There are umpteen articles and millions of comments about why people don’t like Saudi Arabia. I am particularly referring to expatriates/ex-expatriates because those who have not experienced Saudi Arabia, their opinion doesn't matter to me. On the other hand, a few articles dare to look at the positive side of the Kingdom. I am listing three of them:
- Landscape is Unearthly: Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle-East. Between her eastern shoreline which is dominated by a north-south escarpment, and western shoreline which southwards culminates in one of the biggest uninhabited deserts in the world, lays a vast expanse of land with unique geographical features. While rest of the country being mostly sandy or rocky parched land interspersed with oases, south-west corner of the country rightly claims to be among the most plant-diverse and perhaps bio-diverse regions in the entire Middle-East.
- Family Gets Attention: The work hours for most of the professions and services in Saudi Arabia allow ample time for family. Saudi folks love to spend time with their families. Expatriates like me who come from countries where even commute to office is exhausting, not to talk about the work pressure, the environment in Saudi Arabia is comparatively less taxing. Public-transport system, which was glaringly missing so far, is being planned and implemented in coming five to ten years in the major cities like Riyadh to ease the congestion on roads during office hours. During weekends, most of the public spaces, like parks and even street-side on the outskirts of city are occupied by the families for picnics and outdoor fun. Attendance at the relatively scarce festivals is overwhelming. Weekends also give us a chance to mingle with like-minded families and organize joint outdoor or indoor activities. In cities like Riyadh, each park is equipped with FUNCTIONAL kids play area. I do have seen broken swings, slides and forts, but only a few times. Moreover, most of the shopping malls are equipped with food area and kids play area. During weekends, it is difficult to find space in both the areas.
- Crime-rate is Checked: Crime is there but there are types. Relatively, instances of eve-teasing are rare. Public place conduct of people is conservative. You can’t imagine couples getting cozy with each other. Holding hand of my wife is also looked down upon. So, the advantage is that I can go with my kids to any public place without worrying what they will see there. Car thefts do occur but again there are types. If the car-type is good for drag races, risk of theft is more. Neighborhood and community areas in the city also matter. I have heard about cases like laptop- and wallet-snatching, burglary in the house, but I will put them in less frequent category. Domestic violence, particularly crime against maids, is rising, as reported by media, which is of course a worrying trend. Overall, life-threatening crime is comparatively less in my opinion, and I feel much safer with my family picnicking in the park at 0300 hours or driving across the city or even making a cross-country trip.
- Cheap Fuel Drives My Car: As one of the few countries with cheap fuel, Saudi Arabia offers plenty of travel opportunities and driving holidays. The trips are more affordable, the daily commute is not pinching and I don’t feel like sitting at home. I can hardly offset my monthly budget by making trips to different parts of the city every day or even clubbing it with a weekend trip to nearby areas.
- Ocean and Desert Fun Aplenty: Country’s long shorelines on both sides attract water-sport enthusiasts. Red Sea on the western coast is one of the favorite destinations of divers to witness marine flora and fauna. Farasan Island off the south-western coast is our favorite. Eastern coast too offers some island adventure but I am yet to explore that. Deserts of Saudi Arabia offer one of the best sand off-roading opportunities to motor-enthusiasts. Hordes of vehicles can be seen enjoying off-road rallies, dune-climbing, dune-bashing, ATV-fun and so on. Expatriates also enjoy ‘Hash’ activities, where the groups of people of different nationalities go on a short or long hike / run in the weekend-evenings. In beautiful natural areas, camp-outs are fairly common and one of our favorites.
- Dining Options And Variety for Many Tastes & All Budgets: Due to presence of people of different nationalities, dining options are fair to good. Almost all big food companies of the world have their chains of outlets in various cities of the country. Cuisine-wise, from Arabian food to most exclusive Scandinavian preparations are available in Riyadh. Ambience-wise, one can enjoy the highest class available anywhere in the world but please don’t expect cabaret coupled to your dining experience. Like me, if you like cooking, almost all kinds of raw and canned food items, sauces, spices and seasonings are available.
- Flights to Europe are Cheaper: Europe is one of my favorite destinations. Why is it so, deserves a dedicated post. For now, I like the cheaper flight tickets from Saudi Arabia to many European destinations. Also, availability and variety of travel packages by the travel companies is overwhelming and they allow you to customize the itineraries to your taste. If you like to travel like me, I mean on your own, then also, Europe seems much nearer and cheaper.
- Not So Readily Available Alcohol (and Drugs): Now this is a boon for somebody like me. A teetotaler by choice, I like the total absence of drunkards on the streets of the country. I am yet to see one. In a country with labor coming from all over the world leaving their families behind because of affordability issue, ready availability of alcohol may have resulted in a lot of nuisance on city streets, especially in the night. Regarding drugs, I must admit I have seen heaps of syringes scattered at the outskirts of the city. So despite capital punishment, people do smuggle them in. But, overall, I am very satisfied on this account.
- Overwhelming Date-fruit Variety: If you have not tasted date fruits yet, you must. Then graduate to different tastes of various cultivars available in Saudi Arabia. People like me who are highly fond of them also love to consume them like Arabs, in raw ‘rutab’ stage in addition to the fully ripe (tamr) ones. Date palm is a wonder-tree surviving over 50 degree Celsius, which is a norm in summers, to produce delicious fruits year after year. It is commercially grown in many countries but Saudi Arabia boasts of remarkable date-fruit variety apart from the highest date fruit production in the world. Further Reading: An old newspaper clipping. Things are different now but still holds good.
- Last But Not the Least, Hospitality is Unmissable: Arabian hospitality is world famous and not for no reason. We, as a family, and I as an individual, have come across several Saudi people, treating us/me nice and offering their best. I left a long comment on Terri’s blog about one or two instances. You can read it here: