In a typical Saudi Arabian neighborhood, people tend to be very private about their home life. Sharing food is the best way to get in contact with your neighbors. You could bring a cake over, which might be big step, but they will receive it very well. Once they get to know you they will invite you to dinner. Especially during Ramadan, when the sun has gone down and they break their fasting (Iftar), neighbors will also come over and bring you leftover food or they will invite you to share it with them.
During a private invitation you should observe some basic etiquette rules: Take your shoes off when entering the house. Wait until you are seated, usually you will sit on the ground. Make sure that you don’t show your bare feet. Stand up whenever new persons arrive. Don’t use your left hand while eating. Try all food that is offered and show gratitude, joy and appreciation. “Mashallah” (“God has willed“) is an expression used a lot for praise. But don’t compliment things in the house too much because Saudis think that they have to give it to you as a gift. And last but not least, balance your talking time between genders: don’t talk for too long to the other gender. Maybe you even try to smoke a shisha. There is no marihuana in it and it‘s not as harmful as cigarettes.
In an expat compound, life will be different. You will have lots of international neighbors and live in your own little world. People are coming and going, so make sure that you are not too focused on just a few people that might leave soon.
Besides, expats can make new friends by joining one of the many local groups of international networks. Internations.org for example offers active groups that are usually half foreigners and half Saudis. Meetup.com is also useful to find groups according to your personal interests. After December 2019, expat spouses in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to work anymore. Therefore, there are many groups just for spouses, who are offering a variety of activities as well as support and advice.
Without doubt, there are many things to see in Saudi Arabia. Historical sites, mosques, monuments, and museums are everywhere and the government is committed to promoting its cultural heritage by organizing events and festivals. Cultural experiences and tourism are on the rise, while travelling around by car on the well maintained roads and highways is not an issue at all.
Outdoor activities range from mountain hiking to theme parks. Saudi Arabs also love to go to the desert for a picnic. Usually it will start late in the evening when it is cooler. They put carpets on the ground to sit and cook food on a campfire. These picnics take lots of hours while people talk, share food and smoke shisha. You most likely will get invited to such a trip out and you should definitely accept.
You can also make use of an abundance of green spaces, beaches, recreation centers, gyms, and pools. Just be informed about dress codes. Furthermore, there are lots of activities that you can join via the local networks mentioned already.
However, certain things you are used to as a Westerner you might be missing in Saudi Arabia. For example, there are no concerts, no public gatherings, no bars or pubs or dancing parties to go to and also no Christian church communities. But, as mentioned already, people meet up in private houses. There are even Christian prayer groups taking place in private places. As one can’t be too open about this, it is most important to get to know a lot of people privately to get invited!
Many expats though opt for frequent breaks in Dubai or Bahrain every couple of weeks. These international metropolises are much more open than the Saudi cities. You are going to find restaurants with cuisine from every country around the world as well as any kind of activity that you want. Although you can’t drink alcohol in public either, there is a nightlife taking place in hotels or nightclubs and as a foreigner you are allowed to buy it. As a couple you also won’t be asked to show your marriage license.