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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I've been in Saudia for a year and a half. I had no cross-cultural training but I took it upon myself to lay my hands on everything I could read about KSA and did a lot of honest 'soul-searching' to decide if I could adjust to life here.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Arabic is the language in KSA. I speak English. I'd planned to learn Arabic but people keep wanting to practice their English with me!!! But, 'inshallah,' I'll eventually learn more :)

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I've been an avid traveler for years and know that I am a very open and flexible person. I also know that I don't need a lot of external stimulation to survive. In short, I am the perfect candidate to live here.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

They say that Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult foreign assignments for a single woman, but my 'shock' has been minimal. As I said, I'd done my homework before leaving home so that made it easier. But, I am also blessed with a job I love and a great team of multinational colleagues.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

No. Surprisingly, I settled in almost immediately, seeing both the pro's and con's, and had little problem adjusting.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Well, comfort eating here is common because there's so little for women other than shopping (and that's not my thing--I began a personal 'minimization' campaign about 5 years ago!).

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Probably that it's so totally opposite what I knew and was used to, so I learn something new everyday. I know I've grown a lot since being here, in many ways.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

It's difficult to get around since women can't drive. If this were a western city, I'd have explored it from top to bottom! But here, you're taking cabs everywhere so only really go from point A to point B and don't know what's in between.

Another issue is that men and women can't 'mix' so opportunities to socialize are fairly limited (mostly to expensive embassy events or if you are fortunate enough to live in a 'western' compound--but single women usually must live in a company compound, which often isn't western so the freedom we're used to isn't allowed).

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Only faux paux I've made was offer my hand in a congratulatory shake to a 'holy man' who I've come to know here. Now, I know these guys aren't allowed to touch women, but I'd gotten caught up in the moment and forgot lol.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Know yourself before you come here. Know your level of tolerance, what you need to survive. Read everything you can. And then make a decision.

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Comments about this Report

Nov 17, 2010 03:41

I also live in Riyadh. I am one of the millions of expatriate workers who live here out of necessity. I find it surprising the ease with which you accept the conditions of your life. There are 3 levels of inhabitants in Riyadh- the Saudis, the Europeans and the Asians. All have unequal rights and all have unequal salaries for the same work. So if you come here be prepared for a lot of this kind of bullshit, unless ofcourse if you are in the top bracket and don't care how the system is being run. by cha cha cha

Apr 20, 2011 21:21

cha cha makes a good point--bigotry is alive and well in Saudia. The unequal salaries are 'justified' by saying your pay is according to salary scales in your home country and as an American, I am in the top bracket. I realize I can't change the system here but I treat everybody with respect and hope that maybe it will have a ripple effect.

Apr 13, 2012 22:24

Thank you, that is a more positive report than so many I've met. I imagine from what you said that you are a lot like me. I am considering taking a job in Saudi and know that I can tolerate a lot if necessary. Knowing it is temporary, it seems do-able, I just needed to hear it from someone else, so thanks again.

Jun 7, 2012 09:04

and what is the pay scale? top bracket means what?

Aug 26, 2012 02:19

I have arrived and find it easy to live here,well except for the August heat!!!! My home is delightful! People very friendly and helpful...I look forward to many days of exploring.I went to the Natural History Museum and now am wanting to see jeddah.

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