Category Archives: misc

The Saudi Supermarket


The other day, I found myself stuck in the supermarket during prayer time. The store closes, but if you’re already inside, they let you stay. It’s actually not a bad situation because you can take your time browsing for your groceries. Once they open again (20-30 min later), you can just go to the cashier and leave. If you can time it right, it’s better than trying to get it all done in between the prayer times.

Anyway, as I was reaching for the canned tuna, I was suddenly struck by the Warhol-esque nature of my surroundings.

2016-02-14 15.52.45

I took advantage of the fact that there were not many shoppers around to try to capture the effect. I was in a Danube supermarket, which is one of a few chains of supermarkets here. Other major ones are Safeway, Carrefour, and my favourite – Hyper Panda (yes, that’s what it’s really called). Danube’s shelves are very tall and and it seems that they literally put everything out, using up all their shelf space from top to bottom. But while there are certainly huge quantities, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of variety, giving these sort of visual effects:

A wall of yellow:2016-02-14 15.53.08

Packs of tomato paste (a staple ingredient for Saudi cooks):2016-02-14 15.52.26

Perfectly aligned bug spray (did they use a ruler?):2016-02-14 15.42.58

I’ve just been using regular Tide for washing my abaya. Have I been missing out all this time?2016-02-14 15.36.59

Yum, processed cheese. My favourite is La Vache qui rit, which is also marketed here as individually-wrapped squares of cheese called Kiri  – get it?  🙂20150301_172140

And finally, for our refreshments:2016-02-14 15.38.23Don’t get too excited (alcohol content = 0%).

Anyway, what self-respecting beer comes in apple, peach, or strawberry flavour?


No Woman, No Drive

Thanks to camelman for sharing this with me …

Want your change? Have some gum instead.

I really hate pennies. They are smelly, fussy, and add unnecessary weight. When I lived in Switzerland, I thought it was so great that all the prices were rounded to the nearest 0.05 CHF. No more pennies and everything in nice rounded numbers divisible by 5. Of course, then I started to resent the little 5 Rappen Swiss coins that accumulated in my change purse.

But here in Saudi, they’ve done away with coins altogether. At least, that’s what it seems. You will get the odd 50 halala (cent) coin once in a while, but actually, what you’re more likely to get is gum. Yes, chewing gum. It’s just a phenomenon you see in grocery stores. In other shops (e.g. clothing, hardware, books), pretty much everything is rounded to the nearest Riyal, so all transactions involve just the Riyal bills. But in the grocery stores, they can’t round the prices for things like produce or meat, which are sold by weight, to the nearest Riyal. But they might as well.

So let’s say you are due 1.62 Riyals in change. The cashier might hand you just a 1 Riyal bill, or you might get a 1 Riyal bill plus gum. You don’t even get to choose what flavor of gum you want. And it’s not as if it’s some decent gum from, say, Wrigley’s. Instead, you get a single piece of some locally-made gum that looks like a Chiclet, but about half the size, and whose taste lasts about half a bite.

The worst are the little convenience stores. They don’t even sell things by weight, but they’ll charge, say, 3.50 Riyals for something. So you could end up being owed 1.50 Riyals in change, but again, get gum instead of the 50 halala. If you complain, they’ll say to you, “What’s the big deal? It’s only 50 halala.” Yes, but it’s my 50 halala!

It’s outright theft, plain and simple. On a case-by-base level, it seems hardly a big deal. As the cashier says, what’s a few halala? And I did state upfront how I found little coins such a bother. But imagine the money these grocery stores, both big and small, are making from millions of such transactions every year? Why should we forego our small change to contribute to the profit of these corporations? You gotta hand it to them, though. It’s an ingenious strategy. Most of us will not bother complaining about the gum. Who has the time to argue over a few halala every time we go to the grocery store? Besides, there are enough time-wasting nuisances to deal with in this country.

But what gets me so riled up is that, yet again, we are not given a choice in the matter. What if I wanted my 42 halala, or whatever, rather than a piece of gum? Why are you foisting the piece of gum on me? It’s not like Saudi doesn’t have the coins to give people proper change. Indeed, Saudi coins apparently come in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 halala. (Although I have yet to see any of them, except for the 50 halala coin.) Shouldn’t there just be a rule or something that people should get their proper change? And if people don’t want to carry around a lot of change in their pocket, they could set up donation boxes for charities beside all the cash registers. At least allow us to choose what we want to do with our money, no matter how small the amount.

ostriches in Saudi Arabia

I saw a video today that reminded me of something I spotted in a Carrefour (grocery store) in Riyadh 4 years ago:

Local ostrich?!?! … I never knew that ostriches could be found in Saudi Arabia, but indeed, the now extinct Arabian ostrich used to roam broadly across the Arabian Peninsula.

I’m not aware of ostrich meat being particularly common in Saudi cuisine, but apparently there is a market for it. But perhaps any market for their meat is too much for these plucky animals:

I don’t know about you, but I am rooting for this animal to fly (run) away to freedom!

occupational hazards of reporters for state-run media

It’s not easy being a reporter on the ground these days in the Arab world. Camelman shared with me some YouTube video posts of two recent examples of reporters from state-controlled media whose fingers on the pulse from the street were just a little bit off.

This first video shows a reporter from Nile News who was not quite on the button when it came to reporting on how the Egyptian people on the street around him felt about the verdict handed down to Hosni Mubarak earlier this week. When the reporter started to say that the majority of the people were satisfied with the verdict (around 0:27), that’s when he got that tap on the shoulder. He then tried to calm them down by saying that the majority wants the death penalty, but it was useless by then. The crowd can then be heard chanting “liars in the media!” and “the verdict is void!” as the camera pans out and he becomes lost in the crowd.

Not very clever of him, I must say. This is a nice example of why it’s so important for journalists to check their facts!

In this next video, you need only watch the first few seconds. You will see a hapless Syrian reporter who got smacked with a shoe by a passing man as he shouted something about the Syrian media, followed by “damn your father, you dog!”


The state-run media business is not like it used to be!

lost in translation …

I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw this sign in front of a construction site:


Prince Salman was the Governor of Riyadh for almost 50 years. Late last year, he was appointed Minister of Defense, following the death of his brother, Crown Prince Sultan. I don’t know how long this sign has been up there, but you’d think that someone somewhere would be concerned about the messaging associated with such a prominent member of the royal family!