Saudi Arabia: The Perks of Grocery Shopping


An expat friend of mine shared one of her recent grocery shopping experiences with me and it gives me pleasure that I can also share it with American Bedu readers.  Grocery shopping in Saudi Arabia can be an adventure!  One always likes to be on the lookout for new grocery stores which may offer goods that other stores do not have.

Some of the things that I have enjoyed in the Saudi grocery stores that you do not find as much in the Western world is the willingness of store employees to allow one to try many samples before deciding what (if anything) to buy.  A shopper can ask for samples of cheese, olives, candies, spices, deli meats.  In most cases, the sample is a generous portion.  Additionally, it is not uncommon to see a shopper open a package or a drink during their shopping either for themselves or a child.  No one will question and the shopper will pay for the items consumed at the checkout counter.  This is especially popular if one gets caught in a grocery store during prayer time and has to remain in the store until prayer is over.   

We went to the new mall “Riyadh Avenue” – it has a Lulu grocery store.  I don’t know if there are other Lulu’s?  This one opened last fall I think.

One of the things I like about shopping here is the fresh fruits and vegetables.  I love picking out a pineapple and watching the “pineapple man” cut it up and prepare it for you to take home and eat fresh.

Lulu’s has a “Coconut Scraping” window!  You pick your coconut from the table and take it to one of the arched windows in the brick wall.  Kind of like little teller windows, one labeled “Ladies” and one labelled “Gents”.   One of the other side of this wall is a man with a machine which cores out the coconut and shreds it and spews it out into a plastic bag.  He applies a price sticker and hands it back to you through the opening in the wall.

My husband and I arrived to find two men in the Ladies line and two men in the Gents line!  We have a system in this kind of situation!  If it looks like a situation where I can get something done faster than he could, I will separate from him and do this independently.  We had both sized up the situation from afar and began to walk separately.  I picked out a coconut and just slowly inched a little bit towards the Ladies line, not too near as to be impolitely near strange men.   (smile)  When the two men in the Ladies’ line saw me, they moved back a little, but didn’t get out of the line.  Then the man behind the wall yelled at them and told them to get in the men’s line.  They quietly complied, keeping their distance from me.  

I went up to the window and the coconut man took my coconut, shredded it and handed it back to me, all before the men who had been waiting in line!  Not fair?  Of course not, but neither is…..( fill in the blank – you have many choices!).  If my husband had done this, he would have had to wait for the first four men.  Some little perks you just have to enjoy here…..


7 Responses

  1. We had a Lulu’s in Qatar. The place was ALWAYS packed with locals and expats.
    We also had a Carefour and Giant. Carefour and Lulu’s charged for bones, Giant didn’t, they gave them away for free. GREAT for when I was making stock!
    Carefour had, of course, LOADS of French products. That was good for some odd items that I couldn’t find elsewhere. Giant had some US products as well (wouldn’t want to do without Jif or American “cheese”). We also had a local place that had loads of UK products, which was also nice.
    I won’t go into the price of blueberries, due to their fragility and the local environment…
    One thing that we DO miss is the price of lamb, as my wife and I both LOVE lamb. It was like US pork prices.

  2. I never experienced Islam outside of America, except for a brief trip to Bangkok. The Muslim women I met there were so much preferable to certain other Muslims I met; so gentle, caring and friendly. In Thailand I saw Black Abayas on some streets, but in doors, the sleeves were short and skirts just below the knees.

    I’ve never had a clear picture of life near KSA. My Saudi friend says that non Muslim expats do not wear abaya or even Hijab. How can this be so? How can they tell if you are Muslim or not?

  3. I think if someone doesn’t have an Arabic look the muttawa doesn’t bother them. In KSA I always wore and abaya but never covered my head at the insistance of my family who said it wasn’t necessary. I never saw a woman on the street without an abaya … expat or otherwise. The closest I came to seeing someone abayaless was a woman walking in the mall with her abaya wide open and that was only one time, one woman.

  4. So it’s OK for men to use the Ladies’ line as long as no ladies are around to buy things? It doesn’t sound like she did anything unfair if she used the line for ladies. The men just were in the wrong line. Or do both lines feed into ONE man shredding coconut? I’m trying to visual this since it’s unfamiliar to me. 🙂

  5. Susanne, the men should NEVER be in the ladies line. That was explained to me by locals, when I asked about it.
    SOME businesses had two clerks, others had one. Ladies didn’t usually end up waiting, the men would. In short, the business was preferential to servicing the ladies first. The number of clerks typically was business oriented by demand. Heavily used services would have more than one clerk. Less used services (such as coconut shredding services) would have one.
    That was why the clerk yelled for the men to move to the men’s line. Cheating is rather expected, when a woman isn’t present, when she is, no cheating is allowed.
    Hypermarkets (supermarkets on steroids) have dedicated checkout lines for ladies as well. In those, it was rare to see a man in line, even if the line is empty.

  6. I love Lulu’s! It’s my favorite grocery store here in the UAE. In my experience it has better quality AND cheaper produce (and most all foodstuffs) than Carrefour.

    And the “ladies first” is a minor perk too… Even when there is no ladies’ line here in the UAE we usually get ushered to the front. At the post office the girls and I got done twice as fast as our male classmates!

    Lulu’s has a few cashier lines which are women only, though sometimes you see husbands holding a spot there until their wives run back from grabbing something.

  7. I never saw those coconut shredding services when i lived there 😦

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