What was your biggest cultural shock while living in or visiting Saudi Arabia?

Saturday prayer for family and friends

Ive spent around 10 months in Riyadh which is the capital of KSA (kingdom of Saudi Arabia).

I am a software developer and I stayed there while working on one of the projects for our prestigious clients.

,These are some of the things which shocked me during my initial days in Riyadh -,Abaya (black cloaks) are everywhereThe dress code for women is governed by a strict interpretation of Islamic law and is enforced to varying degrees across the country.

The majority of women wear an abaya u2013 a long cloak u2013 and a head scarf.

The face does not necessarily need to be covered, u201dmuch to the chagrin of some hardlinersu201c, says The Economist.

Source: Six things women in Saudi Arabia cannot doBefore landing in Riyadh, I noticed all the ladies getting ready with the abaya , Burqa, and Hijabs on the flight itself.

I understood the reason right after getting down at the airport.

There is an absolute compulsion regarding wearing abaya in Saudi Arabia.

It doesnt matter what your religion and cast are.

Only young girls are exempted till a certain age but even theyu2019ll have to start wearing it as soon as they get reach certain age.

,I got to know that muttawa (moral police) is quite strict about sharia law and they have rights to strictly enforce the law and arrest or punish anyone if needed,Alcohol is banned and it could cost you your lifeCanu2019t live without your favorite beer or wine? Well, you can get the death penalty for possessing alcohol in Saudi.

Even flight attendants are not allowed to serve alcohol if the plane is flying over Saudi territory.

,Some of the Saudi nationals usually take a flight to Bahrain to quench their thirst and Ive seen some of them getting real paranoid on flights as alcohol is not served on time.

;),Non Muslims should practice religion in privateNon-Muslim cannot worship in public so if you wish to follow your religion and culture, do it privately, preferably in your house.

There are very strict repercussions for carrying a bible, crosses, or anything which is non-Islamic or against Islamic beliefs.

,There is no public celebration of Christmas, Diwali, or any other festivals which are not celebrated in Islam.

Although, a lot of communities meet together for private parties and celebrate their festivals.

,No election and No political partiesAll the government heads/ministers are related to of Saudi royal family and there is No ruling / opposing party or any election of any kind.

,In very rare case, a municipal election was conducted in 2011 for the first time and women were allowed to vote in the 2015 election.

The election was for municipal councils, which have limited decision-making powers on local issues such as rubbish collection and street maintenance.

But itu2019s a big step towards equal rights for women.

,No movie - drama theatersYour stay in Saudi can get really boring because there are very few options for any kind of entertainment.

There is no theater which shows any kind of movies drama.

,Update (Apr 2018): Saudi Arabias first new cinema in decades to open April 18Riyadh gets SAu2019s first movie theater.

Hurray ! :)Women dont traditionally pursue a professional careerSaudi women dont traditionally pursue a professional career.

,Most of the offices Iu2019ve been to didnu2019t even have separate toilets for women as there were absolutely no women around.

During my entire trip, I noticed only a single Caucasian woman working who used to sit in a separate room for women.

,I believe this is changing and some big IT firms have offices in KSA , especially for Women.

,Ref: TCS Creates All-women Center in Saudi Arabia | TCSLegal and Judicial systemSince Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, its judicial system is based on Islamic law (Shariu2019ah) for both criminal and civil cases.

The King is at the top of legal system, who acts as the final court of appeal and as a source of pardon.

,This may sound unfair, but womens evidence normally carries half the weight of men in Sharia courts, however in criminal trials womens testimony is not allowed at all.

,Testimony from non-Muslims or Muslims whose doctrines are considered unacceptable (for example, Shia) may be discounted.

Lastly, an affirmation or denial by oath can be required.

Giving an oath is taken particularly seriously in a religious society such as Saudi Arabias,and a refusal to take an oath will be taken as an admission of guilt resulting in conviction.

,Source: Sharia - WikipediaMalls and shops are closed during prayers (5 times a day)All the shops need to be closed during prayer time.

There is specific dept.

of police assigned to make sure that shops are closed during prayers.

Basically, you have to schedule your shopping according to prayers time else you end up standing outside shops for half an hour.

,Prayers are played in the entire mall and officesRecorded religious prayers are played using loudspeakers in entire office and shopping malls.

That sounds quite unusual but an everyday thing in Saudi.

,By the end of my stay in Riaydh, I was proficient enough to recite it.

,Almost everyone thinks you are a MuslimUnless you are Caucasian, everyone will approach you with a mindset that you are a Muslim.

They dont even consider the possibility that you may belong to another religion.

,During prayer time, If people notice that you are roaming on a road or sitting on a public bench, people will ask you to go to the nearest mosque for salah (which means prayer in the Arabic language).

Many times, people confronted me in a manner that would be considered rude and asked me to go to Mosque for prayers.

So I learned to say mafi muslim to let them know that I am not a Muslim.

I even stopped roaming around during prayers to avoid such incidents.

,People get offended if you eat and drink publicly during Ramadan.

,My friend got a scolding from shopkeepers for eating in a food store during Ramadan.

If you are non-Muslim then it is expected that you eat and drink in private.

,No dogsThis came as a big surprise because I am used to having stray dogs/ pets in India.

But I never saw any dog in Riyadh.

In Islam, a dog is considered a filthy animal and people dont usually have them as pets.

,Our housekeeping guy told us that there are some rich Saudis who keep dogs - mostly for hunting, races, and adventurous activities.

But there are strict rules which need to be followed for keeping them.

,Although, there are plenty of stray cats in Saudi Arabia.

,Ref: Saudi Arabia bans sale of dogs, cats in capitalThere is a Mosque on every 1000 stepsMosques are everywhere so anyone can easily find a mosque around.

For every Saudi citizen, prayer is one of the most important activities in a day to day life.

,Women are not allowed to drive and must be accompanied by a male guardian while traveling out of the countryUpdate: Until 2018, Women were not allowed to drive and they couldnt apply for driving license.

King Salman issued a decree giving women the right to drive for the first time in 2017.

No shortsMy friend was once stopped by Police for wearing shorts near our hotel.

He was asked to go back and change it to something more suitable.

The police also told him to make sure that he covers his knees every time he gets out.

You can wear 3/4th s.

,Petrol vs Water ratesThis is a comparison of water and petrol.

,1 liter of Water: 3 SAR (0.

80 USD),1 liter of Petrol: 0.

5 SAR (0.

13 USD),(please note that rates may fluctuate in future),Food is affordableYou can get 4 bread loaves in 1 SAR and a small 300 ml bottle of milk for 1 SAR.

We used to manage lunch in around 6-8 SAR.

,This is one of the things I appreciate about Saudi Arabia.

Even a blue-collar worker can afford to eat nutritious food as the prices for basic food items are low.

,The Internet is controlledPorn and adult sites are banned.

You can see a message by the government while accessing such sites.

Although, television channels do show many Hollywood and Bollywood movies.

,Image Source: Saudi Arabia Government Blocks The Pirate Bay (and More) - TorrentFreaku200bnFriday is a holiday (but Sunday is not)Friday and Saturday are the weekly holidays.

For the majority of them, only Friday is the weekly off.

,Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the geographically defined Islamic boundaries of Mecca.

Attempting to enter Mecca as a non-Muslim can result in penalties such as a fine or deportation from Saudi Arabia.

However, in Medina, both Muslims and Non-Muslims are allowed.

,Total strangers greeting you - salam !!Well, this is my favorite part.

Total strangers greet you with words like salam or As-salamu alaykum ! They will greet you in the elevator, banks or even on the road.

Eventually, we started greeting people around us and everyone responds politely.

,We dont usually say anything to total strangers we meet.

Do we? ;),Dont know Arabic ? Hindi-Urdu works well!Most of the expats are from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and they do understand Hindi or Urdu.

KSA is the biggest home of Indian passport holders outside India.

Your housekeeping guy, hotel staff, taxi driver, shopkeeper, random south Asian strangers - everyone understands Hindi or Urdu dialects.

,If you dont speak Hindi, English is the only option but unfortunately, most of the Saudis and expats dont speak or understand English.

,Please feel free to use your face, hands, fingers and any gestures to communicate with someone who doesnt speak English.

,No Income Tax ! Who-hooWhile the whole world is pays income tax, people working in Saudi donu2019t pay any tax on their income.

Though Tax is collected from industries, malls, and shops.

,Update: From July 2018, Saudi Arabia is collecting a new tax from expats and their dependents, a move that is seen to boost the countryu2019s revenues amid weak oil prices.

The new fee will be 100 Saudi riyals (SAR) per dependant per month, around u00a321 or $27.

The amount is expected to increase gradually every year until 2020.

By next year, the figure will double to SAR200 and increase to SAR300 in 2019 and SAR400 in 2020.

,(source: https://www.


com/saudi-arabia-collects-new-tax-expats/ ),Separate malls for families and bachelorsThis is practiced in many cities where certain malls are reserved only for families (husband-wife and kids) for particular days and timing.

So if you are a bunch of men with no wife or kid to accompanying you, Sorry.



You can not enter.

,All the restaurants have 2 sections - Family and bachelors section.

The windows/glasses of a family section are well covered with curtains to make sure they are well separated.

,No urinals, only commodesThis is interesting.

Except for the airports, I couldnu2019t find urinals in any public washrooms toilet.

The reason is Islamic beliefs and the stigma associated with urine.

,If you havenu2019t noticed yet, religious Muslims never use urinals even in other countries.

itu2019s quite common not to have urinals just for urinating in washrooms.

,Also, many toilets have a western commode as well as Asian style commode.