Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social Darwinism is kickin' my butt over here!!

The expat social scene for non-compound dwellers in Saudi Arabia is kind of like a form of Social Darwinism: if you can master the art of the Saudi phone call, you survive.

According to that theory, it's a miracle that I have made any friends at all in this country. I have not been able to outsmart the tricks of making a phone call in Saudi Arabia. I have been able to give other people my phone number, have them plug those exact digits into their phone, and they call me with no issue. But if the process is reversed, I get the "Dear customer, the phone number you entered cannot be completed as dialed" message! WHAT GIVES!?

Here's what I know:

  • cell phones can not call land lines in Saudi Arabia. At least that is what we were told and that has been our experience so far.
  • some land lines cannot call some cell phones in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, it depends on the phone service provider of the mobile phone. This makes no sense to me and I don't care enough to find out for myself.
  • land line phone numbers start with a 3. But sometimes you have to dial it as a 03.
  • mobile phone numbers start with a 5. But sometimes they start with a 05. Sometimes they start with a 55, or a 055, or a 050.
  • The entire system is ridiculously infuriating!
Here's how it usually goes when I try to call a new phone number here.

Step 1: dial the phone number exactly as it appears on the business card or whatever.

Step 2: get the "call cannot be completed as dialed" message.

Step 3: add the 966 country code.

Step 4: repeat step 2

Step 5: add country code followed by a zero and then the phone number exactly as it appears

Step 6: repeat step 2 and plot revenge on the annoyingly perky guy that recorded the message

Step 7: plus sign, country code, 05 and then the phone number

Step 8: repeat step 2 as you begin to understand why it's so freaking impossible for non-compound dwellers to make friends in this country.

Step 9: eliminate country code, add a 0 and then dial number exactly as it appears.

Step 10: repeat step 2 and try not to throw the phone across the room.

Step 11: no country code, add 050 and then phone number

Step 12: repeat step 2 and fight the murderous rage that is quickly growing in your chest

Step 13: no country code, no zeros, just the phone number.

Step 14: repeat step 2 through painfully gritted teeth

Step 15: forget that you completed step 1 and repeat it accidentally

Step 16: inexplicably complete the call as dialed while wondering if it's medically possible for a head to literally explode from simultaneous high levels of frustration, confusion, and cell phone radio waves.

I should mention that every time I try this process, it's a different experience. Kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but a LOT less fun. Sometimes the Mister and I trade phones, even though we have the same cell service provider. Like maybe the phone number just doesn't like my Android and will prefer his Blackberry instead. We've found the most effective way to avoid giving ourselves a brain aneurysm from the anger of trying to deal with this whole mess is to make the person just plug their own digits into our phones and do the old I'm-calling-you-right-now-tell-me-if-it-works thing. Otherwise, if we forget (or don't want to seem so desperate for new friends that we say, "Hey can you just put your number in my phone... I swear I'm not hitting on you I just can't seem to complete a call as dialed...") we just have to hope we run into that person again at one of the many expat-centered gatherings that pop up from time to time. 

Vicariously yours,


  1. You made it sound so complicated.

    1. It IS complicated!! If you know a simpler way, PLEASE let me know!