Despite the traditional separation of the sexes in Saudi Arabia, our candidates in the Kingdom report a very active social life. If you are relocating and looking at options, read on:
How Governments Can Actually Help People
Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, so it is the home to foreign embassies, while Jeddah is home to foreign consulates (which are smaller than embassies and provide fewer services). In Saudi Arabia, many of the embassies host social events and concerts, in addition to fulfilling their official diplomatic duties.
While we were in Riyadh in May 2012, for example, we attended a Cinco de Mayo party hosted by USERA (United States Embassy Recreation Association) on the grounds of the American Embassy. The event included a barbecue dinner, a deejay, and dancing. Embassies (or their recreation organizations) typically host parties for major national events, e.g., French Embassy - Bastille Day, Canadian and US Embassies - Canadian/US Thanksgivings, etc.
Embassies also often host cultural events. For example, spring in Riyadh usually means a European film festival at the embassies. Countries regularly bring in performing artists (musicians, opera singers, etc.) from home, or provide temporary visiting visual arts displays.
Consulates also host functions, but not as often as embassies.
In most cases, you have to pay to attend these events (most tickets are in the $30-70 range, depending on whether there is a meal, and what type of meal is provided) and, depending on the event, you may have to be sponsored to get tickets. If sponsorship is needed, you can be sponsored by an embassy employee (whether directly or through someone who knows an employee). In the case of the US Embassy, you can "sponsor yourself" by paying the fee to join USERA — and you don't have to be an American citizen to join USERA.
In my opinion, the best thing about embassy events is that you can enjoy a night of entertainment free of annoying cell phones. All electronics must be checked at the door of embassy events.
Hotels typically offer several opportunities for the person seeking to socialize. You can get together with a group at a hotel restaurant or buffet, or pay to use the hotel facilities, which can include tennis courts, bowling alleys, and even golf courses, such as at nine-hold grass course at the Riyadh Intercontinental Hotel. The Riyadh Intercontinental Hotel also put up big screens on their grounds to broadcast games of the last World Cup soccer matches.
In Jeddah, there are hotels along the Red Sea which have private beaches and organize diving or snorkelling trips (two examples being the
Sheraton and the Signature Al Murjan Beach Resort
Jeddah). Some beaches are restricted to guests or to those who have purchased a beach membership, some are open for a small day fee.
Hotels also usually have tournaments (e.g., tennis, golf) which one can participate in for prizes.
Some employers have organized social events for staff. The King Faisal Specialist Hospitals in Riyadh and Jeddah both have social clubs which organize lessons (e.g., tennis), events (e.g., trips to museums, camel souq, etc.), and in-Kingdom package trips for members to places such as Medain Saleh or to the picturesque mountain communities of Al Baha, Abha, and Taif.
Riyadh is home to the Canadian Community of Riyadh (CCOR) and the American Community of Riyadh (ACR), which you can join, and which can put you in touch with various clubs and events.
There are also groups for crafts, the Arts, and sports. Riyadh has groups involved in quilting and jewelry-making. Riyadh and Jeddah both have amateur drama and orchestra groups. Riyadh even has an opera society and a choral society. Jeddah is full of avid divers. Riyadh also has Riyadh Triathletes. You can also join private classes, such as yoga, pilates, etc.
Groups like the local InterNations groups, are also a great way to get to know new people and to socialize.
Do you like to help out? For example, you can help animals with an organization like OpenPaws. Or contact the Saudi Red Crescent Authority (part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)) and see if there are any initiatives on which you can help. Or see what type of charitable activiites your new colleagues enjoy.
Some of the larger compounds are essentially towns within the city, and include recreation areas and auditoriums for events, such as film screenings, dramatic performances, etc. If you are not residing on the compound, you must have a resident invite you, or you won't get past the gate.
Fun at Home
Whether in Riyadh or Jeddah (or elsewhere), dinner parties, barbecues, potlucks, etc., are popular. These are often capped off with watching DVDs, singing karaoke, playing board games, or other in-home events. In private homes in private compounds, males and females can mix freely.
And as we heard in May 2012, something that has recently become popular is sharing DVD series (e.g., The Tudors) around to friends and acquaintances.
So do try to find some time to yourself just to put your feet up, watch TV, read a book, or do a crossword!
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