Frankly, the title above is not me swearing, although honestly, I could very well be. I just cannot find any appropriate word to use to describe something that had happened to me one Wednesday night in Jeddah.
I had gone for a night out that evening with a colleague and a friend, both of whom shall remain nameless for now just in case they prefer not to be implicated in the story. For the time being, however, let's just call them X and Y, respectively.
We had gone out to a quite well known western eatery located just off Tahlia Street, the most popular thoroughfare for high street shopping in Jeddah, for dinner. The primary idea and plan for the evening was actually to watch the UEFA Champions League Final at the restaurant that night at around 9.00 p.m. And since us genius people figured out that we would not be able to just get in there and watch the game without ordering their food, we agreed on dinner as part of the plan too.
What we hadn't agreed on, or rather planned on, however, happened between the times of our arrival at the restaurant, and before we got to sit inside for our dinner.
The Cars, the Models and the Photoshoot
We arrived at the restaurant at around 9 but when we noticed that the game hadn't started yet, we decided to stay put outside. I mean we didn't want to go in there, order our food and then finish dinner long before the final whistle is blown and then risk being chased out of the restaurant because of the long queue outside made up of people wanting to enjoy their late night dinner at the popular restaurant. At the time though, there was no queue and we could see through the glass wall that plenty of seats were still available. After all, 9.00 p.m. was actually still early for most locals to go out to have dinner. As such, as I mentioned earlier, we decided to stay put outside and go inside only after the football game has kicked off.
Y, my partner-in-crime, who was in town for a business project, actually had wanted to go inside the restaurant right away into the waiting area for the air condition, as the late May humidity was getting to him. X and I, however, had opted to just hang around outside the restaurant for a bit, enjoying the "fresh" air while salivating over a range of BMWs in the showroom just next door. After a few rounds of phwoar and wows and idle chats about the cars with X, I remembered that I had brought along my camera with me that night. So I took it out and said that I would like to take a photo of the restaurant from the outside.
(Having lived in Jeddah for almost a year, I knew that there are some places where you cannot take photos, e.g. government buildings, embassies, and a few others. Restaurants, however, are a fair game.)
And so I took a couple of snaps of Y first. Not because I had wanted to, but somehow when he heard about me wanting to take some photos, he quickly said "OK" and went on to strike a deadly (not!) pose outside the entrance to the restaurant.
I then passed the camera to Y to take a photo of me.
First try: Fail. The photo was a bit blurry. Second try: Fail. Again, a shaky photo.
This went on for like 4 times, all with somewhat dismal results. You know how when you travel with someone and take good photos of that someone but when it’s your turn, you can’t even get a single decent shot of yourself? That’s exactly what had happened here. Hopeless! 😒
In the end, I asked X instead to take a photo of me there. The result was so and so, but it's definitely far, far better than the blurry photos taken by Y earlier...
Afterwards, Y suggested that I take a photo of the billboard of the restaurant, which shows the name of the restaurant in Arabic. While I was busy setting up my camera, however, up came a security guy. He spoke something in Arabic, which, surprise, surprise, I didn't pick up. I looked at Y for some help because he supposedly understands some basic Arabic as he had studied the language at university. I thought the guy was saying something about the camera and at the same time, thought I could smell trouble brewing ahead.
Out of a sudden, Y said, "No… no… no…" and told me that the guy had just asked if I was an engineer.
And I was like, huh? Engineer? How on earth did that come about?
I looked at Y, wondering if he had gotten the translation right.
I mean, I knew he studied the language at university but I didn't know if he had passed it with flying colours or had failed the course miserably, ha-ha!
By this time, the security guy had asked to look at the photos that I had just taken so I just showed him the camera's viewfinder and “flicked” through the recent photos. Somehow, this did not really satisfy him. He then gestured for me to follow him into the restaurant.
And I was like, oh sh*t! What the heck have I done wrong now?
Nevertheless, I nervously obliged, while X and Y anxiously tailed along with me.
The Accused, the Court, the Advocator, the Charges and the Judge
When we entered the restaurant, we tried to, as cool as possible, tell the maître d that we would like to have a table for three. I remember hoping for one split second that the security guy would just let me off by then, seeing that we’re customers.
But no, he kept on insisting me to follow him. Sheeeesssh!!! 😠
It's really embarrassing to have to follow a security guy across the dining area and then prompted to enter the "Staff Only" section with him. Some patrons probably thought that I might have been caught trying to steal something from the restaurant and was going to be reprimanded by the manager before they call in the police.
Just before the guy closed the door to the "Staff Only" section behind me, I remember looking back to see X and Y standing at a nearby table, looking at me like their nerves had just been wrecked.
Still, I acted like nothing had happened - though, in reality, my face by then could very well have been whiter than white if that is ever possible 😅 - and just proceeded into the kitchen/office area. (Y the partner-in-crime later told me that he wanted to follow me into the "Staff Only" section but was prevented by the security guy.)
Once inside, the guy and I went into a room, presumably the manager's office where there were a few staff being briefed at the time. He spoke to a guy who appeared to be the person-in-charge, in Arabic and in rapid fire, so I didn't manage to pick up much of what he was saying. After he finished, the manager looked to me and said, "You cannot take photos in the kitchen…"
And I was like, huh? Shu haza? What is this? Take photos in the kitchen? Where on earth did that come from?? What the heck has the security guy been saying about me??
Perhaps sensing something from my confused look (there was probably a huge question mark sign coming out on my forehead by then), he asked me, "Which company do you work for?"
And I, for the zillionth time, was like, huh?? Which company do I work for?? What has that got to do with any of these???
AARRRGGGGHHHHH!!! HELPPPPPPP!!! 😠😠😠
In the next few seconds, time probably stopped while I exasperatedly fired one question after another. "What the heck is going on here?? Why can't you guys just ask me questions that make more sense?? Why can't you guys at least just tell me what I have done wrong???"
But I forgot that while I activated this Hiro-like superpower (of Heroes/ Heroes Reborn the TV series, remember them?); the world around me also became frozen. There’s no way they could hear the shouts and the questions that I was asking. I probably should have used that few seconds and my newly acquired superpower to teleport myself to someplace safer, or at least less crazy! 😟
Nevertheless, by then they probably had noticed the question mark sign which probably had come out more and more prominent (and probably in 3D effects, ha-ha!) on my forehead.
The Defence and the Verdict
Amidst the confusion, I tried to explain to the manager that I was just hanging out outside of the restaurant with my friends while waiting to get into the restaurant and that we took just a few photos of ourselves in front of the restaurant.
I then showed him all the photos that we had just taken.
Upon seeing the photos, the manager said, "Oh! Those are okay… it's not a problem".
"What?? It's not a problem?? So what was the problem then?? What about taking photos in the kitchen and wanting to know where I work, and so on??? And after all the embarrassment that I have had to endure???"
Of course, I didn't actually ask the manager these questions, heh heh! 😜 I probably should have. I know I could have won the argument against the manager, who is a foreigner just like me too by the way, but I think against the security guy, whom I believe is a local, it would have been harder, if not totally impossible.
So not wanting to prolong the drama, and not wanting to get into more unnecessary trouble, I got out of the room accompanied by a staff, who apologised and tried to explain about their policy on taking photos. I told him it's not a problem, ma fi mushkila, that I knew photography is prohibited in some public places in Jeddah but I was sure that the restaurant is not one of it. So I still asked him why then the security guy had acted the way he did when he’d actually seen the photos that I’d taken outside of the restaurant earlier.
The staff replied, "Oh, that is something else..."
In the end, I just decided to let it go. There really was no point in arguing when all it could possibly lead to was just a million more "Huh?" moments. I joined X & Y at the table where the latter told me that he thought I was going to be searched and stripped naked inside, and that's why he'd wanted to go inside the "Staff Only" section too. See what kind of a friend I have? Ha-ha!
We ordered our dinner. Despite what had happened, we managed to enjoy the meal and the football match that we had planned on to watch. (Manchester United won 6-5 on penalties against Chelsea, by the way. Being a Gunner, I'd enjoyed watching the game but couldn't have cared less about who's winning! 😜)
But I digress. The manager did eventually apologise to me personally sometime during dinner. The security guy, however, was nowhere to be seen even though we only left the restaurant about 3 hours later.
Not that I cared much about seeing him again anyway!
- - - - - - -
P.S. For those who are wondering, this actually happened at Fuddruckers. Didn’t I tell you that I wasn’t swearing? 😜
This is the eleventh 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.