In fact, just before Ramadan we went into STC together to let them know we were going overseas and to please not cut the phone off when they see international call costs flooding our phone bill. A few months previous to that I went in because the internet had stopped working on my phone and, after handing it to a pleasant, polite, young tech savvy Saudi bloke, walked out with cyber space on my iPhone working again.
Imagine my surprise when, last night, after enjoying a lovely meal at a top restaurant, Hubster, myself and a fellow, newly arrived, Kiwi wandered down to the nearest STC to get a SIM for his iPad, and, as I went to follow Hubster and company indoors, security waved at me in that way you wave at people when trying to catch their attention and said 'Madame, Madame, No'.
Pardon? I said as I wasn't expecting to engage with any male securtiy outside the STC door.
Man only, they said (There were two security and another older guy sitting at a nearby table).
What? I said, somewhat confused.
Man only, they repeated, supported now by the older guy.
Really! I said, remembering my recent conversation with Madame Lily. Since when?
No lady, they said with a tone that suggested they had no idea why either, they were just doing their job and waving me to get out of the doorway where I had been standing for the duration of our short exchange.
But I've always gone in here, I said
Two younger, fashionably attired blokes who may or may not have been Saudi, (my ability to differentiate between Arabs and their particular Middle Eastern origins is still terribly poor after all this time), sitting at another nearby table joined the conversation, in a good natured fashion.
This is Saudi, one of them said. A dumb country with dumb rules, And they laughed. There ensued a conversation in Arabic between all five blokes, presumably on the rules in Saudi Arabia and the new rules in STC. While they were talking I considered my options:
- Walk into STC and upset security's day;
- Stand around on the street like an idiot; or
- Take a seat at the nearby tables by the blokes as there was nowhere else to sit.
So, can I sit here then? I asked the blokes.
Of course!, they said.
Take a seat, they invited.
And the ridiculousness of the situation made me laugh.
The younger blokes cleared their rubbish from the table, pulled out a chair and stood up to move over to join security and the old bloke at their table. (They may have invited me to sit outdoors, but local custom dictates they not sit with me - nearby, at the next table, is good enough). We were just getting into a conversation on my nationality when Hubster came back out. He hadn't realized I had been stopped at the door and wondered why I was still outside. He was surprised when told the situation.
Seconds later our friend exited STC and joined us, somewhat baffled by yet another condition recently implemented by STC to help them cater to the huge anticipated iPhone 6 rush...
...They are only doing iPhone inquiries tonight, he said
What? we chimed together.
Yes, said the older guy still sitting in the chair near security who I now deduced was an STC employee on an extended coffee break, only iPhone 6 all this week.
All week? Hubster queried.
Yes, he said.
Shall we walk up to the big STC, then?
No, he said, it's the same there, too.
We left STC then and headed back to the car.
This, we told our friend, is typical of Saudi Arabia. One day is one rule, the next day another. It's what makes working with regulatory body's (or anybody for that matter) a nightmare for expats like Hubster who cannot get international companies to understand exactly what life is like here. (He particularly gets annoyed at the Head Honchos in Dubai who blab on about Saudi being no different to anywhere else, but who rarely come here and, when they do, never stay overnight because 'OMG...it's so different! I often get the impression that Head Honcho's are Dumb Asses!)
I couldn't help thinking that STC had let the new generation down by closing its retail spaces to women. Noor tells me a new ladies branch of STC has opened, up the road and around the corner - much further for me to go now. (I have to catch a taxi with an unrelated male to get there - so if the point was to stop women engaging with unrelated males of questionable origin STC, or whoever is pushing these new rules, has failed terribly - duh!)
Presumably the purpose of opening a women only STC space is to give local women jobs in telecommunication retail, though I can't be sure of that rational without delving into the discussion with someone in the know, and I don't know anyone in the know right now. (Anyone in the know out there please, feel free to enlighten us). If that is the case then I'm disappointed in STC who have taken Saudi Arabia two steps backwards because everyone knows that telecom companies make billions of dollars every year - why couldn't they spend a fraction of that money and refurb their current retails sites to cater to female employees.
'Welcome to Saudi Arabia' we told our Kiwi Newcomer - 'a country full of young people who crave, neigh demand, the latest modern technology but are bullied by a bunch of cronies who psychologically live in the stone age'. Yes, only in Saudi can you insist on flashing around modern accessories and be backwards at the same time. And STC, and every other telecom company, should be leading the charge forward into the new age, not bending to the old guard, else the rest of the world might start to think you're all a bunch of far too rich wooses.