Friday, September 5, 2008


I  hate shopping here in Saudi Arabia. All right, maybe the word “hate” is a little strong, but I for one, just speaking from my own personal experiences, really do not find shopping here nearly as enjoyable as I always did back in the states. There are many reasons why.

First of all, probably the main reason I don’t like shopping here is because of my husband. Now don’t get me wrong, Adnan is a great guy. But he has pretty much always hated shopping. And now that we are here in Saudi Arabia, it is a very stressful ordeal for him to go through. He’s always in a rush to get out of there once we arrive (more on that later), and I hate being rushed especially when I’m shopping. I like to take my time and I enjoy looking at things. Not that I have to buy everything I see, but I just like to look.

Now Adnan actually didn’t always used to be like that, so anti-shopping, I mean. In fact when we first met, he used to make it really fun. I remember one time when we were at a large department store, I tried on a pair of jeans and came out of the dressing room to get his opinion. When I returned to the dressing room, the pants I had worn into the store were missing, so I ended up having to purchase a new pair of jeans since I couldn’t very well leave the store in my underwear. My overly dramatic husband ranted and raved to the poor salesgirl, “What kind of a place is this? You steal a person’s clothes so they are forced to buy new ones? Get me the manager!” Yes, it turned out that Adnan was in cahoots with the salesgirl, and my old pants eventually showed up again, and it was all quite hysterical at the time. But see, he USED to be fun to shop with!

The second reason I hate shopping here has to be the traffic. Most of the time, it is nerve-wracking driving anywhere in Jeddah. Of course my husband has to drive me, since he brought me to the ONLY country in the world (that I know of) where women are not allowed to drive. The stress endured while driving in this crazy traffic is off the charts. The traffic here is absolutely horrendous. Right now is Ramadan, and traffic is much lighter earlier in the day until around 3pm. So my husband prefers to do any shopping during a two hour window of time between the mid-day prayer and the mid-afternoon prayer. However many shops are not open at all during the day until later, especially now that it’s Ramadan. The shopping and traffic are busiest after the final prayer of the day, which is now after 8:30pm. So with everyone and their mother out then, it’s bumper to bumper traffic jams until well past 2am. Entire families are out and about shopping at this time, from elderly grandmothers down to little babies and toddlers. It’s crazy. The stores are extremely crowded and it’s difficult to find parking spaces too.

Another reason I hate shopping here in Saudi Arabia is because of the store hours. All shops must close during prayer times. There are five prayers a day. The first prayer of the day is so early, it doesn’t really disrupt most business schedules. The other four prayers are at mid-day, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, and early evening. Many businesses just close all afternoon, instead of opening and closing several times during the day. Then they stay open until at least midnight or later. During Ramadan the shops stay open later to accommodate all the late night shoppers. The closing of the shops for prayers is why my husband is always in a rush when we are shopping. The stores will literally kick shoppers out of the stores, or some just lock shoppers in so they can’t get out. I guess I have had a difficult time adjusting to the crazy store hours here in Saudi Arabia.

With Ramadan upon us, we are hungry and thirsty during the day when we fast until sundown. This includes my husband’s approximately two hour shopping window in the early afternoon, plus the souks are largely in the open air. The heat is brutal and along with that comes sweat dripping off shoppers and workers alike, not to mention some pretty foul odors of everyone involved in the shopping experience. Bargaining in the souks, my husband will walk around in the heat to ten different vendors, all carrying identical items, just to bicker the price down another ten riyals (US $2.50). Adnan makes me feel like I should settle for something less expensive that I don’t really like, and then I’m at the point where I just don’t care anymore. Then he grudgingly buys me what I really wanted in the place. Adnan insists that the prices are much cheaper at the souks rather than the new large super stores (similar to Super Target) that are air conditioned. But my feeling is that even if we would pay a little more, there is a lot to be said about shopping in air conditioned comfort during the really hot months especially when we are hungry and thirsty, and that would be my choice. During the winter months and when it’s not Ramadan, it really isn’t so bad shopping in the souks.

All right, I admit I have never been particularly fond of grocery shopping since I’m not the greatest cook in the world. My expertise definitely lies in the eating part! You can find just about anything you want - or at least a reasonable substitute for - in the groceries and vegetable markets here, but there are some items that are scarce and very difficult to find. Short of going to several different markets, which my husband refuses to do, to satisfy my gastronomic desires, we end up grocery shopping at only one store, which may not have everything I may want. Like sour cream, for example. The Arabs simply do not use sour cream. They use some products that are similar, but they are NOT sour cream. I know that there are a few shops here that carry real sour cream, but we don’t do our regular shopping at those places, so I do without sour cream. Okay, okay, I know I probably shouldn’t have it anyway, but still, sometimes I would just like to have some sour cream - is that so wrong? Another thing about grocery shopping here is that in some things, there is just not a wide variety to choose from like I am used to. The health conscious diet hasn’t caught on here like in America and finding low fat items is very difficult. Plus if you’re counting carbs or calories, many products do not list this information on the packaging.

One of the reasons I hate shopping for clothes here is because in most places there are no dressing rooms to try clothes on. And since women are not allowed to work in shops (with a few exceptions, women are only allowed to work along side of men in the medical field), the sales clerks here are all foreign men. Now, I have asked in several shops why there are no dressing rooms for women to try clothes on and I have been given two entirely different explanations. One reason given is that there has been a problem with theft because women’s abayas make it easy to hide things underneath. The other reason is so that there will be no hanky panky going on. You see, in this sexually obsessed/oppressed society where men and women are not allowed to date or mix socially, every precaution is taken, every conceivable possibility is thwarted, to prevent men and women from hooking up. If this is the case, the “no dressing rooms” policy was probably born out of fear that the sex starved sales clerks and the lusty female shoppers might act inappropriately behind closed curtains. This is a country where everyone is assumed to be so immoral and unable to control themselves that there is a need for religious police to keep everyone in line. Anyway, as a result of all this, I find that I don't personally enjoy shopping for clothing here in Saudi Arabia as much as I do elsewhere, since I prefer to be able to try things on first before I buy. Also, many of the smaller shops do not accept returns either, so not being able to try on or return it later if it doesn’t fit is a real turn off for me.

Another problem with shopping is that there are no marked prices in the souks, so to find out a price, you must ask the attendant. When I shop, I like to pick up an item, look at the price tag, and then either put it back or decide to buy it. Probably no big deal. But when I have to ask the price for every single item I might be interested in, I lose interest in purchasing anything. And the souks are so expertly crowded with products, it’s hard to find what you might be looking for, so again you must ask. The attendants are usually helpful and eager to serve, but I hate having to ask for help every time I go into a shop. I enjoy finding things myself and discovering new items on my own, not with a sales clerk right behind me every step of the way.

Since I implicated my husband as the main reason I don’t like shopping here, I guess it’s only fair that I’m truthful about my son and put him on this list too. Adam constantly whines about the intolerable heat, the unpleasant and pungent odors of the souks, about how he’s going to faint any minute because he‘s thirsty and hungry, or begs us to buy him yet another totally useless but expensive item that he doesn’t need. Regarding the heat, I tell him to imagine wearing a long black cloak and covering his hair and neck too! But things get even worse when my hubby has had enough of my son’s whining. I can’t stand being around either one of them when this happens. Heaven help me.

I decided to write this post because of a particularly bad shopping experience yesterday that frazzled me. So you've now seen a different side of me. The real Susie has been exposed! But I honestly think if these minor problems that I’ve cited could somehow be fixed, then shopping here in Arabia would be a much more pleasurable experience for me. There are bargains to be had, that is for sure!


  1. Hi Susie! Glad to be back and reading your blog again, I'm so sorry I missed you here on your visit but I was out of town.

    I just laughed through this blog! I don't like shopping but this sounds like something I'd probably run screaming from:) And shopping with MEN is NEVER fun! So, how DO you handle it trying on clothes?

    Keep up the good work! Sheri

  2. susie i LOVE your blog. I've been reading for a little while and was bummed when you weren't posting. This post was Oh so REAL. Nothing will be good all the time and it's nice to have a supportive place to let it all out.

    Welcome back.

  3. Hola Susie

    I truly enjoy and look forward to all your pictures and posts!!! I was exhausted just by reading what you have to go through to go shopping. My husband definitely shops for the most convenient and often the most expensive items. But again, he was often shopping with his mother and sisters growing up in Saudi. I do admit to be the thrifty one of the family. The kids will asked me "Does it have a coupon or is it on sale?" Take Care, Cecilia

  4. HI Susie,
    Wow, I feel bad for you and the shopping mishaps there. WOW! No price tags that alone would drive me nuts. Hang in there my dear friend.

  5. Here is a recipe for crema fresa, close to sour cream. A sour cream recipe is more difficult to make than creme fresh.

    Take Care.
    Love, Cecilia

  6. Hi Sheri!
    So sorry to have missed you when I was in town too - hopefully next time.
    When buying clothes here, I just have to eyeball the size of the garment and the rest is just guesswork. I have done pretty well, not too many disappointments when I get it home. But i would still rather try it on!

  7. Hi Umm Abdurrahman!
    You really made my day. Thanks so much for commenting.

    Hola Cecilia!
    Thanks so much - I'm so glad to hear that you enjoy the blog. And thanks for the recipe too.
    I hate paying full price for anything too - I always wait for it to go on sale.

    Hi Jessie!
    The newer large mega-stores here do generally have the prices clearly marked, so shopping in those places is pretty similar to the states. It's really not that bad shopping here - I was just venting!

  8. Welcome back Susie!

    "I decided to write this post because of a particularly bad shopping experience yesterday that frazzled me"

    Oh dear, as I was reading I was thinking that it sounded as though you had been traumatised by a recent shopping incident!

    I am getting used to shopping here now although the evenings are far too crazy. Actually we took the kids out yesterday evening and it was OK. We left the house just before isha prayer and went the mall... empty car park, fab! Hubby went to the prayer room where he was able to pray taraweeh prayer and I used the ladies prayer room. Immediately after prayer we went to the kids play area which was virtually empty, they had most of the rides to themselves, they shared the icerink with about 4 other children. It started, I repeated starte (!) to get more busy as we were leaving around 11pm and the carpark was more chaotic by then but I think the key in Ramadan is getting to the mall early! The shops should open by 9pm... be there then!

  9. Oh Susie, Susie, Susie.

    I wondered how long the bloom would last. I would read your blog and think, yeah right, not everything can be great. I would think about the heat, the smells, not driving, wearing the heavy hot black throw head to toe, women being treated so differently which must change the dynamic of your relation with your husband too. Ay yi yi..... I think your honesty was refreshing. Don't you just want to scream and run to the airport sometimes?

    I admire your willingness to put on the happy face and try to make it work. I guess love can conquer all for you. Me? I couldn't do it. But then again I've never had to make that choice.

    Keep writing, it's great to read. And tell Adnan he just better take you to damn wanna be Target to get some freaking sour cream! I mean come on............

  10. Yep you definately need a "girls day"
    Round up friends,daughters,daughters-in-law and head for the mall with an empty credit card or at least enough cash for Godiva chocolate and the food court.Wish I could come bail you out.Ditto what the others said,I'd be running for the airport!

  11. Hey Susie
    Ive yet to find and Arab man that doesnt practice the "Snatch and Grab" technique of shopping. Whatevers closest to the checkout

    I hate buying clothes here too...cause the sizes marked are hardly ever the right size...u cant say to yourself...i wear a size 12(yeah i wish) and buy a pair of pants in that size assuming the will fit...just doesnt work that way. Not having changing rooms might also be for the safety of women...if they are in there half naked or whatever...maybe the "sex deprived" sales clerk will get his hormones worked up...or something like that...just a thought.

    Ive also found that leaving the house early after mahgrib prayers means the streets are fairly empty...the parking lot is mine to choose from...and the stores are just opening so I have plenty of physical and mental space...yay!

    Heres an extra u really wanna be trying on clothes that possibly other women have tried on..other women that are also dripping sweat under the stifling abaya and equally stifling small shops and souk about it.

  12. i dont know why, but i think your blog is refreshing... in a sense, i mean, i like your writing style and all, although the activity seems to be very exhausting.. i can understand that.. i live in Jeddah as well

    but i think i am gonna be a regular visitor from now

    ramadan kareem!

    is this your first ramadan in saudi arabia?

    yusuf mario germino

  13. Hi Stranger!
    Thanks for the advice. My hubby has a real aversion to malls and he prefers the souks. But he will drop us off at the mall and pick us up later at times. He just gets so freaked out about the traffic - he really hates driving here.

    Hi Marcy!
    Yes, it felt good to let it all out for a change. I always tend to look on the bright side, but I guess I just needed to vent after that shopping day from hell! Thanks for commenting.

    Hi Always!
    Now that sounds like a great idea. Ditch the hubby and go shopping with my girlfriends. I wish it were that easy!!!

    Hi CoolRed!
    Good point about the dressing rooms. That's another likely reason.
    And the idea of trying on previously sweated on clothing doesn't sound very appealing at all! you pput it all into perspective. Thanks!

    Hi Yusuf!
    Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for your nice comments. You made my day!
    Yes, this is my first Ramadan here. I arrived last year exactly one week before Ramadan ended. It was all a big whirlwind when I first arrived. This year it seems much hotter, but I am managing. I just don't think I'll go out to the souks in the middle of the day during Ramadan anymore!!!

  14. Ditto what Marcy said. As I was reading this post I was thinking 'She IS human after all!!' LOL

  15. Hi Queen!
    Yes, I have a dark side too!!! I think the heat and the hunger are bringing it out more!

  16. Hi, Susie!

    This is my first visit to your site. I was fascinated by your shopping tale and hope to return real soon to see what else you have in store for us. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your site.

  17. I think in general shopping in this part of the world is kinda a drag. Well, Dubai malls aren't so bad, but I know what you mean about browsing around.

    Between the wacked shopping carts, the invade your space people and the whole ambiance of it all I go nuts. I miss my oh so relaxing nice music in the background supermarket back home. It was clean, the workers were nice and cheery and the bagger boys always did their job right.

    I don't think it's a bad thing you showed us your true colors, Susie. You're human and well it's different in this part of the world. Nothing wrong in admitting that.

  18. LOL! Sorry, Susie, for taking enjoyment in your situation, but misery loves company. I shared many of your experiences, and feelings about those experiences, during my years in KSA.

    I grew to like shopping, especially in the souks, though I never got comfortable with bargaining. My husband enjoyed grocery shopping, so you can imagine how exciting it was to make our weekly grocery shopping trip-- a family affair.

    He did not like other kinds of shopping, but he was a man in a family of women. He could say, "NO," to me, but never to his girls!

    The secret to enjoying shopping is not to need what you are shopping for.

    Oh, and bringing a year's supply of what you do need from America when you return to KSA in August.

  19. I'm with you on most of that Susie. I can do my shopping here but not with any real pleasure. And since I mostly find myself in the grocery store to feed all these people I'm totally depressed by it. Going to 3 different grocery stores to get everything on my list is not my idea of fun. I do find sour cream at my regular stores though. Must have for my fajitas.

  20. Okay but that is too, too funny about the "stolen" pants:) And I love and want that starburst mirror in one of your pics.

    PS The lack of dressing rooms really carries things a bit too far......

  21. I will never complain about shopping in my city again. Nothing beats your experience!

  22. Hi Refreshing One!
    So glad you stopped by - welcome!

    Hi L_Oman!
    I also miss the music playing in the background. My son and I will often sing or hum (softly) as we shop, and we do get some strange looks from other shoppers. Thanks for commenting.

    Hi Marahm!
    I did bring back a years supply of a few items with me. I think I should start making a list for next summer!

    Hi Nzingha!
    You're lucky to find sour cream so easily. We have a brand new beautiful Hyper Panda close to our home now and I thought for sure THEY would have it, but NO! There are no places close to us that carry it, unfortunately for me...

    Hi Maryam!
    Thanks for stopping by. You should be able to find some of those sunburst mirrors there in Morocco, no?

    Hi Solace!
    If it weren't for the heat and the thirst right now, it probably wouldn't be so bad...

    1. I love your blog. I've just moved to Jeddah as well, and it's an adjustment for sure.

      I know this is a really old post, so I'm not sure if you'll see this post.

      But I did want to ask if you could tell me which places carry sour cream that you mentioned? I'm a baking fanatic and I haven't been able to find it at most of the 'regular' grocery places.

  23. Salaams!

    I would love to correspond with you at some point soon. I love your blog. Came across it on accident and am "addicted" to it. :) I am an Anthropology student with a focus in the Middle East. I have lived in Bahrain in 2003-04.

    Could I have your email?

    I am a female btw! My DH and I love your song list. We are playing cards listening to it. I think we are in that music generation.
    Ps. I live in Florida.

  24. Hi Anthrogeek!
    I'm so glad to hear that you've been enjoying my blog and my music playlist. We still have our home in Florida - in the Miami-Ft Lauderdale area.
    Here's my email address:

  25. Hi Susie. We have just moved back to Australia after 4 years in Saudi. My goodness, was I pleased to get out of the summer heat and back to the Australian winter. For the first 2 weeks, I went to the shops every single day! I took myself in my own car, by myself, to shops that don't close, that sell things you actually want, that are staffed by people who know what they are talking about (and speak my language!), wearing what I want. I have to admit that sometimes I wish I could just throw my abaya on over my gardening clothes and go out, but that is only sometimes! I know that at the supermarket, if I see something I like, it will be there next week and I don't have to buy all of them and hoard them somewhere! The sales staff are friendly and want to chat, rather than just grunting at you, or worse, ignoring you altogether and taking your money from you like you have some sort of disease! I can buy a bra from a woman and try it on before I leave the shop! I am not likely to be killed on the roads just getting there. Its all good. We had an interesting time in KSA, and I wouldn't have done it differently, but it sure is good to be home. By the way, love the blog and have done for a while. I will still pop in from time to time to see how you are going. I think your story is absolutely fascinating and I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds for you.

  26. Hi Kathryn!
    Thanks for your nice comment. I enjoyed reading about your return to the real world and how much you are savoring every moment of it. Living here really gives one a different perspective on things, doesn't it? I guess if I were to look on the bright side, I AM saving money ... ? !!!

  27. Wow--shopping sucks in Saudi Arabia! Actually sounds worse than Egypt--imagine that--haha! And I dont think I could live in a country with "morals police"--oh yes for sure I'd end up in jail cuz I'd have to hit back if one ever hit me. Which my friend there says they do. Geez Louise! Come visit me--you're close. You'd have a ball here!

  28. Having lived in Saudi on 3 different occasions, I can totally relate to everything you say about shopping in this article, Susie. I hated it too.

  29. Ah, shopping with men...
    Every shop should have a ''leave and collect'' area, wher you can drop men, and pick them up again as you leave with your purchases.
    I'm all for economie, but I would have a serious look at the price difference, and make an equasion between money saved, and ''time + marital bliss'' saved. :)

  30. Hi Queen!
    Thanks for the invite - I may take you up on that!

    Hi Kristie!
    Sorry to bring back the unpleasant memories of shopping here!!! At least you can shop with pleasure now!

    Hi Aafke!
    Actually the drivers drop off the women at the malls and then gather at an area outside where they all wait for the ladies to finish shopping. It's hysterical.

  31. Salams Susie

    I stumbled upon your site and i'm so glad i did. Its quite refreshing to meet another western woman married to a Saudi man. Mine is from Al-Ahsa and is there now. I'm here in the U.S. with our 6 children. I would love to talk to you more and exchange experiences. I can so relate to your shopping experience...........however my husb LOVES to shop........he's worse than a woman!!!! I think its the chalange of the bartar............he is the master at it. Its quite amazing to watch him work. I can so relate to shopping in the heat. I've wondered with him in Dubai(Deria) for hours sweating from places i didn't know i had in full Saudi abaya........quite interesting.
    Allahu teechil 3afia for putting such an effort into this blog and sharing your experiences

    Ramadan Mubarak wa kul entum wa bil khair.......Umzacharia

  32. LOL your post made me laugh!

    Here too mostly male sales ppl which is annoying. But there are dressing rooms!

    More I read your blog more it seems KSA is really obbessed with sex. I guess that how it is when it oppressed.

  33. So, does your husband have 4 wives?

  34. Hiii I need to know the normal closing time of shops at night

    1. There really is no normal closing time for shops. They do stay open pretty late and even later during the holidays. Most business for shops is conducted at night because of the frequency of prayer times during the day.

  35. So funny, I can totally relate cos my dad hates taking me shopping too

  36. Hey , I think labneh is sour cream. U can get a box of fresh labneh at any store :) I get mine in a green box brand name is PINAR I think :)

  37. P.s saudi arabia is not so bad :')
    You just have to sea the good thing and forget the bad thing and you will be happy :')

    1. Hi Bayan - I have written many positive posts about living in Saudi Arabia. I know that it's not all that bad. I do agree with you, though, that there are many things one has to overlook or ignore in order to be happy living in Saudi Arabia.