Dress is always something that is on the top of people’s minds when they come to Saudi Arabia, and it is often the most difficult thing to explain to people visiting the Kingdom. In general, there are no set rules on what men can or cannot wear, but the best guide is to ensure that any man is wearing pants and at least a t-shirt, if not a long-sleeve shirt. Tanktops are a no-go, and those wearing shorts will usually be refused entry to malls or public spaces. Men can wear the traditional thobe, although it is usually seen as an oddity for non-Muslim men to do so. Some say it is perceived as insulting, but I have never experienced this attitude (and yes, I have worn thobes and dishdashas in public in Saudi and Kuwait). Women’s attire is both easier and more difficult. It is easier because it is simply to prescribe: wear the abaya (a long cloak covering from shoulders to ankles) and a hijab. How loose or tight the abaya is, how much or little decoration it has, and how much hair can be shown from under the hijab are all hotly contested issues that Saudis themselves have not resolved. Some women wear them as if they were accessories; others have multiple layered abayas that distort the human form and are entirely devoid of detailing. The niqab (the veil that covers the face) is not obligatory, but it may be advisable even for foreign women traveling to the more conservative regions north of Riyadh and in the south-west of the country; the same goes for gloves. Some more pious women will wear a black gauze sheet over their faces to obscure even the eyes. This is a mark of extreme Wahhabi belief and is by no means required by the Saudi state.
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Love of the King
This tip is not particular to Riyadh - Saudis across the Kingdom love their King, regardless of their views about the state that he heads. It is not uncommon to see his portrait everywhere you turn: on highway overpasses, billboards, signage, posters, even food products. Yes, food products: like the cake in the pictures. The love for the King means that any sort of derisive comments about him or the monarchy will get you in hot water and, whenever there is some sort of milestone related to his person (such as his return from surgery abroad) you can expect to find the streets crowded with jubilant Saudis.
This particular tip should be linked to my tip about Jeddah regarding pretty much the same phenomenon. It is very common in Saudi Arabia to see beautiful old houses allowed to collapse from neglect and abandonment. There is little to no concern amongst the general population for the preservation of architectural heritage (although that is changing in certain sections of the educated classes) and, as a result, little to nothing is investing in preserving the rich decorative traditions of the people who inhabited Riyadh before the oil boom and the massive expansion of the capital in the 1980s and 1990s. In the pictures can be seen the way in which houses that feature intricate molding and carving have been allowed to go to waste in the poorer section of the capital.
- Historical Travel
Signs can be different from those in Europe. Luckily there's almost always an English translation or a helpful person around!
Woman Fancy Dress
This dress for modern women, where only in big events it's seen. It may cost SR100-SR5000.
Also commonly seen in weddings and dance shows.
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