In Riyadh, there are shopping malls every few meters. Not only do those have all kinds of (expensive) things but the buildings themselves are tremendously large. If I would take the Alexa shopping center in Berlin, for example, then I would (and I actually did) immediately realize that the mall in Riyadh is five times as big as that one.
If you live on a compound and do not have an own vehicle, you can use the bus that departs at specific times to specific malls on specific days.
So this is pretty much what I have done today. After visiting the Jarir Bookstore, which is a mixture of a bookstore with books in English and Arabic (mostly by John Grisham, Danielle Steel etc) and a stationary shop, I took the bus from my compound to the Granada Center.
Based on the ammount of visitors, I assume that one of the main things that the locals like to do during their free time is to go shopping and go to restaurants. And this last sentence reminds me of my restaurant experience from this morning, which I want to share before I get to the shopping part.
Here in Riyadh, you can’t just go to a café or restaurant and expect to get a seat immediately. Here things are different. In cafés and restaurants there is always a singles and a family section. Sometimes there even are singles sections only. The singles section is for the men, while when a man decides to come to a place with his wife, he is sent to the family section, since men and women that are not related to each other, are not allowed to mix in public places. I am not 100 % sure, but I assume that even if a group of women comes to a restaurant, they are also sent to the family section, which is hidden from the singles section.
However, the waiting line for the family section is very long. My family and some acquaintances of ours wanted to have breakfast in a café. but no matter where we went, there were already dozens of people who had the same idea.
When we finally found a place in a shopping mall, we were given a number and had to wait until a seat was free and we were called upon. A short time after we ordered, we already got our receipt, while our food and drinks were still being prepared. This way, the owner wanted to make sure that we eat and make space for the next visitors as fast as possible.
Then, a couple of minutes later, it was time to pray. Whenever it is time to pray, all the stores, business and whatever, close for thirty minutes. If it is a small shop, the visitors are asked to leave, while when you happen to be at IKEA when the call to pray goes off, you and the other customers will be left alone while the staff goes and prays. So we just sat there, ate our breakfast and watched as people were standing in front of the closed stores.
And here is where I get deeper into the shopping part.
People who come to the malls the most are women. If you are an expat woman, you are allowed to move around freely and without male company inside the malls. I went to an H&M store to get some clothes that are more suitable for the local weather. With me there were so many other women, covered from head to toe and some of them even had their faces behind a black piece of cloth, that I had a really hard time to move without running into one of them.
In this store there were no cabins where one could try on the clothes. So what people do is, they pick the clothes they like, buy them and try them on at home. If something doesn’t fit or you just don’t like it after trying it on, you go back to the store, return it and get a gift card.
Then lastly, there is the waiting line. I have the impression that here in Riyadh, people like to do things very slowly. I mean, why hurry, right? Well, I am glad that people here have such an easy view on time and life and all but if you have to be back at the bus at a specific time, these work ethics really get you.
And here a piece of advice for the end to all future Riyadh shoppers:
The most important thing while standing in a line in a Saudi store is to NOT leave any space between you and the person in front of you. This is because if there is the tinyest bit of spcae left, another person will just squeeze her (or maybe even him) self in front of you and you will end up standing there for hours. However, that does NOT mean that you have to be literally touching the other person. But you get my point here, right? Hope so.
So as you can see, shopping in Riyadh is really not for the weak.