Saturday, May 31, 2008

Carpet Cleaner

R  ight next door to this medium sized neighborhood supermarket that we frequent sits a roomy open lot with 8 foot high lofty walls all the way around it, except for a sizable opening in the front where the massive gate is. From the top of the steps of the supermarket, I could peer over the sturdy wall and see dozens of carpets in different colors, styles and shapes hanging over long rods and baking in the toasty sun.
When I first noticed the lot, my first thought was that it was a carpet sales market. However since there is no roof of any kind, I quickly dismissed that idea. Rain is very scarce, well, practically nonexistent here in Jeddah, but the settling dust and the exposure to the bright sun day after day would destroy new carpets sitting out in the elements like that.

My husband told me that the place was actually a carpet cleaner, and I was intrigued. So one day after our shopping was done at the little supermarket, my son and I walked over so I could hopefully take some photos.

Now I must admit I have never before been inside a carpet cleaners in the states to observe the actual operation of such an establishment, so I am not at all familiar with the process. But I thought it would be interesting to see how it was done here in Arabia.

We walked in looking for someone I could ask about taking some pictures. Amidst all the carpets was a little shack of an office toward the back of lot. A man tumbled out and approached us, speaking in Arabic. I asked if it was okay if I took a few photos. He didn't speak English, so I held up my camera and acted out like I was taking pictures as I made little clucking sounds with my tongue, and then I said, "Okay?" He was miffed because I'm sure he's never had a crazy person like me come in to take photos of the place, but he skeptically gestured that it would be all right.

Adam and I ambled through the lot as I snapped away. We saw a guy spraying with a water hose who was scrubbing and rinsing the carpets. In another area, there were dripping carpets that he had just finished cleaning.

We turned around to head back to the entrance and noticed that about six other men had come out of the tiny office to watch what we were doing. One of them stepped forward and said something in Arabic that we didn't understand. I guessed that he was in charge. So I went through the same spiel with this guy, doing my clucking noises and acting out the picture taking again. I smiled and said "Thank you" in Arabic.

And then Adam and I just resumed our stroll toward the gate as I snapped a few more photos, and the stunned carpet men just stood there with their mouths open.

I wished I could have asked about how much it costs to have a carpet cleaned in this manner, how long it takes to dry, what type of shampoo or cleansers they use, or whether they treat all carpets the same regardless of the materials they are made of like wool, or synthetic, or whatever, but I couldn't. I felt I should just hurry up and get out of there before the guy in charge thought he better throw his weight around!

At least I got my photos.


  1. MashaAllah, you are braver than I am. There are many things I would love to take pictures of here, but I am too shy.

  2. Hi, Susie,
    I really enjoyed all of your recent blogs! It is so neat to get an inside look into your life in Saudi Arabia!

  3. Hi Alajnabiya!
    I don't know if it's bravery or sheer stupidity, but I figure if I don't try, it won't happen. I had been wanting to go inside there for weeks, and I finally went for it! I have been followed in a supermarket and on another occasion I was told that no photos were allowed, even though I try to be very discreet.

    Hi Linda!
    Thanks for letting me know how much you are enjoying the photos and the blogs. You made my day!

  4. Its possible they were suspicious about whether you were taking pics for inspection purposes etc. Alot of workers in the gulf are not here doing the jobs that are mentioned on their any signs of interest from outside parties might make them nervous and wonder whats up...the fact that you were a lady and clearly American or European etc is probably what kept them back. We can be very intimidating to foreign labourers for some reason...21 years later and I still leave them standing and staring..dont ask me why.

    I would only caution you in so much that people in the gulf can be can be quite paranoid about picture aim with care. Also, with your communication problems...things can be misunderstood and cause you more grief then if you were just able to say you want to take some pictures for your personal pleasure. You might ask your husband to teach you those very least then that much is made clear to whomever is looking on. Happy clicking.

    btw from my experience with carpet cleaners here in Bahrain...they dont much care what your carpet is made out of...much to my dismay...they all get treated the same. If you want a specific carpet cared for and returned in good shape...find a reputable cleaner that does just that. Also, the last time I had one cleaned it cost Bd 5...about $13 or so...for a medium sized carpet...but its been awhile and prices of everything have gone its no doubt more than that now.

  5. Hi CoolRed!
    Thanks so much for the good advice. I have learned to become a lot more cautious about picture taking since I first arrived, especially where women are concerned.
    I wonder why foreign workers find us so intimidating? Interesting.
    I may just wander back in there with my hubby and try to find out the cost. I'm still curious!

  6. AA- Susie,

    Nice pics...and I agree with ajnabiya - very brave of you to venture in there with a camera. Sometimes you'll get lucky and find people who are willing to even pose - that's my experience back in Pakistan, where I often take pics of the locals. However, I've yet to try that here for fear of the ultra-conservative culture. :-)

  7. Hi Brnaeem!
    Thanks for your comments. So far I have had pretty good luck with people (men) not minding me taking their photos. Like, at the vegetable market, the workers all know me by now and always try to get my attention so I'll photograph them. I've had guys pose and wave at me when they see me with my camera in the next car. I must admit, I still don't understand the problem with snapping women who are totally unrecognizable in their abayas, and veils, but I don't even go there.

  8. Hi Susie,

    I do routinely follow your posts and after reading this one, I just wanted to pass along some friendly advise to proceed with caution. I realize you are new to the Kingdom yet and do not know how much traveling you have done prior outside of the USA. In addition to the conservative nature of the Kingdom and its attitude (in some places to women and where they should or should not belong) the Kingdom also has a multitude of expats from differing cultures and customs. For some from the East, taking their photograph -or their perception that their photo is being taken- can be very disturbing as some continue to believe that taking their photo is like "stealing their soul." I know that you mean well but noone would like to hear of you having an unpleasant encounter somewhere.

    Best Regards,
    American Bedu

  9. Hi Bedu!
    Thanks so much for your comments. I too would hate to have an unfriendly encounter and I appreciate your wisdom. Thanks!

  10. I agree w/ the brave comments lol. I love taking pictures... and there were so many things I wanted to take pics of in Afrika - some I did, others I was just afraid to ask...

  11. Ahh-we have carpet cleaners over here. It costs 5OR (which is about $13) to clean a 2x3 meter carpet. Not too shabby! :)

  12. I so need my carpets cleaned...
    I agree: very brave of you. and I also agree if Adnan would teach you a good question that would be a good idea, yes, or no are easily distinguisable! :)

    I don't like to be photographed by tourists, but that's just a personal thing. :)
    I do recommend you don't snap any ladies, even if they aren't recognisable: you'd get all sorts of odd shocking reactions, and whole discussions will erupt on your blog.
    Such a pity really.... :D

  13. Hi Mama Kalila!
    There have been so many instances when I think "Wow, that would make a great photo!" but I restrain myself depending on the situation. I figured there would only be men and carpets at the cleaning lot, so I thought I might give it a try. When woman are involved, I wouldn't even try.

  14. Hi L Oman!
    I think the prices here are similar and seem very reasonable when comparing costs in the states for the same services. Thanks for commenting!

  15. Hi Aafke!
    Yes, I am really trying to contain myself where women are concerned. I just wish I could understand when a woman is covered from head to toe by a black formless shape, what the issue is. I respect it, but I just don't understand it. I will have my hubby teach me how to ask about taking a photo. Thanks!

  16. Hi Susie,

    Fantastic. You are a brave soul my friend. A great blog entry indeed.

  17. Hi Susie,I wonder if these guys deliver and pick up?I would be so spoiled if I lived there.I hate renting the rug doctor machine from the grocery store.
    I agree with the op's you're gutsy!

  18. Hee hee... those guys must've wondered what on earth you were doing there photographing!

  19. Hooray, you won the Best Travel Blog :-D Mabrook (congradulations)! Keep Bloggin', dear Susie!


  20. Susie, I just discovered your blog in my bout with insomnia! I love it. I have always been so intrigued with Arabia and I feel like I can take a peek with you. Beautiful blog and beautiful family.

    Key Largo,FL

  21. Good Morning, Susie

    I am an English language acquisition specialist, and I was offered a contract to teach English at a prestigious college in Jubail. I am excited to have an opportunity to live and to teach in Saudi Arabia. I am fluent in English and Spanish (Master’s Degree), and I wanted to ask you a question, if I may? Is the payment of 13,500 Riyal a good monthly salary?


    Elbert K. Hollingsworth M.A Ed.

  22. Hi Elbert!

    In answer to your question which you posted on my blog regarding a salary of 13,500 riyals per month:

    The exchange rate is 3.75 (we usually round up to 4 when trying to quickly figure out the cost in US dollars) so that means you would technically be getting $3600 US per month. Does your offer include any type of housing allowance or provisions? Do you have a family to support or are you single?

    Most living expenses are cheaper here. Gas and food are definitely way cheaper than the US. Internet and phone service costs are about the same as the US. If you live in a compound with lots of facilities, I've heard that the rents can be high, but honestly I don't know specifics since we are living here rent free, courtesy of my mother-in-law. Plus we are in Jeddah. You might ask your potential employer about this. If you are used to spending a lot of money on entertainment, that will be completely slashed from your expenses!

    One thing to keep in mind as well, is that your salary would be tax free. The first $75,000 or so per year that you make overseas is tax free, but you still need to file. My husband, who is also an English professor by the way, thinks you offer is good. I hope this information was helpful to you. Let me know if you have any further questions. I might be able to put you in touch with some American teachers here who might be able to better address your concerns.

    Best wishes to you in whatever you decide!

  23. Hi Always!
    I think they do pick up and deliver. While we were entering the gate, we had to wait for a large truck with carpets in the back which was exiting the place.

    Hi UmmIbrahim!
    I'm sure it was a first for them!

    Hi Aalia!
    Thanks so much! You're so sweet.

    Hi Yoli!
    I'm so glad to hear that you found my blog and are enjoying it. Thanks so much for letting me know - It made my day!

  24. Fantastic post...really useful info..!!!!!!!

  25. Cleaning what you are providing probably is expensive but after your carpet is like brand new :)

  26. carpet cleaners newcastle
    the states to observe the actual operation of such an establishment, so I am not at all familiar with the process. But I thought it would be interesting to see how it was done here in Arabia.