Monday, September 22, 2008

Letting off Steam - sorry no pics!

Last night we went with a friend to go car shopping. Actually, we are SUV shopping. Before you raise your voice in protest on behalf of the environment and everything green, let me assure you that we are not just going this route to satisfy a whim. The size of the vehicle has more to do with safety than the manliness of the car. The problem with Saudi driving is that it is not only chaotic, but it's chaotic at insanely high speeds. Truly, you must witness the madness in person to understand, so I will refrain from describing what we see on the roads here on a daily basis.

Anyways, we began shopping at 9pm, because of the Ramadan hours. I think we ended up hitting 5 or 6 dealerships, but the GMC dealership was by far the most crowded with white thobes everywhere. We capped off the night by test driving a Hummer, which was quite fun. I don't think I'll ever visit another country where we are test driving cars at midnight - it seems surreal to experience such things. Aside from the outlandish appearance of the car, it was actually a very good ride. We are still deciding what type of car to get.

Switching gears here, we've been encountering a curious thing here in Riyadh, particularly retail type stores and restaurants. People go to such lengths not to offend you that they often give misleading information when they cannot understand you. The other day I called a bookstore to check their hours of operation and I asked what time they were open until. They mentioned 4:30pm. When I got to the store at 3:30pm, there were men standing outside the door. I stated that the store was open until 4:30 and they said, "yes ma'am" and so I began walking in. They seemed uncomfortable with this so, I asked again what time they were open till and they said 4:30pm. Suddenly one of them shouted, "closed!" This is when I realized that none of the staff understood the word "until", and that everyone had thought I had been asking when they opened and all of them refused to just say they did not understand my question....I threw my hands up in the air and returned to the car.

You might think this is a minor annoyance, but when it happens twice a week, every week, you develop an appreciation for the general honesty that occurs on a day to day basis back home. Let me add that this is beyond a language issue - it's a cultural preference for giving a positive answer, whether or not it's correct. It's not malicious or even a bad thing, it's just hard for westerners to deal with. Every expat living here has a story about how they were told "yes yes, fine fine" to a question and found out later that the answer should have actually been "no, no, you're out of your mind"

"Out of your mind" - they don't tell you this, but this is actually where you are sent after you arrive in Riyadh. It's a direct flight. Yesterday I found out there was some decent sushi here at a restaurant called Tokyo, and got very excited because sushi is my favourite food. This afternoon I instinctively called the restaurant just before we planned to leave for it, to go grab that glimmer of shining hope, only to find out that it has closed for the entire month of Ramadan.

Al Hamdu lillah!

(that's me being sarcastic in arabic)

No comments: