Monday, July 5, 2010

the curious case of cryptic closures

Crazy caption?

I'm talking about this strange phenomenon in Riyadh where we find stores, restaurants, and retailers in general closed for no apparent reason. Y'all know what I'm talking about? With the exception of the 'safety' hours between 10am - 12pm, and 4pm - 6pm, I often feel I am rolling the dice in attempting to visit a retail space. I say this because even when you have the exact prayer times in front of you, sometimes you can arrive at a place to find it closed, and you will not have the luxury of an explanation.

Take for instance last night. Hubster and I came out of an appointment downtown at 7:45pm. We got into our driver's car and decided to head somewhere to eat. In the car we checked the prayer times on the internet, the next one being at 8:17pm. Perfect, we had just enough time to get settled and order somewhere. At a traffic light, we saw Tony Roma's and decided we wanted to eat there. So we jumped out of the car and raced across the street to it only to find that at 8:00pm all the lights were off, the curtains were drawn, the place was closed. We called our driver to make a U-turn and hopped back in the car confused. So we had the wrong prayer time?? Nope. Hubster double checked, it was 8:17pm, Tony Roma's just decided to close for god only knows what reason. At this point our choices were to eat an expensive meal at a hotel where prayer is not observed, eat cheap garbage quickly at a mall food court, or go home. So we went home.

We once visited a mattress store on three separate occasions deliberately trying different days and different hours to see if it would be open, but it never was. The last time we went, there was a single light on, taunting us, as if to say, 'wouldn't you like to know who turned this one light on? well he is in a place called Not Here.'

Well anyways, one reason why some stores are closed in the afternoon is because many retailers choose to have split hours that run from 9am - 12pm and then 4pm till 8pm-ish. The other closures I just chalk up to randomness. Coming from Canada where hours are clearly marked on doors and websites, and employees answer phones when you call them, I just can't describe the level of confusion I felt when I first moved here and began encountering this regularly. On the whole it just means you need to put some planning into eating out or visiting certain stores in the evening, but some days I miss the spontaneity of just being able to wing it and have simple things work out. One respite is that all the major grocery stores appear to be exempt from this random closure thing, so I am at least uber thankful for that.

You would think we should be used to sidestepping prayer by now. True, we've gotten much better, but as you can see, we are not always successful - even after a year and a half!


Armor10 said...

Oh my gosh, we almost just met! I was sitting right across from the front door at Tony Roma's having dinner last night! There we six of us celebrating the fourth of July. How crazy! Funny you didn't make it into Tony's. I'm sure we would have made it into your Blog. Tom our British friend was trying to feed us some garbage about how we as American's would have turned out better under British rule. So we were quite rowdy. By the way they pulled me off the streets and are sending me to Jeddah. I'm going to be a Flight Paramedic, on one of the Red Crescent's two brand new Helicopter's. So looks like I'm headed to the beach.

burning-phoneix said...

I don't know about the mattress store but I can at least answer for Tony Roma's.

Many stores close before prayer times by up to 15 minutes so they can:

A)Avoid trouble with the religious police

B) Avoid trouble with patrons and customers trying to cram in before prayer time and order MINUTES before prayer starts (I call this the "yellow light" effect because people speed up when they see a yellow light :P ) This is more prevalent for retailers because people take their damn time buying things and they really need to close for prayer.

barelynoticeable said...

OMG! You have a Tony Roma' there?? What do they serve? Surely, not... --rk?

I can never understand why things close...and with no explanation. Sure enough yesterday I had to go find the Russian Embassy here to apply for tourist visas. First problem, forgot the map of their location. Drove around a while, found it, parked...only to wander up to a sign that said closed for 'technical reasons'. What does that mean???? Some days I give up wondering the why's and wherefor's.

Om Lujain© said...

Tony Roma's annoys me like that... most restaurants annoy me like that! They close too early! Anyway, I just found out today that malls now are open all day except for prayer days of course :)

Orchidthief said...

armor10 were you at the one downtown near Kingdom Tower and all that jazz? So strange to think we almost crossed paths! Brits are always saying uppity things like that trying to get a rise out of people ha ha ha! Wow you lucky duck, being sent out to Jeddah...I think you're gonna like it there!

b-p, yes that seems like a good explanation for Tony Roma's. I think I saw the same thing at H&M in Granada mall...they stopped letting people in a full 20 min before prayer because it was just so busy. You're right I'm sure they just don't want to get in trouble...or else they saw me foaming at the mouth in the car.

barely, I wish I could tell you what they serve at Tony Roma's but that would have been my first time if I had made it!!! Pretty sure no --rk! ha ha ha. I think the majority of the population does not support prayer closings, and yet some minority has the benefit of inertia and loud voices on their side. Had a friend trying to get a Russian tourist visa and it took him repeated trips to get it. I think they have ridiculously short hours...

And om lujain can't they just stop being so annoying?! lol...I was walking through Hayat the other day and I saw a lot of the stores re-open after the noon prayer. Made me want to stay and wander a bit longer.

Dentographer said...

i must admit,ur wit and sarcasm makes this blog among my favorite :)

i am sorry about what happend to you,but i am sure eventually u will manage it better than saudis,i ve been through something similar but worse,i was in Steakhouse for lunch and while i was already eating my meal,the waiter brings me the check before i even ask him,and he is like "you have 10 minutes to finish your food and leave" i totally ignored him and carried on eating.

10 minutes later the guy came back and was like "Sir its now prayer time and we are closed and you must leave" i gave him the look,and then in the loudest possible voice my lungs could scream,i said i will not move from this seat unless i wanted,do u understand me? the waiter was horrified with my exceptionally loud voice,and he only said this is very dangerous. as if i am drug dealing and there is about to be an ambush.

it happens..and this happend to me and i live in saudi arabia all my such things happen to all of us not only you.

though in jeddah things are a bit more laid back,many resturants close the front gate and direct customers to enter from other hidden entrences.
though they wont take your order till prayer is closed,but some people take it as a good time for them to go through the menu and be prepared to order as prayer is finished.

what alot of saudis and non saudi families do in a way of adapting to this is to plan things around it,like for instance,they go to Tony Romas,25 minutes or 30 minutes before prayer time,so they make use of the prayer time to eat while other stores are close,and they would be done by the time stores are open again,so the prayer time didnt go unused.

am not sure what happened with the mattress store there,but it seems like an individual problem with that specific store,cos that is definitely not the usual,they remain a business outlet and remaining closed does not help them.

have you tried the red dates yet? :p

Dentographer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Orchidthief said...

dentographer, not that I want everyone to be miserable or anything, but I feel a little comforted by the fact that even saudis too experience the same irritation sometimes. I think lately we have been a little lazy about planning ahead and have paid the price, but in general we do use prayer time to eat or to drive from one place to the next, which is something that we had to learn how to do when we first got here. I still remember being so flabbergasted in the first couple months! We are convinced the mattress store is just a front for a money laundering organization.

Also, I am off to buy some red dates right this moment!! I must say I really love the combo of laban and dates.