Over the past few years hubby and I have visited many Arabic destinations, all of which have been wonderful and unique in their own way. So, when Shaherazad offered to contribute a guest post on the common myths associated with travelling in Arabic countries I was pleased to publish her post!
Travelling in Arabic Cities – all the Myths Busted!
Over the last 12 months I've had the fabulous privilege of travelling to a number of Arabic cities. Unsurprisingly though, whenever I have mentioned an Arabic city other than Dubai to friends and colleagues, eyebrows are often raised, and all sorts of odd questions are asked. So, I thought what better way to answer those questions than in a blog post where I reveal all there is that you need to know when travelling to the Middle East.
The cities I've visited over the last year are:
Ras Al Khaimah
Myth 1: “But isn't it dangerous there with the war and everything?”
I got the most raised eyebrows when I said I was travelling to Kuwait. It was for a business trip and since travelling there, I have discovered that there is next to zero tourist trade there. “But isn't it dangerous there with the war and everything?” No, the war with Iraq ended in the early 90's and since then the city has become one of the safest places in the world for women to travel to alone. Kuwait City boasts the world's largest shopping mall called “The Avenues” and I had more choice of designer product here than I would get in London or New York. So much so, that I bought my first pair of Chanel brogues from the mall – a splendid Arabic treat!
Myth 2: “Women who get a taxi alone are sent to prison.”
I travelled to Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and Medina with my mum. We were warned many times beforehand that women must never take a taxi alone, and if they did, they would be imprisoned. My online research also confirmed that this was the case. When we got to Mecca, we decided we wanted to tour the city ourselves rather than on a guided tour. I told the hotel concierge about what I had been advised and asked how best we could travel around. I've never heard anyone laugh so hard in response to my question. It turns out that women can take taxis alone – what I had read was just a big ugly myth. However, it must be said that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia; it is illegal and there is much work to be done in giving women equal privileges to men.
Myth 3: “You can't drink alcohol or eat pork.”
In Islamic countries alcohol and pork products are indeed prohibited. However, all hotels (except in Kuwait City, Mecca and Medina) serve alcohol which can be consumed on the premises. Pork products can also be eaten in most hotels (although not in Kuwait, Mecca and Medina). Places such as Abu Dhabi tend not to serve pork in hotels but non-nationals can purchase it from supermarkets on production of their passport. So, if you must drink and eat bacon, there are lots of Arabic cities where you can. If you can't live without it, then Kuwait City and Saudi Arabia is not for you. Oh, and you will not get arrested for carrying alcohol hand gel or cough medicine containing alcohol, no matter what the papers say!
Myth 4: “You'll get your hands chopped off if you steal.”
This both is and isn't a myth. If you steal, then yes, the penalties are very harsh. However, because of this the crime rates in the cities are so low that they are some of the safest places in the world. So much so that when I was in Saudi Arabia, store owners of gold jewellery shops would leave their shops wide open and unattended five times a day when they left to pray. There's no need to worry – unless you're intending on committing tomfoolery!
Myth 5: “Women have to cover their heads all the time”
In Saudi, women and men, cover their heads. In all other cities it is optional. It is very common to see a mix of women, some wearing a full-on burqa, and some wearing revealing attire. Personal choice allows a huge mix of “how to dress” trends. It is expected that both women and men should dress modestly (covering shoulders, arms and knees) but other than that there are no restrictions.
Myth 6: “All the milk comes from camels”
Some milk comes from camels, but it's very expensive and cow's milk is much more common. Anything you can buy in the UK from a food and drink perspective, you can also buy in Arabic cities.
Personally, I love travelling to Arabic cities, especially now that I've visited quite a few and I know what to believe in terms of the culture. I love the weather, the welcoming atmosphere, the food, the mix of fashion, the designer labels and most of all, the sumptuous luxury which I've not come across anywhere else in the world. If you're thinking of taking a trip, enjoy it! Don't let the myths put you off – because that's exactly what they are – myths which hopefully I've now busted for you!
Shaherazad Umbreen is the Shoe.E.O. of www.ShoesbyShaherazad.com Her passions are travelling, designing shoes and empowering women, all of which she can do whilst running Shoes by Shaherazad. Shaherazad is a self-confessed business addict.