An online journal of preparations and living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Friday, June 3, 2011
5 modest proposals for Saudi Arabia
As a thought experiment, I’ve been toying with several ideas -- completely unsolicited by anyone of authority in the Kingdom, of course -- that could just possibly make life in Saudi Arabia better for everyone. And by “everyone” of course I mean “me.”
As I thought about this and asked colleagues, I decided on two basic ground rules:
a) changes or improvements could not violate any Islamic rules or principles, and
b) implementing them would not cost a fortune.
This eliminates all the questions about women driving, keeping stores open during prayer times, devising an efficient mass transit system, promoting tourism, making Saudi Arabian Airlines a less unpleasant experience or trying to get people to understand the concept of a queue.
So, whattya think?
1. Sidewalks. You literally cannot go more than 20 or 30 steps in most Riyadh neighborhoods without having to detour into the street. In fact, there’s no point even in using a sidewalk because the street is the real pedestrian path. This is true even on fancy streets like Olaya.
Here is a partial list of things a walker will find to obstruct his path: trees, dumpsters, open unmarked excavations, giant piles of dirt, parked cars, torn up concrete, more parked cars, building utility boxes, telecom company utility boxes and possibly some more parked cars.
So how about a program of building sidewalks, or requiring sidewalks, perhaps even on just one side of a street?
2. Building addresses. Try calling a cab to pick you up, inviting a friend over, giving directions or just having hot schwarmas delivered without a street address. Fire or police emergency? Forget it. Moreover, businesses shipping you goods hate delivering to a P.O. box.
So how about a program of putting addresses on buildings (and telling residents what they are while we’re at it)? I’m guessing there are, technically, addresses for most or all buildings that are known only in the most super-secret interior lock boxes of the Ministry of Addresses. I even heard mine one time. You might as well put an address on a schwarma for all the good it does. 3. Street names. While we’re dealing with streets, maybe we could simplify or at least coordinate the spelling of street names. Typically one just says to a driver “Go to Malaz Siteen and turn right at the McDonalds” or “Pepsi Road near the Tamimi.” That’s because no one wants to deal with tongue twisters like “Al Amir Muhammad Ibn Abdulaziz Rd.” or “Al Amir Muhammad Ibn Abdulaziz St.” or “Al Amir Abdulaziz Ibn Musa Id Ibn Jalawi St.” or “Al Amir Turki Ibn Abdulaziz Rd.” or “Al Amir Sa’ad Ibn Abdulaziz” or “Al Imam Abdulaziz Ibn Muhammad Ibn Saud.”(all spellings taken from the standard Farsi map.) And then there’s the Good Ship Lollipop which simply lists itself as being on Prince Mohammad Bin Abdul Aziz St. (Thalia St).” Or the Turkish restaurant at “Olaya-Prince Sultan St. Old 30.” (These were taken verbatim from actual business cards.) 4. Normalize spelling of Saudi names. Students ask why I try to get them to spell their names the same way all the time. I want them to come to a consistent transliteration based on how the tribe wants the name to sound (though I don’t explain it that way). Within the KSA it probably doesn’t matter (except to teachers who are trying to figure out if the Al Qatani on the exam is the same as the alqetani or the al-Ketaani on the attendance roster).
The reason I give is that anyone traveling outside the Kingdom will have a much easier time of things if he or she doesn’t have to explain why their name doesn’t match whatever list or form the airport guy, the college admissions officer, the bank officer or the police officer is using.
Several years ago, Cecil Taylor of The Straight Dope column came up with 12 ways to spell Qadhafi. The official U.S. Library of Congress rundown gives 32 different spellings.
The basic problem of course is that there is no generally accepted authority for Westernizing Arabic names, mostly because Arabic contains several sounds that have no equivalent in English. And many exquisite subtleties of Arabic pronunciation are mooshed together into a single character when the name gets romanized.
But perhaps the tribes could at least talk amongst themselves and decide if they want to be Al Anazi, Al Enazi, Al Anzi, Aal Anazi or Al Anazy.
Among the things that I include under “normalization” (that is, creating a consistent “norm” for names) would be what to do with the “al” – should it be Al Ghamdi, Al-Ghamdi, alghamdi or al-Ghamdi?
It all makes a difference in how names get alphabetized, which like it or not, helps society keep things in order and find you when you are lost.
5. Littering fines. This may be a losing battle but wouldn’t it be nice to walk down a street or visit a beautiful desert landmark without seeing a mountain of empty water bottles, used tissues, juice containers, tea bags, blue bags, half-eaten schwarmas, cigarette butts, empty cigarette packs, Barbican bottles, dead butane lighters, tin cans, torn up bits of paper and…of course, the ubiquitous 10 SR STC phone card?
Naturally, it does no good to simply put up a sign saying “No littering.” You might as well put up a sign saying “No ants!” at your next desert kabsa BBQ.
No, an anti-littering ordinance would have to have serious consquences, much like the photo radar cameras that have struck fear into the hearts of red-light runners and speeders…well some of them anyway.
So there we have ‘em. Five fairly reasonable ideas that won’t cause major disruptions in the social fabric but could just make your life (and by “your” I mean “my”) a little more civilized.
Got your own ideas? Remember the two conditions.
The Ministry of Pretty Good Ideas awaits your input.
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