Saudi Arabia is a country full of history, culture and a number of very holy sights. However, most people don’t know much about Saudi Arabia beyond money and oil. What follows is a much closer look at the people and the culture of Saudi Arabia. From religious practices to leisure activities and rules about drinking, we’re betting that you’ll learn a few new things by the time you’re done reading through this article.
The people of Saudi Arabia are very religious, and as such, they have pretty strict rules when it comes to their dress code, especially for women. Traditionally, women have had to wear the black abaya dresses, which show little more than the whites of the eyes.
However, the current leader of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has loosened the restrictions and now allows women to make the decision for themselves as to whether or not they wear the traditional abaya. If they choose not to, they’re only asked to keep their wardrobe tactful.
Too Many James Bond Movies
It seems that when a bunch of guys get together it doesn’t matter what country they’re in—give them a car and they’ll try to show off. In Saudi Arabia, they’ve taken to a new form of thrill-seeking, and it’s as dangerous as can be!
They call it “Sidewalk Skiing” and it involves getting a vehicle up on two wheels and driving as far as you can without rolling the car over and killing everyone inside. On an interesting and related note, women were finally allowed to drive in the country as of June this past year.
Lots And Lots Of Sand
While many of the entries in this article might surprise you, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that there is a LOT of sand in Saudi Arabia. The largest part of the country is covered in sand, and as such, they don’t have much land that can be farmed.
For that reason, the Saudi government has purchased large swaths of land in other countries to use for the farming of crops. Pictured above is fun that you can only have in a country like Saudi Arabia.
While seeing plenty of camels in Saudi Arabia is probably no surprise, the fact that the camel is a culinary delicacy in the country might be! The people of Saudi Arabia regularly prepare dishes made with camel meat.
They also have a wide variety of chicken and rice dishes, as well as flatbreads and a yogurt drink known as Laban. If camel meat doesn’t sound appetizing, imagine visiting countries in southeast Asia, where you could dine on poisonous puffer fish (Japan) or deep-fried tarantulas (Cambodia).
In another interesting tradition, the people of Saudi Arabia don’t have just one wedding ceremony. They have two, in two separate locations. Anyone who has planned a wedding knows just how expensive and stressful that could be!
Regardless of where the two ceremonies take place, the men and women are separated into two groups at the venues.
A Dry Country
The population of Saudi Arabia is largely made up of Muslims. Because of that, drinking alcohol in public is considered illegal. The rules in place are extremely strict. Drinking in public is not allowed and stores are largely forbidden to even sell alcoholic beverages.
Anyone caught violating these rules are subject to big fines and sometimes public punishment. In other words, if you’re looking to party you might be better off visiting Cancun!
While many countries around the world have “Royal Families,” most of those countries have governments in place so that the family doesn’t have complete rule over what happens. Saudi Arabia isn’t like that at all!
Their Royal Family still rules over everything that happens in the country and they have complete say over the laws and goings-on. Saudi Arabia is one of just 5 countries in the world that still have such ruling in place.
Supply And Demand
Another fact that won’t likely come as a surprise is that Saudi Arabia is full of oil. For this reason, the people in Saudi Arabia are able to fill up their vehicles with fuel for less money than just about anywhere else in the world.
On the other hand, fresh water is far scarcer. In fact, people pay more for water to cook, drink, and bathe than they do for oil and gasoline.
Virtuous By Force
As mentioned above, the majority of Saudi Arabia is Muslim. They pride themselves on being virtuous and living up to the morals set forth by the religion.
However, they take it one step further and have an actual, dedicated police force that is responsible for making sure that all of the citizens are living up to those virtues. The Committee for the Preservation of Virtue is responsible for this task.
The Space Race
When people think about amazing moments in space exploration, Saudi Arabia probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind. America and Russia have generally been at the forefront of most of the achievements when it comes to space.
You may be surprised to know that Saudi Arabia actually sent one of its own into space in the 1980s. What’s more surprising is that it was none other than Prince Sultan bin Salman. He was the first Muslim, Arab, and royal to ever leave the Earth’s atmosphere!
A Busy Guy
When Saudi Arabia became its own country back in the 1930s, King Abdul Aziz bin Rahman Al Saud assumed control over the country. While naming the country after himself was an impressive move, it’s no more impressive than the family he created.
During his lifetime, he managed to wed 17 wives, father 44 sons and a number of daughters as well. Talk about a family man!
Saudi Arabia isn’t just strict when it comes to dressing and drinking. They also have bans on a variety of other recreational activities, including which movies can be watched and what books can be read. They have a pretty substantial list of banned books and movies, most notably the Harry Potter series.
Anyone caught reading the books is considered to be condoning sorcery and will be severely punished. However, in recent years allowances have been made when it comes to watching the movies based on the books.
The importance of religion to the Saudi people cannot be stressed enough. In fact, they pray up to five times per day. It’s a law that during those prayer times businesses mush close down to allow for it.
For a while now, there has been some discussion over the possibility of putting an end to the practice, but that’s one area that the royal family hasn’t made exceptions on yet.
Major Fashion Advances
While Saudi Arabia has long been restricted when it comes to fashions, the recent leniency as passed down by the royal family has allowed citizens to experiment with fashions from across the globe.
In fact, Saudi Arabia recently hosted its very first Fashion Week. Furthermore, designers in Saudi Arabia are hoping to soon put themselves on the map in terms of the fashion world.
The Beach Life
It might come as a surprise to learn that Saudi Arabia is one of the most prominent places in the world for enjoying water activities. The country boasts an amazing coastline and more and more people (mostly men) are enjoying outdoor activities.
Be it water skiing or scuba diving, you’ll find the beaches full of businessmen looking to kill a few hours’ time on almost any day of the week.
Mind Your Shoes
In a lot of countries, we don’t think twice about what we’re wearing on our feet or who sees are shoes. Unless we’re heading to some formal event, we certainly don’t give much thought to have dirty the soles of our everyday footwear are.
However, in Saudi Arabia, showing someone the dirty soles of your shoes is one of the highest insults you can dish out. It’s an extreme sign of disrespect.
While most of us are natural bird watchers, who will take the time to appreciate a beautiful winged specimen if they’re in our presence, few of us can master birds like the Saudis.
In fact, the ancient art of falconry has long been a part of their culture and they’re quite good at it. Many people in the country still practice the art today and look after some truly magnificent creatures.
Just How Much Money?
While we’ve discussed a lot of surprising facts about Saudi Arabia, one that isn’t likely too surprising is knowing that Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country. But just how wealthy is it?
It’s actually pretty crazy when you look at just how much money the House of Saud has. Collectively, the royal family is worth $14 trillion! That’s about 1/6 of the net worth of the entire population of the United States.
A Lot Of Real Estate
Saudi Arabia isn’t just big in the checkbook department. It’s one of the largest countries in the world in terms of total landmass, and it is the biggest country in the Middle East. With a total landmass of 830,000 square miles, Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest country in the entire world and makes up more than ¾ of the Arab Peninsula.
It is the only country that touches both the Red Sea and Persian Gulf and it has an overall population of nearly 29 million people.
Looking For The Top Spot
Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s located in Dubai and is 2,716 feet tall. However, Saudi Arabia has plans to take the title from Dubai in 2020, when the construction on the Jeddah Tower is scheduled to be completed.
When done, Jeddah Tower will top out at an incredible 3,316 feet! That’s a remarkable feat of engineering.
Cracking Down On Smoking
For many years, the Middle East was far more accepting of smoking than in other parts of the world. However, in recent years, the country has really started to crack down on smoking in public as well as the sale of tobacco products.
Smoking is essentially forbidden in all public areas and if you do happen to find a place that allows it, you must be absolutely sure that there are no minors in the area before lighting up. As in other countries, tobacco cannot be sold to minors and can only be sold in closed containers.
For those who know anything about the Islamic religion, the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca is often considered to be the holiest city in the world. The religion dictates that any adult that is able must make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca at some point in their lifetime.
That pilgrimage is called Hajj and seeing it first hand is an amazing sight. Countless Muslims surround a building in the center of the holiest mosque in the world in a once in a lifetime act of faith.
A Different Kind Of Beauty Contest
As we’ve mentioned already, most people aren’t surprised to find that there are a lot of camels in Saudi Arabia. What does surprise a lot of people is that the Saudis actually have a beauty contest for their camels!
Every year since 1999, local Bedouins compete in the King Abdulaziz Festival Camels Competition for the coveted honor of having the prettiest animal. Everyone involved seems to enjoy the competition.
An Interesting Tale
There’s an interesting legend regarding why Saudi Arabia has so much land. As the story goes, after World War 1 Winston Churchill was drawing up a new map and as he was creating the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, he hiccupped.
As a result, his pen jumped and Saudi Arabia got some extra land. To this day, the extra land at the Saudi Arabian and Jordan border is known as “Winston’s Hiccup.”
The nomadic Bedouins have been an important part of the Saudi Arabian culture for ages. Nearly 2 million Bedouins still roam the deserts of Saudi Arabia today, keeping the age-old traditions alive.
The Bedouins were and still are a major influence on society in Saudi Arabia, fostering honor, loyalty, family, and hospitality.
The Annual Reunion
Many of us can relate to having a big family. Some are so big that the only time we all get to see each other at the same time is if we plan big family reunions. In the case of the giant royal family of Saudi Arabia, they have a family reunion every year, where thousands of them get together in the city of Riyadh to celebrate.
One of the highlights of the reunion is the traditional sword dance, which represents the relationship between warriors and clerics.
Another Holy City
While Mecca is considered by many to be the holiest city in Saudi Arabia, the city of Medina is a pretty close second. The mosque in this city is known as the Prophet’s Mosque, easily recognized by the green dome that sits atop.
What makes it so special is that it contains the tomb of the prophet Muhammad. The mosque at Medina is often a second stop on the pilgrimage to or from Mecca.
If you’re every lucky enough to visit Saudi Arabia, you’ll likely see the majority of men carrying around traditional Muslim prayer beads. Originally, the beads were created as an easy way of keeping track of how many prayers had been said during prayer times.
Today, they still serve that purpose, but they’ve also become a kind of fashion symbol. You can find countless vendors throughout the country that sell them in just about every color imaginable.
Saudi Arabian culture is very big on keeping their youth numbers in the country up. It would seem that it’s working, as nearly 50% of the country’s total population is under 24 years old.
Many believe that Saudi Arabia has an unusually high fertility rate, though experts believe that the numbers might start to go down as more young people start to practice planned parenthood.
Planning For The Future
Saudi Arabia understands that the majority of its wealth comes from oil, but they also understand that the resource won’t last forever.
It is for that reason that the country is working on a sort of “Plan B” that involves developing economic cities that will be hubs for international trade and economic growth.
Because so much of the country is covered in dirt and sand, it’s not uncommon to see massive tornados of dust blow through Saudi Arabia. The anomalies are often referred to as Dirt Devils, but in Saudi Arabia, they called them “djinn” which is a translation for genie.
In traditional stories, genies weren’t kind beings who granted wishes, and these dirt devils are likely the source for many of the horrific stories that have been passed down for generations.
Proud Of The Flag
In many other countries, citizens are proud enough of their country’s flag that they’ll wear it on a t-shirt or slap a sticker on their car. You won’t likely find that in Saudi Arabia.
The bright green flag contains an Islamic creed that is considered to be holy inscription and it would be considered blasphemous to wear the flag in such a manner. Furthermore, the flag is never flown at half-mast like other countries do in times of mourning.
A World Heritage Site
Saudi Arabia is not only home to two of the holiest cities in the world, it is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site, called Mada’in Saleh, is an archaeologist’s dream, dating back to the First Century, A.D.
It’s believed to be the second largest archaeological site of its kind and it’s truly a beautiful location to see. It gives us a look at technology and culture that can still teach us much, even after nearly 2,000 years.