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Common misconceptions about Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabia city
    Andrew V Marcus / Shutterstock.com
Interview
Published 10 months ago

Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest country in the world by area and the largest country without a river. But we all know the country better for it being the holy land for Muslims with the most sacred mosques. After six months in Saudi Arabia, Sumreen, a Pakistani expat, has already found many reasons to love the country. Here, she touches on the sensitive topic of clichés, and lists six misconceptions in Saudi Arabia, hoping to break the country's stereotypical image.

Sumreen Safdar

I am from Pakistan and after four years in Egypt, I am now based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with my husband and three-year old son. I am a homemaker, and I love to explore new places and take pictures. I have recently started a blog where I share my travel and everyday life experiences.

Saudi Arabia is a safe country

In many people's minds Saudi Arabia is unsafe, especially after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. To me, this is a stereotype continuously reproduced in the western world, while I believe that Saudi Arabia is actually safer than many other countries in the world. One third of the people living in Saudi Arabia are expats, earn high salaries, and benefit from a series of first-class job perks, such as luxury accommodation and 24-hour security services. Of course, there are certain areas, which is recommended to avoid, as anywhere else in the world.

Women wearing a hijab

It's totally true, and without exaggeration women do have to cover themselves with a hijab and have to look modest. But their appearance and traditional outwear doesn't prevent them from performing everyday activities, such as shopping, working, and studying. Thanks to successful transportation companies such as Uber and Careem, women in Saudi Arabia can hire a driver or take the taxi by themselves.

Even though women's rights have always been shaky in Saudi Arabia, women are now in a much better position than before – they are lawyers, teachers, accountants, engineers, and members of the parliament. They are also taking senior positions in the medical and aviation sectors.

The Saudi Arabian culture

Saudi Arabia's culture lies deeply in antiquity, and its population has influenced and has been influenced by Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the compelling Roman and Byzantine empires. The citizens of Saudi Arabia fall under one common identity, which is defined first by being a Muslim and an Arab – uniting them with millions of people beyond Saudi's borders. Yet, expats who are neither Muslim nor Arab might feel out of place until they find their way around the traditional lifestyle.

Saudi people are extremely friendly and helpful, very inviting and generous. Families in Saudi Arabia have very strong bonds due to a rigid family system and customs that are thoroughly followed day in, day out.

People riding camels

The image of people riding camels comes from the history of Saudi Arabia, but today it's nothing more than a cliché. Saudi Arabia is a developing country and the standard of living is high. People own beautiful houses and expensive cars, tend to live in the big cities, and lead busy contemporary lives. If you want to see people on camels you have to visit the villages or go to the outskirts of the big cities.

Shopping and eating out in Saudi Arabia

As an expat in Saudi Arabia there aren't many things that you won't be able to find in the country. Name a brand, and it's there. The biggest cities Jeddah and Riyadh host deluxe malls and large supermarkets having local and imported produce in reasonable prices.

All types of cuisines (Chinese, Thai, Italian, and more) are served in nice restaurants where the quality of ingredients and taste is highly appreciated. But if you like the local flavors, head to a probably less stylish place where good quality food won't cost you a pretty penny. One of the top native dishes is kabsa – a rice dish prepared with either, lamb, camel or chicken. Other dishes, such as shawera and falafel are common in Saudi Arabia as well as in the other Arab countries. Remember that alcohol is prohibited.

Traveling around Saudi Arabia

There is a lot of islamic and Arab history and culture to see in Saudi Arabia – world renowned UNESCO heritage sites are here. The country is beautiful, with vast deserts from the north to the south, breathtaking beaches on the Red Sea, and magnificent mountain areas in the north and in the south-west city of Abha (note that both of these areas experience lower temperatures). The roads and highways in Saudi Arabia are well maintained, thus traveling by car is not an issue at all.