Tag Archives: shopping

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?


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.

gents now welcome

If you remember from an earlier post, there used to be certain hours where singles (males) could and could not enter the mall. Some relief for the shabaabs (شباب, i.e. the youth) now, since last month, the governor of Riyadh announced that single males would “not be prevented” from going to shopping malls during peak hours.

Now, the mall is probably the last place most guys I know would want to hang out, but in Saudi Arabia, where there’s not much to do, it’s the place to be. Isn’t that kind of sad? When one wants to “go out” in Saudi Arabia, you’re pretty much relegated to restaurants and coffee shops … and shawarma places  … and you could always go for a walk somewhere … or go for a drive. So it’s pretty slim pickings in terms of entertainment. Plus, in most public places, there’s segregation (e.g. separate ‘singles’ and ‘family’ sections in restaurants). So the mall is pretty much the only place where you could go just to hang out and be around other people. Plus, it’s air-conditioned.

The original reason for having the separate “bachelor” hours and “family” hours was to restrict mixing of the sexes and stem the “harrassment” of females. This, unfortunately, makes it sound like young Saudi men are only up to no good. Granted, there well may have been many incidences of a woman or group of women feeling intimidated by the antics and behavior of a group of guys, which is certainly reprehensible. But Vancouver has lots of young male Saudi students, as do many other North American cities, and as far as I know, there’s no concerns about allowing them to enter our malls! I am not trying to make excuses for anyone here, but in a way, I can’t completely blame the guys, especially if we’re talking about teenagers and especially given the context of this country. Everyone, especially young people, needs an outlet for their energy and self-expression. We’ve all been through adolescence and can understand this. But when there are such rigid restrictions (even in something as simple as going shopping), and especially as you’re growing up, reckless and inappropriate behavior is bound to come bursting out at the seams where you least expect it – including at the mall.

shopping for underwear became a whole lot more comfy today …

Remember my post about the challenges of shopping for undergarments in Saudi Arabia? Well today, the Ministry of Labor carried out the Royal Decree to require that shops carrying “women’s necessities” (i.e. lingerie) employ women. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to witness such a sight as illustrated in these photographs from the main Riyadh newspaper:


ImageThe shopping experience in Saudi is now one step towards making it more comfortable for everyone – note even the availability of a Fitting Room right inside the shop!Image

gents not welcome

When in Saudi, you have to get used to the idea that there are certain places you shouldn’t go, depending on whether you are a man or a woman. Of course, there are restricted areas everywhere in the world. Even in North America, I shouldn’t go into the men’s locker room, for instance. But in Saudi, the separation of men and women is everywhere and took some getting used to. You have to be constantly aware of where you can go, which entrance to use, or which line to queue up in. For instance:Here, the “Men Section” is strictly for men; that’s easy enough. However, the “Ladies Section” is not only just for ladies, but could also be used by any men who are accompanied by a female. Heaven forbid that a Saudi woman might actually have to stand next to a strange man at the MacDonald’s! But really – as if that sign dividing the line-ups is going to make a difference here.

There are some public places where men are definitely not welcome and the barriers much more defined, such as the ladies’ branch of a local bank:

or the shopping mall, depending on the time:In the old days, according to camelman, the muttawa (religious police) were quite enthusiastic about enforcing these bachelor admission hours. I have never witnessed the muttawa in action, although I have seen mall security guards turn away or escort unaccompanied males out of the shopping centre. I don’t know too many men who are at their best after half an hour or so in the mall, so it’s just as well, I suppose (I’m kidding).

But for all this effort in keeping the bachelors separated from the women, only men are allowed to work in the mall, including lingerie and cosmetics shops. Can you imagine? There would nothing more peculiar than having to ask a fellow if they have any more of the pink lace push-up bras in size 42C.It’s enough to get anyone in a tizzy!