Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go window-shopping at a huge mall, here in Saudi. I almost felt at home, seeing all the familiar name brand retailers and restaurants. Notice, that I said “almost”.. The little reminders, that I’m not in the U.S., was constant. Not bad, but just gets you thinking “where in the world, am I?”
- So, I step into the first shop. One that I know well; Nike! I was quite surprised to see workout-wear for women, being that this city doesn’t seem to encourage female gyms. They are here, but in much smaller numbers than the males-only gyms, of course. I read that womens gyms were in abundance back in 2009 (Black, 2009). But due to the protest of the conservative crowd, who felt that these facilities take women away from their homes/husbands/children, many were shut down.Although, there were clothes..none of the fitness stores in this mall had equipment geared towards women. Now, this mall is massive! Why did I not find even one Yoga mat, dumbbell, or a real running shoe?
- As I go into the next store (“Express”), I’m humming “Con los ojos cerrados”… then I suddenly stop.. look up.. and realize there is no music playing. “Am I going crazy? Music does normally play in American stores, right??” I walk over to the next store, and same thing. No music! I talk to someone the next day about this, and she tells me so matter-of-factly that music is haram (sinful) according to Islamic Shari’ah. I know it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s SO odd going into a totally silent store, wanting to say something to your shopping buddy, but feeling that you need to whisper because your English is going to draw attention. My blond friend already stands out enough!
- I walk into a store with some really cute going-out wear. Where in the world, are these abaya-clad women going to wear these outfits?? Now, maybe I’m simply naïve to this other life of Arabian women.. but short skirts, tanks, tight and sheer? These are the same women who wear skirts to their ankles and loose shirts to their elbows, to class… and the abaya in public.
- ALL of these stores were ran by men, even MAC and Victoria Secrets.. These are the same men who are not to see a woman “uncovered”, except for his wife and family members. I must also say that Victoria Secrets had absolutely no lingerie.. Apparently men are not banned from selling female underwear .. So, where are they getting them from is my next question. The only females that I have seen working so far, in this country, were the foreigners.. and a few Saudis in salons/spas. But according to the Buchanan’s article, women will soon be allowed to work in this industry (Buchanan, 2012).
- In these retail stores, I almost never saw a dressing room.. This is a shop-happy culture. With so much money and free time, what else are the women to do? A dressing room would get a lot of use in this country. But, instead there’s a pretty relaxed return policy.
Little differences, but enough of them to make an interesting experience..
Black, I. (2009). Saudi Women Face Gyms Ban. The Gaurdian.Retrieved on March 13th, 2012 from <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/26/saudi-women-sports-ban>
Buchanan, E. (2012). Women Only to Work in Saudi Arabia Lingerie Shops. BBC News. Retrieved on March 13, 2012 from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16412202 >
Hey there! I’m in the UAE and have been reading your blog….
I think it’s so interesting how culture and religion intertwine so much. Some things that are looked at as being bc of religion….are actually more cultural.
For example…here there is always music playing in the malls…and we sing at school, and many Muslims listen to music..,so I would think it’s more a cultural and location based haram than anything else.
I have also seen some ladies wearing a variety if things under their Abaya here….all very stylish and even more fancy than I normally wear in my everyday life. Also here…some of the short tight clothes are the going out to club clothes…..as we have many night clubs here.
Anyhow…those have just been my observations…hope you enjoy your time in Saudi…as much as I’m enjoying mine in the UAE. Who knows maybe I will be able to visit one day….being so close and all:)
That makes sense! I’m sure you have a lot more freedoms there, as well. There are no clubs, here, which is what throws me off w/ the party clothes. But strangely, music is always played on TV. So maybe it’s culturally haram, in public? Thanx for pointing out the differences and checking out my blog. How are you liking it in the UAE?
That’s very interesting. Do the women stay covered in the malls? I heard that single men are not allowed in the mall (as to prevent mingling of the sexes).
Yes, we cover up everywhere Saudi men are present. And yes, I heard that as well, but I think there are a few malls in Riyadh single men can go to.
It’s funny to read about your experiences as I am in the U.A.E., a Muslim country right next door; it’s quite different. There is music in the malls. There are women working in the shops, usually not locals, but women none the less. Women drive but there are some that do have drivers and very rarely leave the house. Life is in the malls here, bowling, skating, skiing, groceries, movies, etc, all in the malls. Plus, most of the American restaurants are here. It’s amazing the difference when we’re neighbors, huh?
I keep hearing that! Very interesting… And honestly, I sometimes get jealous of you guys.. lol. I would love to go to a movie theatre!!
Interesting post! In Jeddah, there’s also not usually music in the malls (except in fancy “Western-like” malls where mostly expats and very liberal Saudis go) and it also struck me as very strange at first! There aren’t changing rooms to try on clothes inside the stores here either, but there’s almost always a section of the washrooms in malls for trying clothes on. That way, you can try whatever you purchased and bring it right back for exchange if it doesn’t fit, thus saving an extra trip to the mall later on 😉
I was taken aback, too, by all the super cute and stylish going out clothes, and especially the gorgeous fancy gowns. Saudi weddings are a class among themselves, and women go nuts to dress luxuriously and decadently!!
Thanks for sharing!! 🙂
After the post, I found out about these outside stalls.. I just hate the fact that I have to purchase a bunch of stuff, simply to try it on (as indecisive as I am)! I’m that girl that would buy a size 8, return to get a 10, and then realize maybe like the outfit at all..
Oh and I’m still tryna find a Saudi bride-to-be, so I can get on a guest list to these events!