Guess Work 101

4 Jul

The Land of Sand is a country full of contrasts and contradictions. I suppose the same can be said of any other country when you are a guest and not a local. Whilst it is required that the women, local and expat alike, all cover themselves with abayas and burkhas when outside of the home, there are also more malls per square mile than a lot of other countries I know.  Now I am not talking about small little traditional malls that sell old-fashioned stuff. I am talking about multi-level monstrosities filled with the modern, high-street brands found in Britain and The States, to a lesser degree. There is every clothing and accessory brand you could ever want or need, from high-end stores like Burberry, D&G and Chanel to the more run of the mill stuff like Debenhams , H&M or Zara. And even though we always wear an abaya outside of the compound, within the compound walls we wear “normal’ clothing, swim in bikinis and get all dressed up in our ball gowns and cocktail dresses for parties at the Embassies. So it stands to reason that shopping for clothing here should be a dream.

It is not actually that simple…for a whole bunch of reasons.

Below, a typical shopping scenario:

So you decide that you need a new little black number for a party over the weekend.

You check the bus schedule offered by the compound and decide which day will work best for you according to the malls that have been chosen as shopping destinations for that week. Remember, women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia. Busses run twice a day from our compound so there is always somewhere appropriate to go to. Alternatively you can catch a taxi, although you have to time your shopping to fall between prayer times otherwise you are stuck in a mall with no open stores. 

You wonder around the mall, through the multitude of stores and find the perfect dress. There really is a huge range to choose from so you will generally always find something you like.

If you are anything like me, you take two or three dresses ‘with potential’ in a range of sizes to try on.

You head to the fitting rooms to try them on.

You struggle to find the fitting rooms.

You ask a male assistant where the fitting rooms are located ( there are no females employed to work in stores in The Land of Sand)

 He shakes his head and says, “Sorry, there are no fitting rooms.”

“Well that’s pretty stupid, what kind of store sells clothing but doesn’t have fitting rooms”, you say between gritted teeth.

ALL OF THEM!  That’s right, there are no fitting rooms to be found in ANY of the clothing stores. And so begins the Guess Work 101 class.  How on earth are you supposed to guess which dress will fit you. Holding it against you, with a full set of clothing on and an abaya over it all is not exactly the most accurate way to determine your size.

I am slender and tall. I am built like a monkey in that I have long arms and legs. Nothing fits me properly and everything is too short. I HAVE TO TRY CLOTHES ON BEFORE I BUY THEM.

I remember the first time I discovered this, I was so irritated that I refused to shop for clothing for months after that. My husband didn’t complain, of course.

There are rooms, called tailor rooms, in most of the malls located near the public restrooms where you can try on clothing. It is slightly helpful. But you have to then purchase all 5 dresses “with potential”, carry them to the tailor room on top of the stroller of course. Lock yourself, your baby, your stroller and your oversized handbag in a small room. You need to then simply change outfits 5 times whilst your toddler screams to get out as he is unable to move at all and make a rational decision regarding your dress for the evening. If you find a suitable one, you simply need to return the other 4 and wait around whilst the admin is sorted out to refund you on the ones you bought 30 minutes ago. Sounds like fun, huh?

Fortunately I am not a big shopper so this is not a problem that really bothers me very often but it is an irritation from time to time.

I did discover a few months after arriving, through the shopping grapevine, that the Debenhams at Kingdom Mall has a ladies only floor and there are fitting rooms in the store.

I am forever theirs.


20 Responses to “Guess Work 101”

  1. .gealach July 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    Sounds like it is almost impossible to find anything that fits…

    • dustbusting July 7, 2010 at 6:23 am #

      Not impossible, just tricky! And you know what, I am not working at the moment as I stay at home taking care of our little son, so the challenge is probably good for me!

  2. sarahnsh July 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    Wow, I feel your pain, I’m someone who needs to put on clothes before I buy them too. I’m not like a monkey, more like an… elephant probably mixed with a giraffe. I’m tall, but my thighs tend to be thick and my hips are wide. Go to the place with the fitting rooms, definitely, that is way too much of a hastle for you to go through just to buy some clothes! (and I’m also not big into shopping, but this would drive me totally bananas.)

  3. dustbusting July 5, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    It can drive you absolutely mad but then again, compared to the more serious problems in the world, it’s not really such a big deal.

  4. Anon July 5, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Oh, my. This would be very difficult. I am also very tall and lean and things are often too short or just don’t fit properly. I don’t like shopping, so I shop for clothing mostly by mail and then I try them on at home and send back what does not fit. I know this doesn’t sound very different from how you buy clothes and then return most of them, but it might be something to think about as I know it is difficult with a young child in a stroller in a tiny dressing cubicle. Some online stores include skirt, sleeve and inseam lengths of the garments in their descriptions and I have found this to be VERY helpful. Last time I shopped I bought somewhere around 9 or 10 articles of clothing and only returned two or three of them. I felt like I had hit the jackpot!

    • dustbusting July 7, 2010 at 6:19 am #

      That sounds like a good plan. My husband tells me exactly the same thing. I just haven’t broadened my shopping horizons into including online shopping yet for 3 reasons: 1. I am so technologically-challenged. 2. The postal service here is not reliable although I do know of other people that do it. 3. What if I LOVE it and end up spending ALL our hard earned money! (spending large amounts of money on clothing does not come naturally to me but what if online shopping unleashes a beast)

      • Anon July 7, 2010 at 11:40 am #

        For those of us who are so tall and lean, online shopping for clothes cannot unleash the over-spending beast. There are simply not enought clothes that fit us to make that happen! I joke with my husband sometimes and tell him that one day I will end up wearing sackcloth on account of a lack of clothing.

  5. trapperhoney July 5, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    wow, what a chore. i don’t think i could survive.

    • dustbusting July 7, 2010 at 6:10 am #

      Oh, you would survive. We all manage pretty well and you would too. You just adapt to the differences.

  6. jana July 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Just getting to the mall seems like a mission worthy some serious NASA resources.

    I have long ago given up on clothes shopping abroad. It IS doable, as you say, but for most of my foreign stays that lasted under a year and a half, it simply wasn’t worth it.

    In Ukraine, open outdoor markets were popular – and I saw women trying bras on top of their sweaters! The local fashion never really got my attention as EVERYTHING was covered in rhinestones. Especially underwear.

    And in Korea, I was already feeling like an outsider (my first experience as a member of visible minority). I didn’t really need to be reminded of my “elephant” status by asking for double-X sized shirts to fit my everywhere-else-average size 4-6 torso.

    How long are you planning to stay in the Land of Sand?

    • dustbusting July 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

      I hear you and totally agree but for me I also need to balance the ‘I’m here temporarily’ against ‘I need to feel at home and settled’. Part of that is knowing where to buy any of the stuff I need at any point in time. We have been ‘homeless’ for the better part of about 6 years so I try to get comfortable quickly in my new surroundings, although buying new clothes is not really a big part of that, to be honest.

      Olaf’s contract has to be renewed yearly so we are here for as long as both parties are happy, from year to year. We would like to do about 5 years in The Land of Sand but expat life has taught me that things things can change overnight so we will see how it goes.

  7. JamesBrett July 7, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    hey, dustbusting… you’ve got a mall.

    • dustbusting July 8, 2010 at 4:42 am #

      Hey Mr Harrison…you sound jealous. We may have a mall but you have GREEN. I would swop all the malls for green grass and trees tomorrow.

      • JamesBrett July 8, 2010 at 8:35 am #

        i am jealous. but you’re right, i do enjoy our green trees. though there’s no grass to be seen. i hope to plant some in october…

        now if i could just get a pair of pants from a mall (air-conditioned one at that), with or without a fitting room….

      • dustbusting July 8, 2010 at 11:18 am #

        Yip, it would probably be best if you planted that grass with pants on…

      • JamesBrett July 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm #


  8. tourisita July 29, 2010 at 4:08 am #


    I have been just curious- Are you or I guess your hubby in foreign service?

    • dustbusting August 3, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

      No, not at all. My husband works in a large Saudi owned company which actually has nothing to do with the foreign service at all. Although…some people that work in foreign service roles do live and work amongst us, we just don’t know about it. It’s all very hush hush and undercover, I hear!

  9. tourisita August 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    Oh, I see! Thanks for ur reply. I’m learning alot from your blog. 🙂


  1. Guess Work 101 (via News from the Land of Sand) « Gealachs Blogg - July 21, 2010

    […] The Land of Sand is a country full of contrasts and contradictions. I suppose the same can be said of any other country when you are a guest and not a local. Whilst it is required that the women, local and expat alike, all cover themselves with abayas and burkhas when outside of the home, there are also more malls per square mile than a lot of other countries I know.  Now I am not talking about small little traditional malls that sell old-fashion … Read More […]

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