Gina: GMarie´s Page
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Riyadh, etc.
I grew up in New Jersey but now make my home in South Pasadena, Florida. I am a U.S. Navy veteran and I have a daughter who is 25 and two grand-daughters; 3 and 4 years old who reside in California. After 20 years of federal service, I decided it was time for a change and started applying for positions overseas. I accepted a position and moved to Riyadh in September 2011.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Initially, when I started my blog, it was to keep in touch with family and friends and to minimize sending multiple emails and pictures to everyone especially from a place where I consider the internet service to be a bit slow. So a month before I arrived in Saudi (August 2011), I got the idea to blog my experiences from subscribing to other blog sites. Blogging would be the perfect venue to get my information and pictures out to everyone who considered living and working in Riyadh.
Do you have any favorite blogs?
My favorite blog that I keep up with are Susie’s Big Adventure and American Bedu. After blogging about a year, I had the pleasure of interviewing American Bedu’s Carol Fleming-Al Alroush, who has since lost her battle with cancer in May 2013. These two blogs were very informative for me before making my transition to Saudi Arabia.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
There are several things that make my life different from back home. Besides the typical shopping and dining out, I have experienced the woman only spas (Almutaka) and woman only floors in malls (Kingdom Tower). I miss not being able to go to the beach as often as I used to, but I found I can do that in Jeddah. I also miss going to the movies, but our library on the compound in which I live does a great job of keeping up with the latest movies. I also notice the stares I received around town. So I asked my friend, who is Jordanian what she thought it was. She said, two things; my hair (I wear mid-back length dreadlocks) and just being uncovered. So, I cover up in town now, just to blend in and take away some of the attention. I would say that the biggest culture shock would be the separation of the genders. Single women have to sit in the family section of a restaurant, wearing an abaya everywhere I go around town, and the enforcement of store closures during pray times, to name a few. Women are not allowed to drive here but we have drivers that take us just about anywhere we want to go. So, with the traffic in Riyadh, not driving is not such a bad deal.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Riyadh? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Based on the information I received from other expats, reading the information on the two website’s mentioned above and becoming well informed about the Arab culture, I believed I was totally ready to make the transition to Saudi.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The incident that comes to mind was when I first arrived at Riyadh Airport. When my flight arrived in Riyadh, I got on line right behind a male who was in front of me on the plane. The “needle scratched the record”! The whole place had an awkward silence!! I immediately realized that I had gotten on the wrong line and was not where I was supposed to be as a female; all the way to the right with all of the others. With several dirty looks in my direction, I hurried to the right line. When it was my turn to approached the customs desk, I handed the officer my passport and visa then began to inform him that my sponsor was waiting for me past the baggage area, he cut me off and told me to, “Go sit down!” I guess that was my punishment for forgetting my place as a woman in the Kingdom! They say the duration of a child who is being chastised with “time-out” is based on age, so I figured 51 minutes in time-out would be way too long for a punishment. So after about 15 minutes, which much apprehension and my heart beating quickly, I approached the desk again. This time, I quickly told the officer that my sponsor sent me an email that he was waiting for me, that I work for the U.S. Government and that I was on a Diplomatic visa. He gave me the once over, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Scary stuff!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Riyadh?
- Bring a good hair moisturizer! The climate is so dry and the water is hard on your hair.
- Bring openness to diversity; different cultures and languages.
- Be patience to the way others do things which may seem different from where you are from.
How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Riyadh is great! As a liaison for the Saudi Arabian National Guard Hospital contracting department and the U.S. Army contracting department I get to meet a lot of like-minded people from all walks of life. Saudi Arabia is one of those places where you have to be creative in finding things to do. So, this assignment allows me the time and autonomy to move around Riyadh finding plenty of topics to blog about and receive instruction by pros and near pros in the game of golf.
How would you summarize your expat life in Riyadh in a single, catchy sentence?
Catch me and my adventures on my blog called GMarie’s Page!