Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dining Out in Saudi Arabia a Police Matter

By Aussiegirl

You might not want to go to the Saudi kingdom on your next vacation if having fun and eating out figure in your plans.

Dining Out in Saudi Arabia a Police Matter - Yahoo! News

I was still looking over the menu when the commotion began. The waiter sprinted in and shut off the TV that was airing a female pop singer's video clip. Another waiter hastily put up a wooden partition to screen me from the male diners.


Saudi Arabia's religious police were on the prowl.

Eating out in Riyadh is an unusual experience, apt on occasion to give the diner indigestion. The restaurants are trendy and serve all manner of local and foreign delicacies. But they are subject to the austere mores of an Islamic kingdom — no unmarried men and women together, no pop music, not even service with a smile.

Saudis in the capital take the extremes of the muttawa, or religious police, in stride. But among expatriates, they're a favorite topic of conversation.

They tell of the inspector who tried to yank the TV set's wires out of the wall because the Lebanese singer Maria was on the TV screen sitting in a bathtub full of milk and cocoa puffs singing "Play, Play."

And the waiter who was made to rinse the gel out of his hair because he was suspected of trying to look good for the ladies. And another whose sin was to serve dishes directly to women. He was marched to the inspector's car and made to sign a pledge to hand meals to the diners from behind a screen.

That's not all. Restaurants and cafes must shut their doors for prayers, five times a day for 30 minutes at a stretch.

I once found myself sitting on the steps of a coffee shop with two women — an American and a Canadian — after being ordered out during the prayer break. We found it interesting that in a country that takes extreme measures to shield the sexes during meals, we were being made to eat on the street.


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