January 3, 2012

You’re Welcome …Marhaban!

Living as a woman in Saudi Arabia means you’re constantly guessing as to whether you’re allowed or not.

A few weeks ago, for example, I walked first to the tailor shop across the street. If you can see in, and you can see men, oftentimes women aren’t allowed. But in some stores you are.

So, I walked hesitantly to the storefront. I motioned and said, is it okay? Can I come in?

The two men working there nodded yes. They were sitting at separate tables. One was working on a blue sequined ball gown. The other was working on an elegant black dress.

So, I walked up to the door, opened it and I stepped inside. Suddenly, they both were shaking their heads and waving their hands, No!

But, but…I thought they’d just said it was okay.

“Window,” one of the men pointed. Then I realized that I’d just walked into their private workshop and they serve customers (at least women and maybe all) outside at the window. Oopsiedaisy!

Okay, so I’m being too cautious. Lighten up, I thought to myself.

Next stop is the Hotel Mercure, pictured above, that for some reason is designed to look like The Love Boat, or at least a cruiseship. 

We’d been walking by the hotel daily for a few weeks now, and noticed that the sign said “Spa and Health Club”.

I’d tried going in once, but when I walked up to the door and as I was about to go in, I noticed dozens of guys. Only. Guys in traditional Saudi dress and no women. Ah, heck, I thought. I didn’t have the energy that time to test it out.

But today, I wanted to try again.

So, I walked up to the door and saw again the same thing. Lots and lots, maybe 30, Saudi men in traditional dress (red and white checked headpiece scarf and white long robe). There was no one at the door so I went in. The staff at the lobby were wearing hotel-y types of suits and I looked at them and did the, “Am I ok here?” symbol. “Yes, Yes,” they motioned. “Marhaban.” (Welcome!) When they saw me, they got the best English speaker to come help me.

Right about then, I felt really silly for thinking that women weren’t welcome in the hotel. As I was getting ready to ask my question, a women (with nikab) appeared so I was relieved that at least some women were in the hotel.

“Do you have a health club? …or a spa? here?” I asked the staffperson.

“Yes. Yes, we do,” he said. I smiled, beamed!

“But it’s only for the guys you know.”

My friend had nearly the same conversation with him that day at a different time, when he mentioned, “Of course, you’re welcome in the coffee shop and restaurant!”

About the Author joangregerson

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