We are back for another round of FAQs on our lives in Saudi Arabia. My wife, Robin, and I have enjoyed turning over your questions during the morning commute. Naturally, I know that looking at a phone is dangerous while I am driving, so I’m proud to tell you that I didn’t use my phone. I grabbed paper and pen to take notes instead. Safety first!
FAQ: If the music is too loud in a restaurant, is it okay if I tell the waitress to turn it down, or is that culturally insensitive?
This really would be impossible. You can’t tell the waitress anything at all—mostly because there are no women waitresses in restaurants in the country. All the waitresses are men. Still, you would not ask one of them to turn down the music, not because it would be offensive, but because the restaurants do not play any music at all. I am happy to tell you then, that the music in restaurants here will never be too loud—and, now that I think about it, you will never have to shout over the noise to be heard. It’s quite a nice difference.
FAQ: Is it true that billboards of George Clooney disappear over night? And I mean the whole billboard.
It does happen. Just. like. this. Our route to school this year had just such a billboard mounted atop a huge metal column. George was there every morning to greet us on our way, always smiling that winning smile. He held in his hand a hot cup of expresso, the kind of expresso that only a man with his suave and debonair manner would drink. My wife decided that everyday she would greet him with a “Good Morning, George.” I eventually got into the whole celebrity thing too. Then, one day, boom! He was gone. Right along with the whole billboard, the support beams and the massive steel column too. No one can explain it. So, yes, it happens. Expect it. (Sorry for the lack of a photo. But, in my defense, it did disappear.)
FAQ: If I am ever stuck in IKEA 10 feet away from the chair I just purchased and not be able to get the chair because it is in an employee only area with no employee to get the chair because it is prayer time, how long will I have to wait?
Great question—we’ve had this one a few times already. Answer: about 30 minutes. When prayer times start, employees get to have a break in case they want to go to the nearby mosque to pray. Not all do, but they are given the chance. If your chair has come from the storage area and is just about to cross that magical barrier between where employees are permitted and you aren’t, and the call to prayer starts, that chair will sit there in your view for the next 30 minutes. Instead of getting upset about it, I suggest sitting down and be patient. You can’t really do anything about it anyway. You could even pass the time doing something—I don’t know what, maybe, praying?
FAQ: Should I bring back bacon from Bahrain after a day trip because bacon is not available in Saudi Arabia?
Clearly, no. Bacon is not good for your health. Not only can it clog your arteries and raise your blood pressure, it can increase your border crossing time considerably, especially if the customs officials take an interest in the “sliced meat” package. A friend of mine was delayed in crossing the border because of this exact situation. On the flip side, he did get to meet many of the border crossing officials. They got to chat for a long time about “sliced meat” and other topics, I suppose. (Obviously, I can’t add a photo of bacon, can I?😉 )
Keep those questions coming! We are happy to answer any that we can.