Smart Phone, Dumb Dating

I completely forgot about this story, fortunately I found it while sorting through some drafts. Enjoy!

About a month ago, I finally got my Iqama and was therefore able to get my own SIM card and my own phone. In Saudi, you can’t have your own cell phone without proper ID, and you can’t open a bank account without a registered phone number.

In addition to this inconvenience, I had also become really tired of trying to travel without access to a data plan to use for GPS and Uber summoning. So as soon as my Iqama was handed over, I arranged to go out and get fixed up with a smart phone and SIM. We determined that STC would be the phone company best for me, but headed first to Extra (the local equivalent of Best Buy) to get the phone itself.

Saudi only has three main phone manufacturers (though I swear I saw some really off off brand models in there too): Apple, Motorola and Samsung. I refuse to buy Apple products, this might make some of you stop following my blog, but such is life, I’ve eschewed Apple since the first Mac machines went up against my old Commodore.

I don’t have anything particular against Motorola, but I had a Galaxy back in the States and decided it would be easier and safer to go with something I knew I liked rather than try to research something new. I also tried to find out if the phones here are region locked, to see if I could simply get a new SIM when I go back to America or if the phone would be a brick. Like all else here, Inshalla, it’s not region locked, but there’s nothing I can do about it if it turns out to be.

Also, I covet the Google Nexus phablet that’s coming this Holiday season. So for these reasons, I decided to go with the Galaxy 3 rather than the 5 and saved myself a bunch of money, since unlocked phones are rather more expensive and there are no plan/contract discount packages here.

But what, Kaine, does this all have to do with dating?

Working on it. Having acquired my new (old) phone, we headed over to the STC office to get me a SIM. I begged my male co-worker to come in with me since he’d been through the process and I had no idea what I was doing. He was some help in this, but completely failed in his role as chaperon.

The (I will not preface the word with “gentle”) man who was assisting me to get registered started asking basic questions necessary for the process, confirming my name and employer. He noted, seeing my birth-date on my Iqama, that we were the same age and smiled at me. Then he asked if my co-worker was my husband.

I didn’t think too much of this at first, there’s a lot of legal connotations for married women here, and unlike a taxi or a restaurant, the SIM card was registered with the government and would be linked to my bank account once I got one. So, for the first time in a while, I had to tell the truth about it and admit that I was single.

This however may not have been a mere box tick on the registration form, because from this point the man became more and more forward with me. He continued to chat about things that were not relevant to the SIM process, made sure I knew he was single too, and talked a lot about how pretty I was. He also told me if I ever had any problems with the phone or service I was welcome to call him, giving me his name and a number.

When it came time to get the phone number set up, he made a special point to tell me he’d picked out a “good” number just for me. I’m not sure why it’s good (but I am sure that he took it home). My co-worker found the clumsy attempts at flirting as very funny, despite the fact that I told him it was his role to prevent these things from happening.

As we left, the man once again implored me to call him should I need anything.


We joked about it in the van on the way back to the hotel, marveling at how awkward the man was at flirtation. I pointed out that the men here have no chance to practice as boys and teens, let alone as adults, so it’s more or less constantly being hit on by your best friend’s 12 year old younger brother.

Sitting at home, slowly loading all my apps on to the new phone via wi-fi, watching Netflix and chatting online, my phone rings. I do not answer. I’ve programmed all the numbers for my co-workers already, and this is unrecognized, so I don’t answer. I do this in America, too. Admit it, so do you. Caller ID is magic.

Next, I get a text. It’s the man from the STC store. The text is just him identifying himself, presumably because he guessed I was screening my calls. I do not reply. Then he calls again. And I still don’t answer. It’s after sunset, by this point, so there is NO way he’s calling about anything related to a professional matter about my STC card.

So I block the number, and email my boss about the occurrence.

There’s this app called What’s App. It allows texting outside the phone’s text charges, presumably there are still places that have limited texting plans or this wouldn’t exist, plus it avoids any international phone charges. I’d heard of it in America on an NPR story as something that was gaining popularity in poorer countries.

It is very popular here. My company uses it to send out alerts to teachers en masse, so my boss had asked that I install it and set up an account as soon as I got my new phone, which I had done.

Screenshot_2014-11-14-08-50-21So then I get a message from the STC guy on What’s App. At something like 11pm. Way after hours. After not answering his calls or texts and blocking him once… I had to learn how to use the blocking function on What’s App rather faster than I anticipated.

Two phone calls, a couple texts, a What’s App and two blocks later, I finally managed to stop hearing from this guy. Talk about not being able to take a hint. My boss wanted us to go back to the store and report him, but unfortunately the male-coworker who needed to go with me (I’d need a man to intercede on my behalf) was extra busy for the next week, and honestly didn’t seem to take it as anything other than a joke.

But wait! There’s more.

What’s App apparently installs with the privacy settings on zero as a default. There wasn’t any kind of question or set up process that allowed me to set these before my profile went public!

10422161_10152399967446646_3074836361079130079_nI have no idea how people see public profiles on this thing. But I got several unwanted advances at ridiculous hours of the night before I finally managed to figure out the privacy settings and remove my profile photo and number from the public view.

This was the only one I saved a screenshot of before I just got fed up. When I posted about it on FB later, I realized how generally harmless it looks through Western cultural lenses.

People tried to commiserate with other stories of awkward hitting on or catcalling experiences, but I could tell they weren’t really getting the context of this behavior within Saudi.

I tried this metaphor:

“its really hard to express how far beyond normal skeezy cat calling this kind of thing is, like if the way a guy hit on a girl was to invite her out to kill someone’s grandparents with him, the behavior is not only illegal, in this culture, it is also morally repugnant”

It’s awful that women all over the world have to put up with being made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe by random men. It’s easy for us to sympathize with girls who get blatant offers for sex, graphic requests, invasive touching, or unsolicited dick pics because we all generally agree these things are not cool.
But trying to get people to understand that the STC man’s sad attempts at flirting and repeated calling, or this man’s kissy face emoticons have the same depth of skeeze within this culture, and that what I would have found funny, cute or at worst mildly annoying only a few months ago, now has the power to make me feel unsafe and uncomfortable.
This just goes to show it isn’t the act that makes something friendly/safe vs skeezy/gross it is the context. The next time a woman says that a comment or a catcall made her feel bad or in danger, don’t dismiss it as an attempted compliment or an innocent joke. Instead, realize that any behavior can be harassment if it’s invasive and unsolicited.



2 thoughts on “Smart Phone, Dumb Dating

  1. I totally agree with you. WhatsApp is hugely popular in Nigeria too but I deleted the app from my phone because any random guy can text, bother and irritate you. I didn’t know there was a blocking option though. But now that I know, I am still not keen on redownloading the app.

  2. Pingback: Bureaucracy Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SIM | Gallivantrix

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