First Impressions of Saudi Arabia

First Weeks–Learning Curve

When you fly into the country the first thing you notice is the sandy color of your surroundings. Green has been replaced by desert living. There are palms and some planted trees, however your surroundings are sand, dust, 2 storey homes, streetlights, strip malls and did I mention the sand color?

When we arrived here at the end of summer 2018, we spent the first week in a hotel. It was a nice stay, but for sure we wanted to get to a place we could settle into, unpack our bags and have some space. While at the hotel I wore my abaya outside the room, in the hallway, reception area, eating area and indoor pool.

I found out quick that some activities weren’t open for women. Such as swimming in the pool is only allowed for male guests and children. I sat and watched. The gym was beautiful on the men’s side, but really lacking in the basics on the women’s side. For women is was one room with a yoga mat, a few small dumbells and treadmill facing the wall. Ugh! When I asked the staff working at the front desk of the gym, they explained the hotel was planning to expand for the ladies. Another woman was there and complained of the same thing. Anyway us ladies need better services! So I learned fast that public areas also have their rules.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on

Malls–You can find it all!

A very popular place to go for Saudis. Nightlife is big here as it’s cooler at night. Just like the malls you are used to, Saudi malls have most of what you are looking for. From food courts, kid’s areas, clothing stores, shoe stores, perfume/cologne, incense, toys, H&M, Pottery Barn, Cartier, Marks and Spencer, Victoria’s Secret, Pet stores, Makeup stores, etc.

We visited the local mall for dinner, as they have a really great tea/dessert restaurant and food court and the food choices were many. The food was good and exciting to try. I bought my first abaya from the mall as every mall has many abaya stores. Since foreigners could wear other colors outside of black, I chose a dark green color. When you buy an abaya here 9 times out of 10 you will get a scarf with it. Usually they go very nicely. Some have embroidery, contrasting ends, etc. These are hijab scarves and are good to wear around your neck if you don’t feel comfortable in a hijab. Certainly you can give a hijab style a try.

Most malls also have great areas for kids. An indoor playground, like a small midway at a fairground. It is wonderful and full of noises, lights and fun. Some have a video game area for the older kids. To play you need to buy a card and you put money on it. Just like Chuck E Cheese. We are good for about 1 hour and then that’s it…too much going on in one place. The reason for so many indoor play areas is of course the heat. Kids can play even when it’s raining, or more often too hot to be outside.

Photo by Element5 Digital on

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