Mandi: Under the Abaya
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Riyadh, etc.
I'm a 30 year old American woman, originally from Indiana, USA. I moved to Riyadh for the first time in 2007 and stayed for a year and a half. I came back in June of 2011 for the second time.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog in June of 2011, soon after I moved back to the Kingdom for the second time. At first I thought it would be a way for me to pass the time and catalog my experiences, but the blog soon developed into more of a diary while dealing with my marital problems, and now serves as a combination of the two.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I don't have favorites really, but there are several posts that remain popular on my blog with people who find me while looking for information about Saudi Arabia or marrying a Saudi, or because a particular subject gets an interesting debate going. You can find some of those posts here:
- So You Want to Marry a Saudi?
- Saudi Arabia–Islamic Paradise?
- On Women in Saudi Arabia
- Saudi Arabia & Domestic Help–Maid or Slave?
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?
In many ways my life is the same. I'm still a mom, I still have a house to clean (although now it's much larger), laundry to wash, and meals to cook. But it is vastly different in so many ways. My movement is limited since I cannot drive and do not have a full time driver. Even when I do get out of the house, the activities that I enjoy here are different than the ones I could enjoy back home. I do not have the employment opportunities here that I had back home, and the jobs I can get here do not pay well. The list goes on. Yes I have had trouble adjusting, and I still do every day. I don't think that it's something I'll ever get used to.
I have experienced some culture shock, but not in the ways that some people probably expect. The hardest things for me to adjust to are the restrictions placed on me because I'm a woman, and not being able to chat with or smile at strangers. People here tend to be rather reserved in public, and small talk isn't really acceptable, especially between unrelated men and women.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Riyadh? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I do not think that I was fully prepared and I don't think there's a way one really can be. You can read about life here but there is really no way to understand the reality. At least not if you're a woman. And one who is married to a Saudi man, at that. I'm sure the transition may be easier for expats coming to work.
If I could go back, I would have decided to not come back for the second time. Not that living here is so terrible for everyone, but in my situation it wasn't a smart move. Now I'm stuck.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Trying to adjust to the language always puts me in funny situations. I'm always saying the wrong thing it seems. My daughter's Arabic teacher was over and I served her some tea. She asked me "how are you today" and instinctively I told her "you're welcome" expecting that she would have said thank you for the tea. I also have a mother in law who doesn't speak any English, so I'm always embarrassing myself with my misuse of the Arabic language.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Riyadh?
- Learn a little about the culture, language, and religion before you come here. This place is easier to adjust to and easier to handle when you know what you're getting into before you arrive.
- When you get here, get to know the locals. Saudis can be incredibly hospitable and friendly people and you should jump at the opportunity to become friends with them when it is presented.
- Take the opportunity to travel. There are many beautiful places to see within Saudi Arabia, and there are many countries nearby that can be traveled to cheaply. Take in as much as you can!
How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
My fellow expats and wives of Saudis are my saving grace here! Thanks to the internet, like minded friends are not hard to find. I have a wonderful group of friends and we try to get together at least once a month, if not more.
How would you summarize your expat life in Riyadh in a single, catchy sentence?
An American Girl learning to survive while living in Saudi Arabia.