- Life Style
As home of the holiest Islamic sites, millions flock to Saudi Arabia every year, but Al-Masry Al-Youm finds there’s more to the Arabian Kingdom than religious tourism. Walking along the long coastal boardwalk of the Corniche, with a breeze in your hair and graceful joggers striding by, it is easy to forget that you’re in the conservative country of Saudi Arabia.
Al-Khobar, a picturesque city in the Eastern Province, is indeed liberal by Saudi standards. While women still have to wear the long, loose black robes known as abayas in public, they do not actually have to cover their hair, unlike in other cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh.
The simple joys of picnics may have been forgotten elsewhere, but not in the public park of the Corniche, one of the most prominent attractions of the city. With big lagoons, wide promenades, lush greenery and several children's playgrounds, the place is a family favorite.
There are several dining options nearby, including international food chains and special Middle Eastern treats. However, all restaurants and cafes have to abide by Saudi’s code of morality; women and men are not allowed to mingle in public unless accompanied by family members. Dining Saudi-style entails separate entrances and seating areas for families and single men.
Most forms of entertainment including cinemas, theaters, nightclubs and bars, are also outlawed in Saudi Arabia. With not much else to do, retail therapy is a way of life in this coastal city and al-Khobar is a shopper’s paradise. A multitude of buildings are devoted to shops, ranging from tiny boutiques to huge ultra-modern shopping malls. The two best malls are the Mall of Dhahran and the Rashid Mall, both of which offer local Saudi products and international brands.
Naturally, shopping in Saudi Arabia entails a different set of rules. There are no fitting rooms in any of the clothing stores; you have to purchase the clothes, try them on at home and return them if you're not satisfied. Avid Saudi shoppers try their new clothes on in mall restrooms, allowing them to return them immediately if they don't fit.
There is another precaution for shopping in Saudi: stores close during prayer for up to 30 minutes so the staff can head to the nearest mosque to pray. All businesses including pharmacies, gyms and stores are forced by law to halt operations during prayer time. Many women have taken issue with this particular law, and are annoyed when they are forced to suspend their shopping activities for prayer time. I found it amusing to see a number of employees hiding behind counters inside closed stores.
“They don’t want the religious police to catch them for not praying,” laughed a local resident.