11) Driving -
Driving is pretty hectic. With 4 lanes at a red light, you can easily expect the car in the far right lane to make a left hand turn cutting off 3 other lanes. You have to be pretty passive aggressive about driving. You can't just be defensive because you'll either get run over or never get anywhere. You also can't be too aggressive or you'll have an accident every day. Knocking on wood, I haven't been in an accident yet, but once you see the driving, you'll know it is just a matter of time.
Secondly on the topic is the "law" that women cannot driving in the Kingdom. This is more of a nuisance than anything. Many women take taxis or the compound bus to get around. Jamie doesn't care to drive anyway, but it would be nice for her to be able to go out somewhere if she wanted.
10) Family Sections -
Again, more of a nuisance, but seating in restaurants and public places are divided to segregate the sexes. Males who are alone cannot sit with women who are not their relatives, so there are "single male" sections and "family sections." Jamie has more of a problem with this than I do, but we've been asked to leave a certain area that isn't clearly labeled and move to a "family section."
9) No Alcohol! -
The fact that I have this one at #9 might be surprising. Neither Jamie and I are big drinkers, but it would be nice to have a drink at a restaurant every now and then. Many people on compounds all over the kingdom brew, still, or make their own spirits, so you can get a drink if you want. There is always going over to Bahrain, but that is an hour or more away. Either way, it is annoying.
8) No Pork! -
This is one that does get to you after a while. Bacon, porkchops, pull pork sandwiches are all out of the question while living in KSA. I have resorted to turkey bacon, which actually isn't that bad and is even better for you, but we sure have missed our pig eating when we are home or in other countries. Some people smuggle pork into Saudi from Bahrain, but we do not or haven't yet.
7) No Cultural Interactions -
Saudis stay to themselves and rarely talk to you. With the boom of western restaurants and stores in Khobar, living there isn't that much different that suburbia US. Dress codes are different and it is more "brown," but you can forget you live in a different nation if you really want to think about it. While living in China, there was never a doubt you were living in China. Every day, you could go outside and experience China for what it was, both good and bad. Living in Khobar isn't that cultural experience, and it is something we sorely miss about living in China. Perhaps if we make friends with some Saudis, things will change, but for not, we miss the feeling of living abroad.
6) More Expensive -
Electronics are the most noticeable. A TV can be hundreds of dollars higher. A PS3 maybe only 100 dollars more. Our grocery costs are about 25% higher than what they were in the US, but this could be for a couple of different reasons: 1) overall inflation after 3 years due to the economy and 2) we buy more imported westerner products. If we purchase more local stuff, our bill might be lower. Our car was about the same if not a little cheaper. Our main comparison though is the overall cost of living difference than what we came to expect in China, which as very inexpensive to live. Of course, we do save in gas. Flight out of Dammam or Bahrain can be quite pricey, so you have to book way in advance and even look for deals. People who have lived in Saudi Arabia for a while and made their money believe that living there is cheap. I guess if you have lived there a while and banked some money, it does appear that way. In reality, I disagree, but we'll see in a few years.
5) Pull Tabs -
You know.. the tabs on coke cans that you used to have to pull completely off when you were a kid. Yeah, Saudi hasn't advanced to the tabs remaining on the can after opening, so what you are left with is a dangerous, sharp metal tab that you have to throw away separately. I hate it and thought about putting this #1.
4) Customer Service -
Or lack thereof. Unless it is a foreign worker, customer service in the Kingdom is practically non-existent. Calling an Internet service provider can literally make you throw the phone across the room and swear profusely (not that I would know), and the bank is nothing short of a ridiculous experience. A better example comes when you go to purchase a car. Saudis who work at the car dealer literally could care less if you purchase a car and will only help you if you go up to them personally and ask as many questions as possible. Again, if it is a Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, or other foreign worker, things are much better and they will go out of their way to help you. Saudis, however, has the worse customer service you will ever see. Now, it isn't that big of a deal, but when you first arrive and have no car, no phone, and no clue of what you are doing, it is frustrating have no help.
3) Prayer Times -
Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day beginning with the sunrise and ending with the sunset. The entire country of Saudi Arabia shuts down during prayer times. Businesses are forced to close their doors, so if you have business to conduct, groceries to buy, or places to go, you'll have to work around the prayer schedule, especially in the afternoons. Most places of business are fully open after 4:00 pm. Some stores do not open at all until then, but most are also open for a brief time in the mornings. We keep a prayer schedule on the refrigerator and in the car console and constantly have to refer to it every time we go out. The worst thing is to have your groceries in your cart and not make it to check out before prayer. We have gotten used to going in right before prayer and doing our shopping during prayer, which most grocery stores will allow. Overall, the prayer times take some time to get used to and impede our day to day life.
2) Boring -
No alcohol, no movie theaters, no cultural functions, no bowling, skating rinks, nothing... There are some decent parks, but it is just too dang hot many days to enjoy them, plus the women have to wear abayas (see #1). We have compound activities that we do (poker, Settlers, pool, work out, walk the dog). I have been going to Aramco for ultimate frisbee, basketball, and softball. Some people go to beaches on the weekend or in the desert for camping or digging. We watch a ton of TV and movies and have caught up on many fantastic shows that we had never watched before. The only reprieve are the people who become your friends and the ability to go to Bahrain, although it was shut down for some this year due to protesting. Saudi is a boring, hot place, so you have to find ways to entertain yourself and your family.
1) Abayas -
This one certainly Jamie's #1, but it is something I loathe about the country. I call them "oppression shrouds," but women are required to wear them when going out in public. It is like a long muumu dress that is long sleeved and black (always black). Some women have abayas that cost thousands of dollars. Western women are not required to cover their head, but many Saudi women are covered head to toe in black. Of the Saudi women, 1/2 cover everything but their eyes, and the other half cover their entire face. Abayas must be loose fitting as to not show the figure of the woman. They are loose fitting but still hot for the women. The thing that infuriates me the most is the concept behind it all. Women in Saudi are not be seen or heard and are regulated to staying at home. You see women everywhere, but they are always covered, a constant reminder of their 2nd class status. If I have a daughter, I we will certainly move before she comes of age enough to know what is going on concerning the abaya. That is how strongly we feel about it and why it is our #1. Nonetheless, it is what it is and Jamie carries on with it. Her only positive thing is that she doesn't have to worry about what she wears to town. She just throws it on before going out.
There you have it. The top 10 (11) worst things about living in Saudi Arabia. Feel free to let me know what you think.