Saudi Arabia: Why I Loved Living There as a Woman

Saudi Arabia as a woman: Trying the feeling to look at the whole desert from the edge of the world. Federica Petrilli photos.
Saudi Arabia: Trying the feeling to look at the whole desert from the edge of the world. Federica Petrilli photos.

The Real and Unexpected Saudi Arabia

“There is nothing in Saudi Arabia, why would you go there?”

“It is too dangerous there and women are not respected, don’t go!”

By Federica Petrilli

At the market on a Friday morning, cooking peanuts in Riyadh.
At the market on a Friday morning, cooking peanuts in Riyadh.

People talk and talk nonsense without then really understanding what is really happening on the ground.

A lot has to do with media portraying Saudi Arabia (or the Arab world) in a certain way, however, to make up your own mind it’s important to see the whole story and not just one side.

Madain Salih,
The Lost City of Qaryat Al Fau  in Saudi Arabia

Next to the media, fortunately now we have blogs where people who stayed in those countries can give a different perspective.

And this is my story about Saudi Arabia as a woman and its people.

I arrived in Saudi in November 2016 and lived there for about four months. Not much, but enough to say that I loved being there. Why?

Not an Ordinary Girl

First of all, I am not the ordinary girl that should be attracted to cities like Dubai, therefore I got along very well with what I found in Saudi. In Riyadh, to be precise.

Typical dress called abaya in total black color with hijab.
Typical dress called abaya in total black color with hijab.

Well, life there is simple: there are compounds for expatriates to live in, with restaurants, mini markets, bowling, pools, gym and for the luckiest ones, also tennis and basketball courts.

And outside there is the real Saudi: office buildings, villas, many restaurants, hotels.. as normal as it should be. The only fact is that women need to cover themselves with long (and beautiful) “abayas”. Foreign women included, although, for us, it’s not mandatory to cover our head.

Aren’t you disrespected in Saudi Arabia as a woman?

No, I’m not disrespected by anyone as a woman. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the only place I’ve visited till now where I can get anything for the simple reason that I am a woman.

There are no queues for women in line if you wait to grab your coffee, usually, men are so kind that they let you go. The same thing happens in the supermarket, where they even help you to put your heavy grocery bags in the car. You don’t see this anywhere else in the world!

The only thing I got a bit disappointed and I can’t wait to see the changes around this matter is the fact that women can not go to watch football or any other sports-related matches. Saudi is changing, so hopefully, some good news for us will be coming up quite soon!

Beneath the Saudi flag.
Beneath the Saudi flag.

No Street Harassment

I’ve been living in so many countries now, and I consider Saudi as one of the safest places, in terms of daily danger and respect for women.

You have my word that the well-known “street harassment” does not exist there, while (sadly and unfortunately) it’s now all over some specific countries that you probably are already considering for your next travel destination.

Anyhow, there is always the keyword to remember, wherever and whenever we travel to different countries: respect for other cultures. Either if you are a man, woman, girl or boy.

So, let’s go to the point: What is Saudi Arabia today?

Saudi Arabia: Why I Loved Living There as a Woman 1
The financial district under construction in Riyadh

Riyadh is constantly developing, with new projects on the pipeline and more ones to re-open (hopefully soon).

One major project that I used to study back in the days when I was related to the Construction sector is the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)This will be 59 towers to be built in an area of 1.6 million square meters.  This will create a proper financial district in the heart of Riyadh.

Tahlia Street is the main road in Riyadh, where you can find lots of restaurants of all kinds: Italian, Lebanese, Armenian, Arabic.. everything you dream of!

Women and men at the market in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Women and men at the market in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

And as an Italian, I suggest you go taste the delicious food at Eataly: Chef Stefano will be there to advice on all the main dishes of the day. A truly Italian atmosphere, in the desert.

Arabs are very similar to Italians, with their way of talking, joking, speaking a bit loudly too. We get along very well and I honestly felt at home while in Saudi!

A Lot of Jokes

I met some of the kindest and most direct people of my life. A lot of talks, jokes, eatings, but also a lot of business. Straight to the point: that’s what Saudi people are and that’s what makes business work smoothly. Rare to find nowadays.

And now that government opened its doors to tourism, I suggest you all have a look at what Saudi Arabia can offer and do not miss its edge of the world, which is a spectacular local Grand Canyon only two hours driving from Riyadh.

Shukran Saudi! 

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