The major upside to moving to strange new places is that everyone you meet usually has something interesting to share. I’ve all but given up learning Arabic, so the majority of the people I’ve met are western expatriates, most of whom hail from either the States or Great Britain.
They cover every gamut of society, and they’re generally very friendly people. Life on a compound is conducive to meeting new people, and the opportunity for socializing is quite large. The downside to compound life is the monotony of living in close quarters with the same people, most of which have differing priorities, personalities, and tastes. Not to worry though. The expat social network within the Kingdom as a whole is very large. A relatively uncomplicated system of emails, texts, and word of mouth will usually get you where you want to go without too much pain in the wallet. But, for its size, it can actually be quite daunting at times to find out exactly what’s going on. Finding out information about certain events can be a formidable task. People here are usually warm and welcoming to most of the people they meet, but it isn’t all that uncommon to find people unwilling to share information about upcoming get-togethers or generally viewing new acquaintances with a bit of suspicion. Having this sort of social code isn’t all that strange; most big cities or communities have certain cultural norms about holding gatherings and inviting guests. What makes it interesting here in the Kingdom is that everything is underground, and, although the likelihood of getting in trouble with the law is relatively slim, precautions are necessary to make sure everyone has a good time.
I’ve had fairly good luck in finding things to occupy my time, though most of it has been blind luck on my part. I’ve simply managed to meet the right people at the right time. Once I started mingling with more expats outside my compound I started making acquaintances with good connections that have been able to show me some of what the more discrete side of the Kingdom has to offer.
This past Saturday evening I was invited to tag along with a Brit friend to a British trade gathering for British Multinational Corporations at the British Console General’s house in Khobar. Interestingly enough, it centered on educational opportunities to enhance business opportunities, but it was clearly not the place for an American elementary school teacher to be hanging around. Thankfully, I had come straight from work and had a tie in my bag so I at least I didn’t stand out too much. When the Brit and I arrived we put his friend’s business cards in the name badges we were given, and set out to find a few people we knew. As a foreign diplomat’s place or residence, the police turn a blind eye to what goes on there. Also, foreign dignitaries and their convoys are not checked at border crossings, which means they can discretely import just about anything they’d like. The point of this little party was to establish business connections, but in reality most people showed up for the booze. It’s free and all you can drink, courtesy of the U.K. Taxpayer.
After finding our ‘employer’ in the crowd, we settled into a corner of the courtyard, befriended one of the waiters (with a healthy tip of course), and enjoyed more than our fair share of pints of real beer. We spent the evening talking about living here while avoiding all the small conversations random passers-by would try to engage us in. At the end of the night we bought a small bottle of whiskey off the waiter and continued on to the Brit’s apartment. Teaching first period at school Sunday morning was a little rough, but it was well worth the experience.