Susie: Susie of Arabia
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
My name is Susie. I am the American wife of a wonderful Saudi man. That is to say, I am the ONLY wife, regardless of nationality, of my Saudi husband. I say this because legally in Saudi Arabia, a man can be married to up to four wives at the same time. We met at university in my home state of Arizona back in 1977. My husband spent 30 years in America and then longed to return to his homeland. We moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2007 when I was in my mid-50s.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began blogging right before our move to KSA. Prior to that, I really didn’t even know what a blog was. I realized that my family and friends had concerns about our decision to move to a mysterious place like Saudi Arabia. So I decided that blogging would be the easiest way for me to keep my family and friends abreast of my adventure, to educate them about life in Saudi Arabia, and to help alleviate their fears and concerns.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Among my favorite blog posts are:
- Souvenirs from Saudi Arabia
- Finding Nemo: Snorkeling in the Red Sea
- Shopping Malls of Jeddah
- Embracing the Abaya
Tell us about the ways your new life in Saudi Arabia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life is very different here in Saudi Arabia than my life in the USA. Since women are not allowed to drive, transportation is always a big issue and hassle. Planning activities is required and spontaneity has pretty much become a thing of the past. Wearing the abaya and a scarf on my head when I am out in public has taken some major adjustments. Extreme gender segregation is something I still haven’t fully accepted and do not like. I’m not going to lie — the first couple of years were exciting, yet at the same time, extremely difficult. But life has gotten better as I have made some great friends and learned the ropes. Culture shock seems unavoidable in a place like Saudi Arabia. My brain seems to be wired differently than the Saudi brain, and so many customs and other things do not make sense to me.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I knew what to expect for the most part, but it really didn’t fully prepare me for what was to lie ahead. There really wasn’t that much information available out there about this country just a few short years ago. Now there are many blogs relating experiences and vital information about KSA. I moved here with only two suitcases and in retrospect, I think I would have felt more comfortable here if I had brought some things from my past life with me. I am detached from our home here because I don’t feel that anything is mine or my taste. I didn’t pick out the furnishings (my mother-in-law did before we arrived), or paint colors, or the floor tiles. We have nothing hanging on the walls because we don’t own the place. I would like to insert some of myself into where we live so I feel more at home. As it is, I feel no connection to this place.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Since things like alcohol, pork. unmarried sex, and gender mixing are forbidden in this culture, some of my friends here try to find ways around those issues. One female friend was returning to Jeddah from outside the country with, among other things, pork sausage in her suitcase which she had relabeled as “BEEF.” She was understandably anxious when she was pulled aside, along with her suitcase, for interrogation. But the officer was not interested in her relabeled “Beef Sausage.” He zeroed right in on the vibrator in her suitcase, asking her all kinds of questions about its purpose, and personal questions like her marital status. He asked her to turn it on, which she did - and then he began massaging his face with it! She tried to maintain her composure while she was thinking to herself “If he only knew where that thing has been…” After his facial massage, he told her that it was not allowed in the country and he took a hammer to it and smashed it into pieces in front of her. Then he let her go on her merry way with her sausages.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
- Do not come here with great expectations — and you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Be flexible and go with the flow — do not expect things to be like they were wherever you came from. Look at your experience as an adventure.
- Embrace the culture and the language and the people — you will not be disappointed.
How is the expat community in Saudi Arabia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Jeddah is well connected, close knit, and supportive. The first couple of years I was subconsciously limiting my friendships to other western women who are married to Saudis. I do have some wonderful friends like that, but once I expanded my friend base to single women who are here to work, I began to enjoy living here more. I actually feel I have more in common with working women who are here for a limited time and who want to see and do as much here as they can while they are here. Many Saudi wives have been here much longer than I have, and they have been there, done that.
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
Don’t be afraid of the unknown — embrace it and hang on for a fabulous magic carpet ride!