Continuing a discussion of things it is good to know if you’re coming to visit, live in, or work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
1. Don’t come to KSA during Ramadan and expect to get something done. As I’ve blogged previously, Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. Fasting from sunrise to sundown. Late nights with family and friends. All night prayer. Night and day exchange places. During the first two weeks of Ramadan, you might be able to get something done on an existing, important matter; but, don’t expect to initiate a new project. During the third and fourth weeks…forget it. Most Saudis take off work and spend the time with family, friends, and contemplation, if particularly pious. It is during this period of time – the night is not very specific – when Muslims believe Allah gave the Q’uran to Mohammed. On that night, they generally stay up all night and pray. Of course, at the conclusion of Ramadan comes Eid, a three-day holiday…a whole week in KSA. So, during Ramadan, ain’t nothin’ gets done.
2. You’ll get change back……….maybe. In the West, if you provide two dollars for an item that costs $1.60, you’d expect to get 40-cents back. So, when you come to KSA, and you pay two riyals for an item that costs SR1.60, you’d expect to get 40-halala back as change. Except, that may not be what happens. Sure, you may receive coinage, but just as often you may get a pack of chewing gum in return. Or, you might not even get anything. Folks here don’t sweat the small stuff. It can work in the customer’s favor, too. Don’t quite have the right amount. “Tomorrow.” “Next time.” It’s not a big deal, but it can be disconcerting at first.
3. Let’s take the kids to the amusement park! Except, you and the wife/husband CANNOT go to the amusement park together. Nope. There are no family days. Usually, they alternate – one day the dad can take the kids, the next mom can take the kids. Ne’er the twain shall meet. This is not an exception either. For example, at the Jenadriyah Festival there are often years where they do not have a day for families. Sometimes they don’t even have a day for women. On the other hand, most restaurants are quite family friendly, as are malls. In fact, many malls will not allow single guys (even if you’re approaching 50) to wander around the mall on Friday. So strange. Sometimes this place is so strange.