I’ve been living in Jeddah for 5 months now (almost 6), I’ve settled down well, sorted out all the loose end at work, my children’s schooling, banking, internet, phones… it’s all operational now.
I’ve also had more time to discover my new home but you know what? In almost 5 months I still don’t know much about the city of Jeddah because:
1* I live quite far from the center and when I travel there it is to shop, that leaves me little time to explore, especially with 2 kids in toes. I did go to check out the impressive King Fahd water fountain which is a landmark in Jeddah.
2* I currently live on the housing compound of my university and, I’ll write more about his point soon, I do feel a little cut out from real Saudi life and culture. Most of the people here are non-Saudi, accommodations have been designed for westerners, everyone speaks English… not exactly the cultural integration is was hoping for.
Having said that i did manage to get a feel of Jeddah and some things about the city are quite clear to me:
City of Lights
The city of Jeddah is much prettier at night. During the day Jeddah looks like all desert cities: a dull cream/sand colour everywhere, very little green to brighten the scene. But at night, the city becomes alive and funky as many buildings are decorated with coloured neon lights. Suddenly the city looks vibrant and exciting.
Modern Vs Traditional
Despite the modern and high tech society around them, a lot of locals seem to prefer the simple and traditional ways that we could associate with desert people historical and cultural backgrounds. Driving around at night you will see loads of cars parked in the middle of nowhere and the whole family having a picnic right there on the floor… even though restaurants and other facilities are within walking distance.
There are a lot of rich and very rich people in Jeddah, with access to everything money can buy yet Saudis tend to be simple people. It’s of course hard to generalise but so far i’ve met lovely people who are content with simple pleasures. I know it’s not the image of Saudi but from what I’ve seen until now I feel certain that there is a lot of decorum and that people are ultimately much more modest than you would imagine.
The dress code in Jeddah is not as strict as i had read prior to moving. While the dress code remains modest, expat women don’t feel pressured to wear the full hijab (head covering) and the niqab (face covering) is worn pretty much only by Saudi women. I have seen many women in the shopping malls with only a small coloured scarf loosely worn over their hair, abayas (long overdress) are not only black but coloured too and some women even choose to do without the hijab altogether. Within the housing compounds, men and women dress in western style clothing.
Food and drink
Eating out in Jeddah is a pleasure as food tend to be absolutely delicious. I’ve noticed that eating out is very common among locals and expats. Let’s face it this is one of the few forms of entertainment in this country. Eating out is also much cheaper than in the UK for instance, whether it’s fast food or restaurant, the whole thing won’t cost you much. Another good point is that eating out comes in all sorts of flavors with options from around the world… literally. In any given food court, you’ll find food from China, Japan, Italy, France, Mexico, India, Morocco… you name it.
On the downside however, one thing I’ve noticed is that the quality of the products you buy is pretty low, tending on rubbish. Already many of the toy sets I’ve bought for my children are broken. My youngest son is now using his second bike as the first one simply fell apart within weeks. I’m not saying there aren’t any quality products but it seems that you have to chose very carefully because those low-end products are everywhere and not necessarily advertised as cheap. So here you are thinking you’re buying something good, paying a reasonable price for it and it turns out it’s not good enough to last. Very disappointing.
Finally let’s talk about the weather (if you’ve been following my blog you know I’m borderline obsessed with temperatures). Well Jeddah has got the perfect climate (if you enjoy summer weather). It’s summer all year round. This winter temperatures didn’t go below 25 degrees Celsius during the day and were often close to 30. At night temperatures dropped to the chilly 17 or 18 degrees Celsius but that’s it. Now that summer has arrived I was bracing myself for scorching desert heat but so far (it’s now June 9th) temperatures never really went over 40 degrees Celsius. I was expecting, hoping even, for much more than that. I guess Jeddah benefits from some coolness from the sea. Funnily enough, the worst of the heat comes when it’s cloudy: here clouds create a kind of bubble trapping the heat and those days staying indoors is the only option.
After 5 months in Saudi Arabia i couldn’t be happier that we decided to move here. It was quite hard settling down but now that pretty much everything is in place i feel confident we can make it home.
Right now, living in a compound makes sense for us but i do hope that we will have the opportunity to move to a Saudi neighborhood before our time here is up.
Have you been to Jeddah before? Please tell me what i’m missing and what i need to put on my to-do list.