It’s The Little Things – 1

So…you’ve been offered a job in Saudi Arabia.  Or, your husband has been offered a job in Saudi Arabia.

(Note: Unless a doctor or a nurse, a Western woman will NOT be offered a position in KSA.  Women from South Asia, East Africa, and the Philipines do get offered positions, but as maids or nannies.  Trust me when I tell you, you do NOT want to be a maid or a nanny in KSA.  [NOTE: Most nurses who work in the hospitals available to the general public, including Westerners, are Filipina.])

But, in any case, you’re coming to KSA to work for a while.  What is it that you need to know to make the adjustment smoother?  Periodically, I am going to list a few things you need to know to prepare yourself.  Many of them are small things, of which I wish someone had made me aware.  Some are pretty obvious.  Some are not.  All are fairly important.

  1. Learn to count in Arabic and to recognize Arabic numerals. Those of us in the West are taught our numerals are Arabic numerals (as opposed to Roman numerals).  The truth is, they’re derived from Arabic numerals.  In reality, there is a significant difference.  Wahid (1-one) does look pretty close to a Western “1”, and tissa (9-nine) does look like a Western “9”.  But, with the exception of sitta (6-six), which looks like a Western “7”, that is where the similarity stops.  Sifir (0-zero) looks like a dot.  Arba’a (4-four ) looks like the Greek letter epsilon.  Thamania (8-eight) looks like an upside down “V”, though the upright “V” looks like saba’a (7-seven).  Ithnayn (2-two) looks like a backward “7”, while thalatha (3-three) looks like a wavy backward “7”.  Khamsa (5-five) looks like a rounded triangle, and it can be mistaken easily  with the Western zero.  Confused?  Probably.  But, the thing is, it’s really, really, really important to be able to recognize these numerals at a glance.  Car license numbers are written this way, and that is often how you identify your car.  Prices are mostly written in Arabic, which means that you need to know this in order to have an idea what you’re paying.  And – this is IMPORTANT – your Iqama will be written in Arabic, and you REALLY need to be able to recognize your IQAMA number.  The iqama is the most important document you will have, and it is vital you be able to read at least the number on, if nothing else to make sure it gets transcribed correctly by someone else who may use it.
  2. If your employer does not have a facilitator on staff, hire one yourself. Few, if any, clerk-level bureaucrats speak English.  If they do, it is rare that it is not poorly spoken and understood.  And, there are misunderstandings of words, which happens anytime there is a translation from one language to another; precise language translation is an art form. You’ll need a driver’s license.  You might get a ticket and need to pay it.  Maybe you’ll need to go down to the Alien Registration office to get an Exit/Re-Entry Visa.  Perhaps you’ll want to enroll in a course in Arabic at a local university.  All of these tasks can best be handled by someone who speaks Arabic fluently.  Often these tasks require multiple trips or lengthy sessions to accomplish.  THIS IS A TRUE BUREAUCRACY.  Facilitators make it a much, much simpler task – many of them know shortcuts or have some wasta (an “in”) at various places.  Trust me.  It works better with a facilitator and is a LOT less annoying.  Whenever you may be required personally, they can streamline the process and whisk you right through whatever you’re trying to accomplish.  If you hire your own facilitator, ALWAYS get recommendations – and require receipts.  Do not just hire someone off the street.  Only hire someone recommended to you.
  3. Give up on the English Imperial System of Measurement. Folks, metric is here, and it is here to stay.  Learn it.  Get used to it.  Move on.  This is true not only in KSA, but in just about any country outside of the USA or the UK.  Weight is in grams or kilograms.  Distances are in kilometers, and speeds are in kilometers/hour.  You buy gas by the liter, just as you buy milk or water or juice.  Learn to do quick, relative comparison conversions…figure out what amount you really need…then just go with the metric; it is so very much easier to do.  If you’re driving, you do not need to know your distance in miles or your speed in miles/hour at all.  Even if you’re trying to figure out how long it takes to get somewhere, you’ll simply divide the number of kilometers (or klicks, in slang) by the speed in kph.  Metric.  It is reality.

That’s where I’ll stop this time.  I’ll post more as I note them.  I hope they help someone, or provide a peek behind the scenes, for someone who is reading this.

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