Saturday 27 April 2013

Ramblings from Saudi: How to Shop in Jeddah

Most people would have read or heard about how women in Saudi Arabia are (supposedly) oppressed in many ways and that the men supposedly control the country, et cetera, et cetera… Well, I beg to differ. Believe it or not, men are somehow oppressed too in this admittedly male-dominated country. Especially the singles and those men who are without their family around. And especially when it comes to shopping at the many malls here in Jeddah.

Most malls here have what they call "Families Only” days. That is when they allow families only into their shopping malls. And "families" actually means "women only" and "men who are accompanying (related) female companions". So single men and men who are without their daughter(s) and/ or wife (or wives, heh!) are not allowed to enter the shopping mall on those days. What’s worse is that weekends are usually designated as “Families Only” days.

Personally I have had different experience in different shopping malls when it comes to this "Families Only” days. Once I was totally turned away at the entrance to this one mall. Another time, at another mall, I could go in and do some shopping but was turned away at the entrance to the food court where I wanted to go and have some meals after doing some shopping in the same mall. (Hello? Us single men need to eat too, you know). 

Another time, again at another mall, I was let in after being stopped at the entrance but only after I asked the security guy, "Why??" I mean, I had just paid about SAR20 (~USD5.33) for the taxi ride from home to the mall and there was no way I want to be turned away just like that. Either they have the policy of letting in white collar expatriates or the security guy just couldn't be bothered to argue with me in English. Either way, I was thankful to be let in. It was the fasting month of Ramadan and I had gone there to have some meal at the food court which occupies the whole of topmost floor of the mall.

My excitement didn't last long though when I saw that there were security guys manning all the escalators going up to the food court. But famished men can't think straight, especially when the thought of food has been occupying all the working cells in your brain all day long (yeah, I know, what a lousy excuse, eh?) But then I had had just a few dates for my breaking of fast a couple of hours earlier – having planned to have a heavier meal at the mall later.

As some would say, a man has got to do what he's got to do. And so I pulled in a confident look (whatever that is!), gathered some courage, walked up the escalator to the food court floor and never looked back. Heard the security guy calling me up in Arabic but I acted like I didn't hear him.
Should I just lie by saying that my family is already upstairs? But what if the guy wanted to follow me to the table where my imaginary family was supposed to be sitting at? 
Should I just argue with him saying that I didn't know that only families are allowed in the mall today? Well, that wouldn't really help me get my food now, would it? 
Should I just run instead to any stall and quickly place an order? That certainly would be an experience! But whether it's going to be an amusingly funny experience or a harrowing one would only be known when it actually happens.

My brain, despite being preoccupied with food, was working in an extra turbo-charged mode in that few seconds trying to come up with excuses and actions to be taken should the security guy decide to follow me upstairs. At one moment, I did wonder if this attempt was even worth the try! I suspect not just a few of my brain cells went dead as a direct result of the stress and being overworked, a few strands of hair might have gone grey too during this short tense period, heh!

Luck was on my side though that night. The security guy didn't follow me up the escalators. Phew! What a relief! Not wanting to push my luck, I just simply placed an order for a take-away. Sitting alone, eating at a table in the food court where everyone else is with a family would bring stares. Worse, it could bring the attention of the security guys to me.

And so I eventually had my proper meal at home, about 5 long hours after breaking of fast time.

This is the third blog entry under 'Ramblings from Saudi' series.

'Ramblings from Saudi' is a series of blog entries originally written when I was living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for one year from 2007 to 2008. While the entries under this series are not exactly travel entries, (I hope that) they tell stories about life in Saudi Arabia in general as I personally experienced them.

For other 'Ramblings from Saudi' entries, click here.


Comments and feedback are always appreciated. So do leave one or two if you have the time. Thank you!

  1. wow..nice banner..nnt free saya baca past entry blog ni.

  2. First person experience style of writing. I realised your writing style changed from 6mths -1yr ago (I double checked, hahhhaaaa), and I like this one; more entertaining and engaging.


    1. This is an old write up actually so my writing style have changed twice in that case... erk! Thanks for the compliment though, heh!

  3. seriously??? gosh... interesting policy ga~ha...

    1. Serious, hehe! Those who go there for umrah in a group obviously won't notice or realise this.

  4. families only? that's weird..why not for single person...like me? haha

    1. It's a policy to allow the girls and ladies to shop in peace, away from leering eyes of single men... like you, hahaha just kidding! ;-) Anyways, us single men just have to go to another mall or on another day where/when the policy is not enforced.

  5. wah..ilmu baru ni. sure ramai yg tak tahu bcoz they perform umrah and shopping in group

    1. Yup, rasanya camtu juga. Satu lagi biasanya umrah groups jarang pergi shopping dekat shopping mall. Banyak yg pergi area Balad je kalau kat Jeddah. Yg akan betul2 terasa ialah expat guys yg single ataupun yg datang ke sini sorang2 tak bawa family.

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