Some people may say that making mistakes is a good thing. If you make a mistake, you will (hopefully) learn from it and whatever it is you did, you will (hopefully) not do it again.
In the case of Riyadh however, learning from the mistakes of others can be just as effective and actually even better for your own good, if not for your own life.
So if you are a wannabe Saudi expat, take this as a good piece of advice.
One of the things that Saudis are very strict about when it comes to everyday life, aside from being dressed modestly, is gender segregation.
I assume that, from the previous place where you lived, you were used to going out with your colleagues or classmates for a drink or a cup of coffee or whatever else.
Well, first of all you may be interested in knowing that you won’t get any real “drinks” here unless you really know where to look. But secondly, and most importantly, if you are just a group of friends, meaning not related to each other, and mixed gender, forget about going out in public!
Last week I was told a story about a group of teens who got in trouble for being caught together on the street, on their way to a fast food restaurant. Even though they are just teenagers, the boys in the group got arrested an sent to jail. Lucky for them for a short time only.
To show you both sides of the situation, I also heard of boys and girls that went outside together and, when noticed by the mutawa, calmly said that they are brother and sister and got away with it.
But honestly, if you want to pull off that story you better hope that the person who catches you is not very attentive, in a good mood, or you better be a brilliant actor because if not, you may find yourself in jail or worse.
Now you will probably ask yourself, “How can they tell if we are related or not? We are both white!” That is generally a legitimate question but as it turns out, a lot of the religious police men are good at sensing when a person is nervous. If one of them passes by your table and notices that there is something going on in your head because of that girl siting next to you, you will be asked what your relationship with that person is and if he has doubts about your story, he may just as well ask for your iqama to check whether what you said is true.
The thing is that, unless you work for an international company or live within the walls of a compound, there is no such thing as being just friends between people of opposite genders in this society. You are either related to each other through marriage or family. If none of those conditions apply to you, don’t get caught with a man/woman you don’t have anything to do with for your own good.