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What I Miss About the Balkans: Kosova vs. Saudi Arabia

I have now been living in Saudi Arabia for about four months now and just recently, I unconsciously reminded myself of my time in South East Europe.

I originally thought of writing a post on Kosova only for my other blog but then, why not have some parallels drawn to Saudi Arabia? I mean, since I am already there, right?

So here a list of things (again) that I started to miss over the last couple of months.  Now, I also should say that this is NOT a way to complain. I just have realized that experiencing different cultures teaches us something about the appreciation of another. And so here the conclusions I came to:

1. Affordable and available taxis

I sometimes feel like I just have spent too much time in the Balkans where everything is cheaper than in the Kingdom, except for gasoline obviously. Here’s the thing. I do admit that I am pretty much an introvert but sometimes getting outside is not too bad. And so whenever I want to go somewhere here in Riyadh, I need a driver and as I wrote previously, as a woman getting anywhere is quite a hassle. I kind of miss just hailing a cab, using my (way too bad) Albanian to tell the driver where I want to go and get there for       € 3.50 maximum. As absurd as this sounds, but in the end it’s always about the little things in life.

2.   November 28th and February 17th Celebrations

In Kosovo I have witnessed two major celebrations. The one on November 28th, which is the independece day of Albania and February 17th. which is when Kosova celebrates its independence. Here in Saudi there is also a national day, which is on September 23rd. Unfrtunately I did not get to see anything of that festivity but maybe there hasn’t even been anything public.  The big difference for me as a foreigner however, is the fact that in Kosovo I was more a part of the whole festivities than I could ever be here in the Middle East. That is not even a bad thing but the realization that I won’t be around the NEWBORN sign this year to watch people swing their blue and yellow flags, singing patriotic songs makes me feel very nostalgic. There won’t be even an electricity blackout for 13 hours like last year, where all I could do was spent quality time watching the snow fall by candle light,  while the streetlights were shining outside like nothing ever happened.

3. Multicultural excitement

Have you ever experienced that when you come to a new country and the locals ask you where you are from and as soon as you tell them you are a foreigner (especially German) people get all excited about you? Well, this is pretty much what happens when you travel to the Balkans (beware however,  that if you are German and set foot on Greece, better don’t mention you are German).  Kosovars are all into foreigners, or at least for the most part. Sometimes they treat them like they are the most interesting thing in the world.  Now, if you happen to come across what I would call a “modern” Saudi here in Riyadh, chances are that this person will show a similar type of cuiosity. But speaking in general, it appears to me like the Saudis just endure all the foreigners because they more or less have to.

4. Cheap junk food

That probably sounds very stupid but yes, I miss the times when buying sugary substances was no big deal for my wallet. Sweets are one of the things on my “absolute favorite” list, somewhere between books, travel and intelectual people. These sugary substances are what give me company while I read a book on thursday night or what prevent me from a total panic attack while I am trying to finish up this history paper which is due this week. In Riyadh, as opposed to Kosova, most junk food items are expensive and that mostly because they are being imported from the US. There are of course the heavenly delicious Arabic sweets as well but I always have trouble finding them. You may notice that if you do groceries in Riyadh, there are no prices to be seen on the items, I assume that this is some sort of Saudi business strategy but you won’t believe how many times I actually stood there at the register and did not have enough money with me after all.

5. Albanian and/ or Serbian Weddings 

About two years ago, I got to watch an Albanian wedding right from my balcony. It was a sunny day at the end of August and all of a sudden our already very narrow street was filled with a bunch of incoming cars. Music was playing so loud, that my cat was totally frightened and confused. Women were leaning out of the windows, hitting their tambourines and singing Albanian songs. Albanians are quite clever. Men and women celebrate in two different houses and even in a street that is literally full of cars, they will still find enough space to do the traditional valle Kosovare dance, which is basically going in a circle to traditional music for an undefined amount of time while someone is shooting with  an AK- 47 into the air in the background. Haven’t seen an Arab wedding so far. If I ever do, I’ll make sure to write this down, too.

For the moment, I’ll have to stop here but I will make sure to update this if I have any other ideas. Suggestions always welcome.



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1 Comment

  • Reply
    February 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

    This is really interesting. I mean to hear the point of view of an expat who lives in your country.
    I’m Saudi and I lived my past 5 years in Australia for study purposes. As of today, it’s my 2nd month since I returned to Riyadh. I still remember my early months in Australia, they were full of comparisons and at some point of time fear and regrets. Years passed and then I was crying when it was the day to go back to Saudi. People might feel like: Saudi is boring and has a very strict life style! Yeah, sometimes I share the same thoughts, but it’s not the life style to blame, it’s how people from different cultures see this culture and style. I had the same impression when I was in Australia. I thought life over there can’t be of any fun unless you drink, shake your buddy in night clubs and do other stuff. But HEY, I’m Muslim, I have my boundaries, I can’t do any of that!! Eventually I found my way to entertain and have a better experience. You don’t have to follow the pattern of the locals to find joy, create your own.
    If you want to get the most of your experience, invite a local colleague that you feel comfortable with and can share your thoughts with for a coffee or accept their invites if they offer, thus you’ll have a better insight on the society.
    Wish you all the best in KSA 🙂

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