Saudi Arabia in 2022: A Few Observations

Time to pray in a Saudi Arabian home.Saudi Arabia
Time to pray in a Saudi Arabian home.

The Wonders and Friendliness of Saudi Arabia

I’ve seen so much over the past few days. Here are some of the things I have noticed about life in Saudi Arabia during my May 2022 visit.

A common site here is a group of men sitting around in a circle sipping tea, either having a picnic or in a field where camels or goats are grazing. People love to picnic in parks and along the sides of highways.

Pull tab soda can in Saudi Arabia.
Pull tab soda cans can be found in Saudi Arabia.

The overwhelming vehicle of choice among country people is a late 90s model Toyota Land Cruiser pickup truck.  Often the pickups are filled with green hay.  The other very common vehicle is a white Nissan or Toyota 4-door white.  Because of the heat, many, many cars are white here.

Soda cans are the pull tab variety. They don’t use cans with the ring pull tops that stay attached to the can introduced in the U.S. and Europe in 1989.  A lot of soda and juices are sold here since booze is illegal, and they all have pull tabs.

Shopping malls, that in the U.S. have across the board become ghost towns or are already abandoned, are the most popular places to hang out across the country.  With the temperatures so hot, it just makes sense to do your exercise and socialize in these giant climate-controlled neighborhoods. They have prayer rooms, too.

There are many, many buildings around the country with the rebar still sticking up out of the roofs as if they were either stopped being worked on or are in progress. It is surprising to see how many buildings in each town have this rebar sticking up, like another floor is coming soon, despite the fact that often there is no indication of ongoing work on the building.

Shopping mall in Tabuk Saudi Arabia.
Shopping mall in Tabuk Saudi Arabia.

Men wear thobes, the full-length garments that are starched with perfect creases and somehow stay pristinely white all day long, even the creases remain perfect. I saw three men walking down stairs gently holding their thobes up to not trip over them or let them touch the ground and get dirty.   Not all but many, many men wear these, and if they have to dress up for an occasion, nearly every man owns a few of them.

In this part of the country, in the north, you see dozens and dozens of water trucks, because they are building so many roads and they have to wet down the road to keep the dust at bay.  The other trucks that are everywhere are semi-trailer dump trucks, moving vast amounts of dirt to build up the roadway before they lay down asphalt.

Abaya shopping, they come in many colors but most wear black.
Abaya shopping, they come in many colors but most wear black.

The hardest and hottest work is usually done by dark-skinned men from Bangladesh.  More than 2 million live and work in the Kingdom.

“They do the hardest work,” my guide Khalid told me. The average wage for a school teacher in Bangladesh is $200 per month. In Saudi, the median salary is around $4700 per month. That’s a pretty huge incentive to move here or at least work here.

Speed cameras are very common on all major highways, and the fines are very high. You can see the fixed boxes for cameras at red lights and on poles.  If you drive just under 120 kmh, you can avoid a ticket but if you go above this it’s very easy to get nailed and you face very big fines so people don’t speed as much as they used to.

A common occupation here is trash picker-upper. Men with orange vests carrying bags and trash pick-up devices are seen everywhere, and there are many, many trashcans. So there isn’t as much litter by far as in many other countries. But this was mostly true in NEOM where they keep it pristine, when I spend time in the Eastern Province, there was plenty of litter…worst were the thousands of water bottles, strewn on the ground.

When men here greet each other, they give two air kisses on either side of the cheeks. There are often separate entrances for men and for women, and in homes and many other places, the sexes are still segregated.

In washrooms, most of the time instead of paper towels they use very thin Kleenexes and there aren’t as many hand dryers are we see in other countries.

Many of the cars here still have the stickers on the back window that the dealer puts on listing the price and the options. I saw at least five of these for some reason, still stuck on to cars that obviously were not just purchased. I asked my hosts and they confirmed it’s the style to leave those on for a long time after taking the car home.

Camel and chicken on the menu at a traditional Saudi restaurant in Tabuk.
Camel and chicken on the menu at a traditional Saudi restaurant in Tabuk.

Every large semi-truck here is a cab over. I have never seen an American-style slope nose truck cab, just like I’ve never seen one of these in Europe either.