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Riyadh



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As I mentioned before, I didn't want to move to Riyadh and almost stayed in Budapest, but at the last moment I decided to give it a try. I fell in love with the country on our first weekend there, when we were taken to Deera Souk for the purpose of buying some abayas. I had thought Saudi women were totally enveloped in pure black, nameless, faceless people without any way to express themselves. But that night in the souk I noticed that every one of them had some kind of decoration or even "bling" on their abayas, and I realized it was a fashion statement and that life there would be more interesting than I had thought. Unfortunately, I didn't get an abaya that evening because the stores kept throwing the customers out and closing until the muttawa had passed by (apparently they were afraid of being accused of selling "flashy" abayas).

As a result, I enjoyed our three years in Riyadh -- it was a fascinating cultural experience, and one I'd recommend to anybody who is open to being exposed to a different way of life. At the risk of sounding silly, I might even call it a "hidden gem" of a posting -- hardly anybody chooses to go there the first time, but they often don't want to leave and end up extending, even returning for another tour. People make friends in the embassy and expat community and never seem to have a shortage of things to do, and somehow it becomes a comfortable way of life, despite some of the hardships. We have been invited back in 2018 for the opening of a building my husband was involved in planning, and quite frankly, I can't wait. And it will give me a chance to wear some of those beautiful abayas I couldn't bear to part with when we finally left last year ;-). You can view my photographs of Saudi Arabia on my website: http://www.pbase.com/helenpb/riyadh - Oct 13, 2017


I know that many have a negative impression of Saudi Arabia and with good reason -- we don't know much about this country because it's been so closed off. At the same time, and ironically, it's teeming with expats and immigrants. People bond together in the shared weirdness of the experience. And to be honest there is a lot that's negative here: the weather is rough 7 months out of the year, women can't drive, the atmosphere can feel generally oppressive, it is rather boring. The Embassy motorpool helps counter a lot of the inability to drive. Wearing the abaya becomes -- gasp -- not that big of a deal. You can have a wonderful community of friends and acquaintances if you make a tiny effort. If you are not working at the embassy (and even if you are) my biggest piece of advice is to get out of your house as much as possible. Go for a walk, even if the same walk you did two days ago. Take your kids to the park even if not many other people are around. Run or walk on the trail. Get a coffee at the Starbucks. Go out for breakfast on the weekend. Repeat. Plan to take a trip every 3-4 months if you can. And go home for part or all of the summer.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if at all possible, come to Saudi with an open mind and no expectations. I know for many this is a first post and is assigned so you don't get a choice to bid on it and I don't want you to dread coming here. I was not excited when we committed to coming, but after a few weeks in country I realized that my life here was not going to be as terrible as I thought it might be. Not easy, no. You do remember constantly what you've given up by living here. Yet at the same time you can find ways to pass the days, make the best of it, and, dare I say it, even enjoy your stint here. After all, for most of us it's a temporary situation.

So maybe -- "Riyadh, not as bad as I thought!"

And good luck to you. - Jan 19, 2017


As a former U.S. ambassador said, "There are no other countries with which the U.S. shares so many common interests yet shares almost no common values." - May 20, 2016
With the death of the King in January, things are getting a lot tighter now. Especially because of the war "down south" in Yemen, and the rise of DAESH (ISIS, ISIL). There have been more random attacks on western males with the military look about them. The government is now reporting on more raids in the media about terrorists. Rumors of isolated bomb blasts in places. Honestly, the country is like the little red cork center on a dart board when it comes to location for Middle East violence. It hits all around them, so far, but not here yet, really. - Nov 9, 2015
Saudi people are usually nice and friendly. Lots of them studied abroad, and they have modern outlook. However, the conservative/orthodox attitude prevails. Public beheadings, treating house help/workers like slaves, road rage, untouchables, members of royal families, not respecting human rights, and (frankly speaking) the ugly surroundings make staying here very difficult. - Oct 27, 2015
Ladies- Saudi women will be dressed to the nines under their abayas (Black robe), so bring your nicest dresses and jewelry if you are going to an event with Saudi women. They will remove their abayas and underneath will be diamonds, jewels, and designer outfits. But never shown in front of men outside their family! Everything closes 5 times a day for prayer. This is very annoying if you want to go grocery shopping or go anywhere. You always have to check prayer time. - Oct 15, 2015
The Saudis I have met are very warm and friendly. The women are amazing, smart,funny and really cool. It is not a hard place to live since it has all the amenities of home. Get a driver, make friends and you will be fine. Men, make sure you get your wife a good driver!! - Jan 23, 2015
I thought it would be the country, customs or people that I wouldn't like here, along with the restrictions concerning women and a supposed ban on photography (which isn't true, you just have to be careful), but much to my surprise I am finding the overall experience enjoyable. Ironically it's the embassy and the way it operates that I have issues with, especially with regard to the poor housing situation. As I said before, the brutal summer could change my opinion, but if that's only for four months of the year, I think it can be survived. - Mar 26, 2014
Remember that happiness is within yourself. Instead of spending time looking for reasons to be so miserable, try taking that time to find the positives of a situation and build on that. How fortunate are we all for living a life that lets us travel the world and see, do, experience things that we may have never been able to do had we chosen a different career path! Embrace this adventure!!!! - Dec 4, 2013
If you are female, do not come here, my poor wife is very unhappy right now as she has no rights and is treated no better than a street dog. - Oct 9, 2013
Saudi is an exhausting but fascinating place to live in. Bearable for a while, because of the incredibly supportive expat community, but you wouldn't want to live there long-term. - Mar 17, 2013
I have been surprised at the small number of children living on the DQ. I hope this will change as more families return to Saudi Arabia. I thought there would be other children from other embassies, but the DQ is quite large and spread out, so the parks are great but we rarely see other children. - Apr 7, 2011
Don't come here. - Mar 29, 2010
If you don't have to be here, don't. My spouse came because the they were authorized to return. She is about to leave. Post is not ready for spouses. - Jan 18, 2010
Its a sad thing because so many Saudis are nice people. The society, however, is so distorted and run by extremist ideas. Everything there is dictated by prayer times, etc. That is fine, but it can get difficult for non-Muslims or Muslims who want some freedom. As an example--literally--do a google search---an Imam there just called for the death of Mickey Mouse! - Oct 21, 2008
This city is surprisingly livable - sterile but the people are quite friendly and the genuinely welcoming on the whole. - Aug 6, 2008