Well, probably a ‘chocolate bar’ here in Riyadh since it’s the only kind of bar there is. The joke kind of falls apart when you come to the conclusion the Pakistani just drove someone there, the Filipino works there and the Egyptian sold the place for a Saudi holding company. Add in the fact that there’s a good chance the chocolate bar doesn’t admit men who aren’t accompanying their wives/kids and you’re left with a fairly lame joke.
Riyadh is a city that wouldn’t survive without its huge ex-pat community. Certain nationalities seem to dominate certain jobs, but I haven’t quite figured out why. Restaurants are staffed by Filipinos, taxis are driven by Pakistanis, Egyptians are big in sales roles, Syrians are over-represented in medicine and Irish appear to be the architects. Outside of the capital, where the oil flows, is where you can find lots of Americans and Europeans. Oh yeah, my plumber is from Sri Lanka, but a sample size of one isn’t enough to figure out if that is a trend.
With all of the ex-pats living here, most day-to-day transactions are done in English – at least in my circle of life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that communication is clear, however. I’ve found that there’s really not a lot of point in pushing for understanding– even when language doesn’t seem to be the issue. Take this dialog with my dry-cleaner as an example:
Me: Are my shirts ready?
Clerk: (Looks around for a minute) They’ll be here at 8:30pm
Me: Great, I’ll come back then. Do you know how much it will cost so I can have the right change ready? (Note to readers: If you read my last blog entry, you will know why I asked)
Clerk: When did you leave them here?
Me: Yesterday morning.
Clerk: Ok. See you after 8:30.
Don’t go back and re-read that to see if you can make sense of it because you’d be wasting your energy – just the same as I would’ve been wasting my energy if I’d bothered to clarify and get the answer I was looking for. Besides, I was going to take my damn shirts whether he had the right change or not!! (Imagine me running from the shop holding my dry cleaning over my shoulder and the shirts flapping in the wind.)
This type of conversation is hardly limited to one or two per day and there are times when pushing for an answer is necessary. The apartment complex I live in is old by Riyadh standards, but more importantly, is not well-maintained. As long as the essentials work, I’m ok with it. We’ve been having issues with elevator for the last few weeks, so each time it breaks, I stop by the maintenance office on my way to work to ask them when they are fixing it. I usually get an answer like, “Later, they come.” Whatever, 6 flights isn’t terrible. After they got it working a couple of weeks ago, I went out to buy a clothes washer and arranged for delivery a couple of days after that. Of course on the delivery day the elevator was broken, so I had the delivery guys drop it in the tiny maintenance office. I told the manager that it would be out just as soon as they got the elevator fixed and his guys could bring it up. (Meow!)
This wasn’t all that annoying because it was only a matter of time. I went to London for a few days figuring all would be well when I got back. My return flight arrives at about 2am and I have to work in the morning and the elevator is broken again. I drag my suitcase up the six flights and collapse on my bed. By the time I wake up for work, there was no water in my building either.
I dump my remaining spring water over my head, get dressed, walk down the six flights and get to the maintenance office.
I said, “I would’ve been here sooner to complain there’s no water, but the elevator’s broken – AGAIN. When will you have these fixed?”
“Coming, coming,” he replies.
“That’s not an answer. Will it be fixed by 6pm?”
“New elevator!! 2…3 days.”
I’m actually happy to hear this about the elevator, but I don’t want to let on because he might think I’ll accept no water if I look anything but annoyed. “What about the water? I couldn’t even take a shower this morning.”
He non-answers, “It just stopped at 6 this morning.”
I’m determined to not let it drop yet. “I don’t care when it went off. I want to know when it will come on.”
“Maybe tonight,” he says.
Satisfied that I least got some kind of answer, I left for work.
For those readers who are Seinfeld fans, this is sort of like the Chinese restaurant where the wait is always “5, 10 minutes” and you don’t get messages because of name issues.