Saudi Arabia: How Do Saudi Families Entertain Themselves?

An American Bedu reader posed a very good question.  This reader wanted to know what do Saudi families do for entertainment when so many activities are segregated.

Can families swim together in Saudi Arabia?  The answer is yes, they can.  However the family will enjoy swimming together as a family at a private pool.  If a family does not own a home which has a swimming pool, they have the option to rent an estraha (farm) where they have privacy and can enjoy themselves.  In addition to swimming, families can play soccer, volleyball, badmitton and have wonderful bbq’s at the estraha.  Since the estraha is behind high walls women can go uncovered and enjoy the mixed time with family.

  For families who live in the coastal cities of Jeddah or Damman they can enjoy jaunts out on the sea.  Women generally do enter and exit the boat wearing an abaya and maybe covering her hair.  However once away from the shore she is free to remove her abaya and any head coverings if she chooses.  The family may simply enjoy a leisurely boat ride and/or fishing.

There are some areas of Saudi Arabia which are ideal for hiking or have nature trails.  Families can and do enjoy these pastimes together.  However if there is a likelihood of encountering others, the Saudi women would likely remain covered.

Geo-tracking or geo-caching is a popular activity families enjoy in Saudi Arabia.  The geocaching web site provides coordinates of caches one can explore and discover in the Kingdom.  This is an excellent outing for families and teaches children navigational skills too.

Spelunking, otherwise known as exploring caves  is yet another activity that Saudi families can enjoy.  But if others are at the cave sites, Saudi women will likely remain in their abayas in spite of an uneven terrain. 

Four Wheeling and riding or driving an SUV over the sand dunes is probably one of the most popular activities of Saudi families.  My Saudi family and I enjoyed these activities numerous times!  If one is in a relatively private area of the desert it is not unusual for the women to drive the SUV across and up and down the rolling dunes.

Outside of Riyadh is a facility where Saudis can go and learn to fly small aircraft or skydive.  This facility is open to Saudi families and men and women alike can participate.

Activities that one is unlikely to see in Saudi, and in particular as a participating Saudi family, is bicycling or inline skating.  The terrain (and culture) of Saudi is not set up for such activities.

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18 Responses

  1. @AB I live in Jeddah and regularly dine out, I usually find that family section is filled with groups of Saudi women with one or two rare families accompanied by men, is it not part of the Saudi culture to enjoy a meal out with their families, or do Saudi men stop once their kids reach a certain age/number? I ‘d really like to know the dynamics behind this. I regularly see expat families husband wife and kids all enjoying a meal out. Possibly, Saudi families favour establishments that I don’t go to …like Shami, where ther are partitons everywhere?

  2. @Misha,

    I am not as familiar with Jeddah but I think it really depends on the Saudi family. I know when we had been in Jeddah visiting, we’d go out to eat in a group in the family section of restaurants without partitions.

  3. I know that many families go out for a dinner or lunch on Fridays especially. It is a big day for restaurants from what I observed.

  4. Thank you this was very informative. It helps in my understanding that women have some access to doing something besides staying in the home and going shopping if men allow it.

  5. Ironically, while geocaching is growing in Saudi – we have found that once a Saudi tries it, they give up – it’s a hike in and a hike out – an hour each way, it’s offroad bumping up and down, it’s digging out of sand, it’s hard work. We’ve taken many Saudi friends out geocaching (they wanted to try it after discovering the app on their SatNav or iPhone) and they have only ever done it the once – congratulated us for doing it and wished they could be like us and never gone again. Such a shame. Unfortunately, it stills remains very much an expat game.

  6. @AB and Wendy, Thanks for the replies, I think coz I tend to usuallly go out everyday ‘cept friday esp the afternoon, could be why I’ve missed them. 🙂

  7. @Misha

    I think eating in restaurants is relatively recent trend in Saudi. It is interesting to know when first restaurant established in the country. It came to the country when foreigners came to work or do business may be 35 years ago. It take time for people to go to them. Saudi men start to go to restaurant but not women this during the 1980s. in the 1990s small fraction of restaurants open family sections and it take time for people to take their family and eat in restaurant. It seem as if they doing something wrong. With the internet and spread of satellite TV in the 2000 people start to break their social rules step by step and now I think most families went and go to restaurants and I think some men become board of going to restaurants. It is funny that when people travel for tourism in the past twenty years they take kitchen tools with them in the car and they cook, haha half the time of the journey spent in cooking hahaha.

    Now I wonder how other countries adapt the culture of family going to eat in restaurant and when they start this.

  8. @ Moon Light:

    I think most countries didn’t have segregation rules so it was not seen as out of the ordinary. Initially going out to eat was one of those items that the upper class did and so for people to go out it was considered a special event for the family. Again though it was not an issue as far as segregation.

  9. @ bigstick1

    Great comment. Do you mean by segregation that black people don’t go to white people’s restaurants?

  10. @ Moon light

    No I am referring to female/male dynamics. The racist dynamic has occurred in some countries including the US. Thankfully that is no longer tolerated. Nor should it ever have been. People are people no matter race, gender, etc.

  11. @Moonlight Thank you for your input, I suspected that might be the case, and I do think it has something to do with segregation as some restaurants attract more Saudi clientele, I’ve seen Saudis who don’t look like Jeddawis, walk out of restaurants within 5 minutes of entering ..because they don’t like the seating arrangement/atmosphere I’m guessing ..seen this in Chilis, and Starbucks

  12. Geo caching sounds like great fun!

  13. Interesting that Saudis only recently started to eat in restaurants as a family. It’s sooooooo foreign to those from East Asia because food is so central to culture and in the language for some countries.

    Carol, here’s an article about the latest develpoment on banning Iranian women from playing soccer, etc.
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/sports-another-loss-for-iran-womens-rights/article2311047/page2/ (Article will lock down after 1 wk. to get readers to pay access.)

    Do Saudi women ever cycle? The reason why I am asking is in the world of designing sustainable communities, sometimes cycling facilities are planned into new areas. It would be wierd to talk about designing such communities with cycling, when women couldn’t cycle often themselves. Or do they have to be chaperoned? I assume girls are freer…up to a certain age.

    I know that in Dubai there has beeen enormous drive to design and construct whole communities by creating islands, etc.

    Not sure where Saudi Arabia stands.

    Would love it if you could put me in touch with Saudi women who want/are cycling.

  14. Carol had a documentary posted last year (or the year before?) Which showed two girls cycling, but they had to dress up as boys and they were worried all the time, because being discovered as girls would most probably get them subjected to horrible harassment.
    Anyway, a friend told me that many girls are not encouraged to do any kind of sports anyway because of the fear that it might damage the Holy Hymen, the only feminine attribute which gives a woman a reasonable market value.

    There was also a video out a while ago which showed a young woman on a quad in the desert, mercilessly harassed and hunted by a large pack of rabid Saudi men.
    And last year there was a video of two women just walking in the street but in the same dire situation.
    It seems there is no mode of transport in Saudi Arabia which is safe for women.
    Except driving her own car of course. Driving her own car a woman would be quite safe.

  15. Sad. Hope others here provide more information.

    So it’s hypocritical to design bike paths, routes if only 50% (men) use them.

    Or build…to inspire women to eventually…cycle. They will one day it’s just a question of time.

  16. Bedu- the skydiving is for men only, I tried contacting them for a course but they declined.
    Or perhaps there is a new operator that allows women?

  17. It is quite unusual for a Saudi woman or young girl to cycle unless she is on a large private property. If she were to cycle in public areas she would be expected to wear the long abaya which is certainly not suitable for cycling. And as Aafke pointed out, she’d likely draw unwanted attention to herself too.

    I saw young Saudi boys with bikes but it is not a typical item for a Saudi girl.

  18. @Aafke-Art if you are interested in geocaching in Saudi Arabia you can start with http://www.saudigeocachers.com 😀 or the world-wide website where the caches are listed http://www.geocaching.com

    The best caches in Saudi Arabia are in the desert and you will need a 4X4 to reach them. If you are in Riyadh, email menugeocaching@gmail.com – they organize Riyadh local trips or you can email admin@saudigeocachers.com if you are in Jeddah or Dammam.

    We geocache when on holiday too – it’s a great way to see other countries – see little-known places and learn about the geography or culture. And it’s kid-friendly too – for the most part (unless it’s a difficulty/terrain 5/5 cache)

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