Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saudi Nightlife

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.

What's served?
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!


Unknown said...

what a nice subject to blog.But sadly it kinda reminded me of the dark age's i lived in Riyadh. Going overboard with drinks and parties. True there is a party almost everyday around Riyadh sometimes a whole day party. Yes Im a Saudi one of the few that have access to these place's. in the 90's as i recall Saudi's and westerners used to live happily mingling with each other. but recently there was a wave of immigration from a certain Arab country (Lebanon)duo to civil war to Saudi Arabia. and for no specific reason those people started to control the parties , booze , compounds managements and even trying to control women specially western women (By telling made up stories about all the other nationalities in Saudi specially the local's to earn their trust) in order to control the market. Unfortunately yes there has been rape case's of drunk women and sadly it has been mostly by Lebanese. I honestly wish that this country goes back to the way it was before.

i hope to see women drive soon - i hope to see muttawwa's calm down and starting to read about Islam - i hope to see an understanding rather then hating nation - i hope to see a multinational loving community - i hope the Lebanese people would get rich to a level that they would take the money and go back to their home country(E.T. go home lol). And mostly i hope to see better parties from the planners haha.

Layla said...

Thanks for you comment.
I wasnt aware that westerners and saudis used to mingle that much.
But the point of my post was not to say the parties should get better,or lebanese should get out of the country, but rather to avoid such gatherings altogether because they are pointless.

Anonymous said...

ohh.. never knew such a thing happening here in ksa.. !!

regardless of the country you are goning to and its difference from urs, i think a person should try to get to know the culture, explore the surroudings, enjoying urself getting to know locals who my inspire you or make you more knowledgable ... not to live in your isolated circle in order to feel home !!

i'm saudi women and if i were in any country, i would try to know more and more about it .. taking the chance to make friends, explore, have fun etc .. among locals :)

alcohol will remain, but this apportunity of visiting a foreign country may end soon ..

thanks laylah ..


Anonymous said...

I think it is probably better to leave people to make their own choices in life, who are we to preach about how someone chooses to live their life, if someone wants to mix with similar people to themselves or try and have a similar life to what they have in their own country, surely this is their choice. maybe finding Islam has clouded your views . Saudi veteran.

Layla said...

@ shatha

thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog!

I like your attitude, you got my point exactly.

Layla said...

Saudi veteran- maybe homebrew has clouded your views? (just joking)

Im not preaching just stating my opinion- I think theres a a big difference!

Anonymous said...

Sentens "get known locals" sounded quiten fun for me... How many times you have been invited to locals happenings/ parties etc.? I have been few times, but those who invite me are not women, sure... Saudis have parties as much as westerns, or even more and alcohol and drugs are available in all of those... And you never see westerns dressed like saudigirls. Yes, they are covered, but only a face, i am always the most conservative dressed...:))
This whole subject..:)) You are married to Saudi, but are you invited to saudifamilies etc?

Layla said...

Anonymous-I think you didnt understand what the post is about at all or then you are a troll :)
It has nothing to do with going to these kind saudies only parties you describe let alone visiting saudi families.
To answer your question yes I have been to both but what does it matter?
I didnt want to mention how saudi girls dress to these parties because its such a taboo but now that you mentioned it-yes they do look like "working girls" and in fact many of them are.
Thats definitely NOT the kind of 'get to know locals" I am talking about :D

Anonymous said...

Not that anybody deserves bodily or psychological harm, but anybody that gets raped or caught and imprisoned or decapitated; has only themselves to blame and should not look for empathy from ANYBODY.

This post is pointless because you say you want to encourage people not to go to these parties, yet the pros and cons you mention aren't balanced at all. A simple google search would only guide people who crave such gatherings to your post. The fact that they're searching for it would easily cause them not to head your extremely negligent warnings.

-An ANGRY American

Layla said...

Hello ANGRY american and welcome to my blog :)
Sure everyone is responsible for their own actions!
I'm curious what you meant by pros and cons not being in balance?
Did you try to google saudi nightlife? Sorry to disapoint you but it does not lead to any results, other than the wikileaks article of saudi night life published in December 2010. So I guess I beat them to it :D

Anonymous said...

“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.” NOPE. This rule makes a lot of sense as people have every right to choose who to invite to their parties. Just because you are in their country doesn’t mean that you must make them a part of your life. Besides, I have the feeling that most of the Westerners who throw these parties have no confidence in the Saudis and do not want any problems. I would have kept my distance, too.

“Socially well connected Saudi men, the rare prince and Saudis that have a foreign passport do rarely attend parties though.” You answered your own question here. Apparently, the Saudis that would attend these parties, if only they had the chance, are not socially well connected and therefore unhelpful. Also, what if such a Saudi suddenly asks you to let him taste alcohol or introduce him to “some ladies” and then starts giving you trouble by telling other Saudis that you tried to deprave him? Unless you’re careful, you become interesting to the religious police and nobody wants this.

People are right to protect themselves against trouble abroad and right to keep their distance from anything that spells trouble abroad. This is not unfriendliness or disrespect – it is good common sense. I would have taken no chances, either.

Layla said...

I'm so sorry that you feel that way toward Saudis.
You don't know what you are missing out on by not getting to know them better.
It's prejudice like this that keeps the bridges between expats and Saudis there.