He laughed because we were the only westerners in a mall in an outer suburb of Riyadh. Why?
There are eateries like Pita's Wrap or Shwarma-ville (akin to a Kiwi chinese takeaway or fish n chip shop), but quality coffee isn't on the menu. To be honest, from the look of some of these places, quality food might be in short supply too. Aren't I a snob!
Women in the outer suburbs of Riyadh obviously only eat and drink at home, at friends or family homes or at the local mall. Which is why, when I spotted what looked to be a mall, we made a beeline for the door - we only had 15 minutes and it turns out, we needed all of them.
My question to the first staff person I saw was 'Do you speak English?'
Great. Where can I get a cup of coffee?
His gesture indicated I should wait a moment.
He called over a colleague, planted him in front of us and walked away.
(In Arabic) Do you speak English?
(In English) Can you tell me where I can get a cup of coffee?
He didn't gesture. He just turned around, walked away and sent over another colleague.
Third time lucky. Deep breath. Here we go....
Do you speak English?
Where can I go for a cup of coffee?
He took me to the door, pointed to the escalotor and said (in arabic) 'Go up.'
Shukran jaziilan (thanks lots).
We went up and there it was - the Food Hall.
It was a bit rough - broken seats, dirty tables, rubbish and three vendors. Two didn't really appeal to me, one had a picture of cafe latte - that's the one I headed for.
The guy at the food counter could only understand English as it related to how much I owed him (funny that). That is, of course, after lots of slow talking, bad Arabic and hand signs ended up with me not getting what I wanted and settling for something he understood.
The coffee, once we tried it, was awful and loaded with sugar - Saudi's definitely have a sweet tooth.
And we had a Shadow.
I'd actually spotted The Shadow when we were walking around outside. A young guy, about 12 years old in thobe and headwear, must have been fascinated by us because he followed us into the mall and up to the Food Hall. He even stood right at the counter as I was attempting to order, and watched.
It wasn't a disconcerting watching. Not like the Arab man in Dubai.
No, I think he really was just curious. I wished Glenn was learniing Arabic because he could have tried to engage him in conversation. The performance which saw me settling for very bad Nescafe had used up my reserves of 'thinking in Arabic' energy. Plus I wasn't sure he'd talk to a lady anyway. (In hindsight two very poor excuses for not even trying.)
Salat arrived and all staff headed to the nearest mosque - all looking without trying to be obvious. Westerners must be a rarity in here. Either that, or they were hoping we'd still be here after salat to spend up large in their shop.
There were two things we concluded as we drank our coffee and waited for our taxi driver - I really need to get better at my Arabic and we had definitely gone local today.