Nightlife in Saudi? Yes it does exist, and I am not talking about the nocturnal road hooligans on Tahlia street.
I'm talking about what goes on behind closed doors every weekend. Westerners planning a move here often ask me questions about the social scene and nightlife. Above all things people seem to be concerned how they are going to be able to get drunk in Saudi-Arabia! In fact if you type alcohol and saudi into Google the results will mostly be of westerners asking these questions. Is it really so important I wonder?
Many expats are in for a surprise when they realise the amount of parties there are, that alcohol is available and that they can mingle with the opposite gender. Westerners tend to come to the Kingdom thinking they are facing a years obligatory rehab therapy, but soon realise they are actually looking at more parties and drinking than they did back home if they choose to get into that scene. For many KSA is certainly not a place to detox.
So what is the nightlife like in Saudi? Well due to the circumstances it certainly is
different than outside of the Kingdom. For every restriction there are ways around them. People of all ages from different nationalities and backrounds dealing with various stages of culture shock gathering and drinking way too much alcohol can result in some pretty interesting parties.
What's the venue?
The parties will mostly be held on the largest western compounds, embassies, rarely private villas and even the desert. Some compounds have amenities centers or halls turned into nightclubs and bars. The embassy parties might be in bomb shelters. The British couldn't survive without their neighborhood pubs in their compounds.
A few times a year during the cooler months huge rave parties are held in the middle of the desert.
How to get invited?
A western woman will have no trouble entering any venues as long as she knows someone who has signed her on the gatelist. The story is different for the western and especially Arab nationality males though. This is because the residents of the compounds arranging the parties or the embassy people are mostly single males. They have the power to choose who to let in. Naturally men do not like too much competition for women, especially from those ladies favorites, arab men! So to get invited, men need to get seriously connected. For example the US embassy guys (marines and other military personnel) will allow a male on the list only if he is signed with two females.
Saudi nationals are not allowed into most western compounds. Now in my opinion this rule is ridiculous and racist since we are in their country this kind of disrespect is just incomprehensible to me. This could be a chance to meet and make friends with locals, and I dont mean by inviting them to these parties, just letting them in to have dinner together for example. Westerners like to keep in their small circles and stick to their prejudices as firmly as they hold on to their wine glasses. Anyways being invited would mean knowing someone and having to go through the same security checks as everyone else.
Socially well connected Saudi men, the rare prince and Saudis that have a foreign passport do rarely attend parties though.
Homebrewed wine and beer and sid, the saudi "national" drink. Sid is short for siddiqi which means my friend. It s a very potent (around 90%) and potentially dangerous foul tasting clear alcohol made from dates. Sometimes it has impurities in it which may result in memory loss and other neurological disturbances, visual problems, alcohol poisoning and diarhhea among other things.
think about it before you drink it
The embassies and military compounds have real alcohol, shipped into the Kingdom by the truckload usually smuggled from Bahrain. Especially military personnel have access to a large variety because their shipments are not subject to inspection and this applies to the royals and the diplomats too. Drugs are widely on offer especially marihuana and amphetamine. Bottles of Black Label sell for around 1000-1800SAR on the black market depending on availability. Needless to say smuggling and trading alcohol on the black market seem to be a very lucrative (and dangerous) "profession" in saudi-Arabia. Every once in a while there are news headlines about alcohol or drug traffickers getting caught and the punishments are severe.
What's the dresscode?
Women tend to dress like they would in western nightclubs, and because the weather is so hot almost all year, more often than not they will have little clothing on (which explains the popularity of the parties among men). There are some more official parties which require cocktail dresses or even long ballgowns and a suits from the gents. Parties are often themed and the dresscode is accordingly. For example hawaiian, 80's,or toga themed parties. I heard of "come dressed as a Saudi" parties where expats get drunk in thobes, abayas and niqabs..Which reflects the bad attitude towards locals pretty well.
Is it safe?
Compounds in general have strict security checks, entering is by invite only. The US military compounds and the British aerospace have security checks that take at least an hour to get through during rush hours in other words, before parties.They will check the vehicles, bags and sometimes even the visitor will be xrayed. Muttawas are not allowed inside compounds however they might be outside at the gates but I guess that would only happen if someone tipped them off.
The security issue to be concerned about is the impure alcohol, harassement, getting stopped by police and drunken drivers offering the girls rides home. Since places like these are the only outlets for women and men to interact freely, some men (and women?) can get a bit carried away. If a woman gets harassed or raped in these types of situations there's not much that can be done about it. I know one nurse that got raped and many others that were harassed, and for some reason most of these men were of Lebanese nationality.
Beware of alcoholism. Many expats start drinking so much that it becomes their only hobby. They drink homebrew like it's mountain dew! I feel sorry for people who come here only to try and live exactly as they did back home, never leaving their compounds and passing their every weekend and sometimes weekday drinking in the same small circle of people.
I know of one British guy slowly turning into an alcoholic, which in the end got him fired from his job, robbed and thrown into jail after drunk driving. He naturally got deported from the Kingdom and went to rehab in Britain.
So if you are planning a move here, you have been warned! I honestly can't recommend for newcomers to get involved in the Saudi nightlife scene. I would suggest finding something meaningful to do instead, get to know some locals and explore your surroudings since you have the chance to be in Saudi-Arabia!