from your own. The extremes in religion, culture, language and lifestyle become too much after a while and a trip to somewhere new or old and familiar refreshes and renews one.  So with that being said I need to add that we have been in … Read More […]

  3. World's Apart « News from the Land of Sand | Breaking News 24/7 - June 9, 2010

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