Most of us know embassies as places where you get travel documents or where you go if you have a “diplomatic hold up” in another country etc. But have you ever thought about what else an embassy could be useful for? Think for a moment…
Yes, you are absolutely correct! In Saudi Arabia, embassies are also places for social gatherings that sometimes, depending on the level of effort, can be considered a party.
Yesterday, I went to the French embassy in Riyadh. At first I believe that what I was about to attend was a live performance of ABBA’s Mamma Mia! by French artists. So, looking forward to some good music, I was off to the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh.
If you want to attend such gatherings at embassies, you need to have the right connections that can get you an entrance ticket and be warned, that this little piece of paper will not necessarily be a cheap one.
For most expats these events at embassies are a chance to dress up and basically “compete” with the others about who looks better that night and whose bag matches the shoes with the highest heels the most. At least that is the impression I get from the women, while men either a.) Try to get themselves a (new) girlfriend or b.) get their hands on alcohol. That may also apply to some women, too by the way. There is certainly also option c.) according to which some people may really show up for the music entertaining part.
Option c.) however, is not so common. The message this sends is basically the following: Pretty much all adults have reached a point where they cannot have any fun unless there is alcohol involved. In other words, alcohol IS the main source of entertainment for most people here. Whether there are music or a movie at the same time? Let’s be honest, how many people actually care? Isn’t that kind of sad?
What did cheer me up however was the buffet. As many fruits, pastries, little sandwiches and shawarma as you can eat. Oh, and have I mentioned the rose pudding yet? Luckily water was free. After the first half hour I could already feel my satin dress tighten around my upper body.
I learned two lessons that night: strapless dresses are almost impossible to breathe in, especially after you hit the buffet like there is no tomorrow. Shoes with heels, no matter how high they are, are torture instruments, and later on there would be another interesting observation to follow.
But before I get to that, I am sure that most of you will be interested in knowing that it is not only the expatriate community that takes part in these events. I did see a decent amount of Saudis there, too. All with thobe and ghutra and agal. I guess that the cultural highlight of the night was my observation of a Saudi man kissing a woman on both cheeks. Don’t believe me? Read again.
After almost two hours of eating and drinking and possibly socializing to music that could possibly make your ear drums explode, the show came on. Even though my company and I were expecting to hear ABBA throughout, it started with French songs which later on turned out to be from the musical Cabaret.
However, the songs were dynamic and catchy and soon, many people started to dance and enjoy themselves while some got so into the dancing, their brandy landed on the ground.
Just after that, a young guy came up to us, asking if anyone had a pen. Later on he sat down next to me. As I already mentioned in one of my articles called The Albanian Don Juan the question “What time is it?” seems to be a very common conversation starter. Not only among Albanians but also Arabs. The guy, who later on turned out to be Egyptian, asked what time it is and after I showed him my watch, I already hoped he would leave me in peace when in reality, the conversation just started.
“Do you want a drink?”, he asked me and tried to offer me a glass with a liquid and ice in it.
Dear men, Firstly, if you really want to treat a woman for a drink, then please, get up and buy her the freakin’ drink while she is with you, so she can see how it is made and receive it from the barkeeper. Don’t just show up and offer a random glass. If you do that and the woman is smart enough, I can foreshadow for you that she will not take it. That gesture is pretty much a green light for: That drink is gonna knock you out. Literally.
Secondly, don’t automatically assume that every woman on the planet drinks alcohol. If you want to treat someone for a drink because apparently you like that person at first sight, then ASK what the lady wants to drink first.
You know, many western people complain about the strict social regulations here. Especially the whole idea of a woman having a mahram or male guardian. You know what? For situations like these, I highly praise Saudi society for that rule! I really do. I think that at gatherings like these a woman should always have a man with her who looks after her in case a guy like this comes up to her and tries to invite her to another party or get her phone number or even, and here comes the most ridiculous part: invite her to a trip to the desert!
Dear men, seriously??!! You think we will just hop into the car with you in a country like this, barely knowing who you are and let you take us to a desert??? Maybe you think that you are trying to be nice here and show us around but honestly…THAT is like the most suspicious thing to offer ever.
The “funny” thing about that incident was that my father was sitting RIGHT THERE next to me and the guy just kept talking at me, trying to appeal to me somehow, saying how strict my parents must be if they don’t let me party, even though I made clear that these here are my parents. Maybe I should feel sorry for that guy. The social situation in this country seems to make some men so desperate, they forget about any morals there are. Again, maybe he was just trying to be nice but if you just want to be nice, find a more civilized approach than almost hitting on a girl in front of her dad while you know her dad is watching you.
Ladies, in this situation I suggest you keep conservatively modest. If you want to get rid of the guy, say you don’t have your phone with you. You don’t have social networks like Facebook and on the weekends you are busy studying or doing stuff (maybe you even are like me). In the end, the guy will find that you are too quiet and too modest for him and after offering his silly drink to the friend that just danced with you, realizing that she will not take it either, he will eventually leave without a word. I mean, you can also just tell him to go away straight and see what happens but I don’t like to be rude at the first second.
Now, I can imagine that some of you will blame me for what happened, saying that if it wasn’t for my dress and my looks, I would have been fine. Okay, go ahead and think that way if you have to but let me tell you that I was just following the set dress code for the event and that just because I look pretty, like everyone else, that does not mean a grown up man has to forget about where he is and what social norms are.
The night was not too bad though after all. The food was delicious and in big amounts and we did get to hear some ABBA songs despite the fact that most of them were in French.