How to adjust to the local culture in Riyadh

Local culture Riyadh
Updated 2022-03-03 07:53

Moving to a city like Riyadh, especially from a non-Muslim country, will take some adjusting to. One of the first things you will become aware of is that life in Riyadh is guided by a number of social and religious rules that you may find to be quite restrictive. 

Learning about everyday life in Riyadh in advance and keeping an open mind can make your transition to life in the city much smoother.

Language and religion

In general, Saudis are very friendly and helpful and do their best to assist newcomers. Arabic is the national language and is spoken by most Saudis even though English is quite widespread. Like the rest of the country, Riyadh, the capital city follows Islamic laws deeply as per defined Sharia. Court heads all decisions and manages all judicial procedures.

Non-Muslims in the city are also allowed to practice their religions within their private environments. However, they are not allowed to spread their religious beliefs. Otherwise, it would be a punishable offense.

Besides, expats are not allowed to talk openly about any religion. It is also restricted to wear religious symbols or jewellery.

Muslim prayers are core boosters of daily life in Riyadh, taking place five times a day. Businesses, shops, and almost everything get a break during the prayer time. This means that if prayer times arrive and you are at the store with a full cart of products, you will need to leave it at the store, walk out and then return when the prayer time is over.

Women in Saudi Arabia

There are a number of gender restrictions in the Saudi culture, especially for women who wish to work. Hence, women have to inquire about the local dress code and the way they have to present themselves. In the country as a whole, women wear an abaya  — which is a long dark-coloured robe — to cover themselves.

However, like in many Gulf countries, trends are changing. Today, women are allowed to drive and go out to watch sports matches. Restrictions still exist though. Women can only travel and work with their husband's permission. Also, women are not allowed to mingle with men, especially if they are unmarried unless they are related by blood ties.

Until 2016, Saudi Arabia even had special religious police in place, also known as the mutawa. Their job was to make sure that the society abides by the religious codes. However, recently, the religious police have been reformed and no longer have the powers they used to, which makes life in Saudi Arabia much more relaxed for expats — and expat women in particular.

Etiquette in Saudi Arabia 

The left hand is considered unclean, so avoid using it, for example, while shaking hands, receiving, giving, etc. Use your right hand.

Men are now allowed to have physical contact in public with an unknown girl or woman.

Public display of affection is forbidden. Moreover, avoid having eye contact with a person of another sex.

When seated, never point your feet towards the person opposite you as it is considered rude, almost as an insult.

Follow the rules set by Mutaween on the spot and never argue with them.

Alcohol consumption is prohibited.

Ramadan is a sacred month, and all Islamic customs need to be respected. For example, avoid eating, drinking, smoking, backbiting and shouting in public, even if you're non-Muslim

Summing it all up, you have to abide by state laws if you want to adjust, especially if you're planning to make a long stay. Culture and social norms are followed in line by every individual.

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