Anyone been to Oman?(24 Posts)
knew someone that was once expat out there and she didn't have good tales to tell: women needed accompanying by man in public or else could be arrested etc etc...
Have no first hand experience of Oman but found this for you and hope it helps. Sorry it's so long.
Here is my humble - and very general - guide, based on my own experience of travel in the region, from Saudi Arabia to Syria to Turkey ... and elsewhere. Having been a solo woman traveller myself, I understand the anxieties expressed by many on this board. Fortunately, however, I also understand that most of these fears are unfounded.
Bear in mind that there is much of the ME that I have never been to, and that the advice below is based only on my personal experiences. Therefore, please feel free to add to, contradict, or debate anything I have said. All in the name of well-informed travel!
Will I be safe?
Nowhere is 100% safe. However, the ME in general is not a dangerous place for the traveller, and, while petty crime can be an issue, random violent crime against women seems to be very rare - probably much rarer than in most Western cities.
Will I get hassled?
Quite possibly. While you need have no particular worries about personal security, sexual harrassment can be a problem. Reports of hassle vary widely, but it seems to be at its worst in parts of Egypt and Turkey, much more low-key in Jordan. Everywhere you go, you can expect to be the object of great attention and curiosity, and may well have to deal with a few incidences of being followed or prepositioned. However, it should get no worse than that.
But what if it does?
As anywhere in the world, the best response to harrassment is no response. Remember that it is most certainly NOT acceptable for a man to harass a woman anywhere in the ME. Therefore, if you do feel that a situation is getting out of hand, by all means elicit the support of those around you (this is another area where modest dress will help you win friends and influence people!) No need to shout or scream - just calmly point out the offender to some bystanders, and it is very likely they will put him in his place. In societies where notions of 'shame' and 'honour' are paramount, public disgrace can be a potent weapon: use it!
How can I avoid hassle?
The first priority is to dress reasonably (see below). However, even if you're wearing a Saudi style abaya, it won't help much unless you also behave appropriately. On the street, do as local women do and try not to make any eye contact with men. Sunglasses can be a great help here. In your interactions with men (and most of the people you deal with will be men) be polite but reserved. Never volunteer the information that you are travelling alone: if asked, say you are with friends or a group, though you may not be believed.
Be especially careful not to smile or giggle too much - what seems to you to be an 'innocent' smile might well be misconstrued as a sexual invitation. Try to keep conversations 'business-like', and do NOT allow yourself to be steered towards matters of a more personal nature. Never EVER allow a man to touch you: while Arabs may be quite tactile with members of the same sex, it is absolutely not on for a man to touch an unrelated woman, even 'accidentally'. If a man touches you, however 'innocently', let him know in no uncertain terms that you consider his behaviour inappropriate, and extricate yourself from the situation asap.
This need for caution is a pity, because in countries where the public sphere tends to be male-dominated, men may be your only point of contact with the local culture. It needs to be pointed out, of course, that by no stretch of the imagination do all - or even most - local men have 'dishonourable intentions' towards you. Those dealing with tourists, should, in addition, be aware that just because a woman may be willing to chat to a man does not (neccessarily) mean she is also willing to sleep with him! Also, throughout the ME, people are naturally friendly and talkative, loving nothing better than to pass the time chatting with foreigners. In general, however, it pays for solo women to err on the side of caution.
What should I wear?
The No. 1 question from women travellers on this board! Unless you're going to Iran or Saudi Arabia, you are in fact free to wear whatever you wish - and many travellers do just that. In touristy parts of Egypt, the UAE, and Turkey, you will see plenty of foreign women dressed in skimpy shorts and sleevless tops, and, in many places you will also see some local ladies dressed less than 'modestly'. Outside of the above mentioned countries, nobody is going to arrest you for showing too much flesh, but you might like to consider the impression you are making. While modest dress will not in itself guarantee you won't be hassled, it will at least reduce the chances that you will be seen as a 'foreign floozy' by all and sundry.
So, what's a gal to wear? No need for the 'hippy look': you will notice how many Arab women manage to dress both modestly and stylishly at the same time. Local women pay a lot of attention to their appearance: often you will see women so fashionably dressed that it barely registers that they are in fact covered from head to toe! T-shirts or blouses which extend at least to the elbow are fine, as are loose skirts or trousers (preferably full-length but at least knee-length). If your trousers are a little on the tight side, take a tip from local women and wear a long blouse or jacket which covers the behind. High heels are acceptable, but not terribly practical!
Do I need to cover my head?
All women are expected to cover their heads when entering mosques. However, with the exception (again!) of Iran and Saudi Arabia, foreign women - and local women, for that matter - are under no obligation whatsoever to wear a headscarf. In fact, unless you are a Muslim and are used to the headscarf, covering your head is likely to make you the object of more, not less, attention. While some people might appreciate your desire to 'show respect for local customs' the majority are more likely to see the gesture as rather eccentric, particularly as many local Muslim women have never worn a headscarf in their lives!
I've got long blonde hair. Should I dye it/ cover it/ chop it off?
Another TTME classic! In parts of the ME - such as Syria or Turkey - it's not unusual to come across locals with fair hair and blue eyes. Also, many Middle Eastern women dye their hair all shades of blonde or red. While it's true that blondes stand out from a crowd, your hair colour is not likely to be an issue in itself: foeign women (such as myself!) who have dark hair and dress modestly are still instantly recognised as foreigners. Whatever your hair colour or style of dress, as a solo woman traveller you are sure to attract a certain amount of attention.
I plan to travel alone. What will people think of this?
In ultra-conservative countries like Saudi Arabia, no respectable woman would make even the most routine trip without an escort. Things are not so extreme in the rest of the ME, but it is still unusual for women to undertake even short journeys unaccompanied. Arabs tend to be very sociable people who find it hard to understand why anyone - particularly a woman - would actually choose to travel alone. It's not that they disapprove of what you're doing, it's just that they find it distinctly odd! Rather than tut-tut at you, they are much more likely to pity you, alone in the big bad world without a man to protect you! Which brings us on to...
If people ask if I'm married (I'm not) what should I say?
"Are you married?" is invariably the first question any woman over the age of 18 gets asked in the Middle East! Although things are changing, in most parts of the Arab world, all but the most sophisticated women marry early - usually in their early 20s, but often in their late teens. While many Middle Easterners know that social norms are different in the West, they still find it very strange to meet a woman over the age of 25 or so who seems happy to remain single. Once again, it's not that they disapprove of you, more that they pity you!
Rather than deal with all this bafflement and unwanted pity, many women invent a hubby who is "resting back at the hotel"! Which, of course, will lead onto the inevitable follow-up questions: "Do you have children? No? Why not?" (try responding to their concern with "Insh'allah" "God willing") Some women go so far as to get a cheap gold band or even produce photos of their 'husband' to add credence to their claims of being lawfully wed.
To lie or not to lie? It all comes down to a personal choice. As well as fobbing off unwanted pity, some women say that a fictitious hubby scares off would-be suitors, though others say that men in more touristy areas are 'wise' to the scam and will not take your 'married' claims seriously.
I'm travelling with a male friend. Should I lie and say he's my husband or brother?
Again, entirely up to you. Many more traditional Middle Easterners aren't familiar with the concept of 'platonic friendships' between men and women, nor do they have 'boyfriends' or 'girlfriends' in anything approaching the Western sense. If you are dealing with people like this, you might find it more diplomatic to lie about your relationship with your travelling companion: it's not that the truth will get you into trouble, just that a little white lie might make things less complicated. However, younger, more sophisticated Middle Easterners will have no problem with the idea of your travelling with an unrelated man, and there is no need to invent any 'wedding bells' in this company!
Sure you're not getting muddled up with Amman in Jordan, Sophable? Oman is supposed to be pretty relaxed - women hold all sorts of jobs, go out and drive alone etc etc. In fact, just had a meeting with someone who has been there a lot and he said it is fabulous.
one of my mum's colleagues lived there as an expat and there was a raid on a supermarket by religious police and all women had to be 'claimed' by their accompanying male or they were taken off....her husband had to 'claim' about six of them!
One of my friends lives out there with her two little ones, Willow2, she loves it. If you've got an specific questions, CAT me and I'll get in touch with her.
I live in Oman (came here with hubby's job) and it could be me that tribpot is reffering too. We have been here since Jan 2005 and we absolutely love it!
The Omani people are warm and friendly, the scenery is breathtaking, it's a great place to explore with or without kids. The Omanis love kids. I find it very safe (and much safer than the UK) and have no problem with going out on my own to the shops etc or with groups of women friends. I have found no hostility whatsoever towards westerners or others. You need to be mindful of certain things like dress code (i.e no shorts and vest tops in public places but fine at the beach. You don't need to be fully covered or wear a head scarve.
They are a pretty laid back population out here. There is a very large number of expats
here which means that you can buy or get most of the things you might want or need.
Are you thinking of coming here on holiday or to live? Because if you are I would really recommend it, it's a fab place. I would be happy to provide some info about places to stay and visit. It is still quite hot here - we are basking in about 35 degs at the moment (bit better than the summer when temps hit about 48 degs!!) and soon the temps will go down to a more pleasant 20-25 degs.
Please, if there is anything you want to know, just ask.
my SIL lives there with her two little ones - tribpot, I wonder if we are talking about the same person ?? she is very happy there, was only supposed to be there 2 years, but her dh has had his contract extended.
Hee hee, Omani women of mystery! No golds, I don't think our mutual friend can be the same person - mummy2005 is my friend and she's only been out there since October last year. Incidentally, mummy2005 has been lurking since I sent her the thread on "ways to tell if you're not an earth mother" which still has me in hysterics.
Still, glad to know the ladies are enjoying life out there!
How very exciting - it looks like we are coming out for Christmas to stay with dh's boss who is from Oman but lives in the UK mostly. We will have ds - 6 - with us; he is really into "ancient" stuff at the moment... and keen to get on a camel and see a dolphin (had had to explain that giant squids probably not a possibility). I have also explained that we will write to Father Christmas to let him know where we will be! I think we will be based in Muscat but not really sure just yet. Any tips you can give would be most appreciated, eg, what should we make sure to see; are there any local customs should be aware of (although am sure hosts will fill us in); are t-shirts and longish shorts (below knee) ok? Have to say, I'm not one for skimpy dressing so doesn't sound as though have too much to worry about! Also, what will weather be like around then?
How nice! Christmas will be a lovely time to be here as the weather is really nice round about 20-25 degrees, it will probably get chilly at night so bring cardigans and pashminas or buy them in teh old Souk here (very cheap).
The rule about dress code is keep your shoulders and above the knee covered and don't wear tight and revelaing clothes in public. Keep swimming costumes for the beach and pool. To be honest with you the Omanis are very polite so they wouldn't say anything to you if you did wear skimpy clothes but you'd have lots of people staring at you. One thing you probably don't know is that most of the service industry - i.e shops, hotels, restaurants, house maids are run by Indians/Pakistanis/Sri Lankans/Philippinos so you will see lots of different nationalities here.
The Omani ladies wear an Abaya (kind of a long black coat and head scarf) and if you look closely you will start to notice how glamarously dressed they are underneath the Abaya. The men wear a Dish Dash (like a big white floor length kaftan) and a little hat on their head (can't remeber the name). English is widely spoken so you'll have no problems.
For your DS you must go Dolphin Watching - we went with BlueZone Dive Centre and we saw so many dolphins. There is a Children's Museum, costs about 30p to go in and it's really intersting for kids and adults. There is the Natural History museum, not been but my DD went on a school trip and they loved it. There are other museums like the Omani Museum and military museum. I have been on a camel out here but it was in Dubai and not Oman though I am sure you will be able to find one! Bloody awful things if you ask me and pretty terrifying being up there, but again my DD loved it! The diving is good here and the off road exploring is fab!
If you are staying in the boss' house they may expect you to eat with the women and your husband and DS to eat with the men, and maybe eat with your hands, if you are really lucky they might kill a goat in your honour!! However I guess this will depend on how westernised he is.
It really is a beautiful country and really interesting, and I really really hope you have a fantastic time because we absolutely love it.
We, unfortunately will be spending our Christmas at home in the UK so we will be the ones freezing while you are enjoying the beautiful temperatures out here.
If there is anything else you want to know about, just ask as I can go on for ages about Oman. And you must tell me how you found it when you come back.
Hiya - thank you for your prompt response! DH's boss is based in the UK but is just going home for the holidays - more westernised than I am, I reckon, although appreciate that there might be a night or two when it's a boys thing.
Clothes wise, so t-shirts and cropped trousers (3/4 length type things) should be ok? Also, should I forget the bikini and just take swimsuits? Am just panicking as not exactly the time to go summer shopping now over here.
Have been surfing the net and spotted a couple of desert excursions - think ds would love to spend the night out there in a tent!
Also, what's the cost of living? Is it quite high?
sorry for the delay!
You'll be fine with t-shirts and 3/4 length trousers and you'll also be fine with bikinis for the beach and pool. Maybe bring a costume just in case you feel you want to cover a bit more at any time. don't wait to come here to buy cossies and summer clothes, as, beleive it or not, there are wooly hats and scarves in the shops here - bizarre! It's 35 degrees today and I've just been to Next and Mothercare and they have all the winter clothes in, it's mad!
You'll have to do some excursions, we are off to Ras al haad (about 4 hours from Muscat) for the weekend to see the turtles - you can watch them lay eggs and see the newborns make their quest for the sea, can't wait!
Re the cost of living, I would say it's on a par with the uk. Things like fruit and veg is cheap and comes from all over the world. UK brand food is quite expensive. Eating out can be quite expensive, mainly to do with the cost of alcohol, at the big hotel restaurants expect to pay about £20-30 per head, but there are lots of other good fairly cheap resturants and we also have McDonalds, Starbucks, Costa, KFC, Pizza Hut when you ened some good old junk food!
When do you think you are coming and for how long?
You're not a burglar are you? My brother will be staying in my house and he's built like a brick xxxx house!
I shall attest that mummy2005 is not a burglar Willow - and I will hopefully be meeting up with her when she's back, so can keep an eye on her in case she decides to take it up
Also, what about swimming in wadis (spelling?) am I supposed to go in fully clothed
Hello tribpot! When are you coming for a visit here? Will let you know my dates for being home so we can plan our get together.
No, Willow, I'm no burglar, I was just seeing if you would be here after we return in December. Would be happy to meet up and chat if you fancied it. Anyway, I'll have no energy for breaking and entering as we'll be spending all our time visiting friends and family when we are back home (and your bro sounds a bit scarey)!!
we are just back from seeing the turtles at Ras al Haad which was fab. You got to the beach at 9 o'clock at night and the guides take you to the turtles. Whilst it was an absolutely wonderful experience to see them, it was a bit unsettling as there were a lot of people there and many people were using flash photography and torches (we were told not too) and touching them. Our highlight was that we saw some little turltes come out of the sand and the guides told us to take them to the water, to give them a better chance of getting tehre without getting eaten by crabs/birds etc, my DD was in raptures. Mind you there were loads of crabs on the beach so hope our little on made it.
Anyway, on to your question. I would recommend that you are covered when you swim in the wadis as there will probably be Omanis there and they'll have a good stare if they see too much flesh!! We went to Wadi Shab today on our way back from the turtles. Beautiful wadi, full of water all year (not all of them are), we also like wadi Dayqah. There is a book called Oman Explorer that you might find useful, just recently published. We also have a book "off road in Oman". It's over 10 years old so can be a bit interesting at times as they give you instructions on how to get to places and some of the pointers have long since disappeared, good job we like a bit of exploring!!
Keep the questions coming.
I think I'll put together a list of what I would consider to be the best 10 things to see and do and post it here for you, but I'm off to the Grand Mosque on Sunday so I'll post after that as I'm sure it will be on the list.
HIya, turtle experience sounds fab, but would be equally concerned about lights and flash photography. My brother (yes, the same one) was involved in turtle hatchery management or whatever you call it (he's a marine biologist) for a bit out in Egypt, so have some idea just how fragile and dangerous their word is when they are little.
Back to Wadis - covered? How? Swimsuit? Long shorts and t-shirt? How do you swim fully clothed, don't you just drown?
PS: DIdn't really think you were a burglar.
PPS: Re Oman meet up (how mad would that be?) think it will probably be difficult as don't know what our hosts have planned for our stay. Maybe we should swap numbers by cat mail though, just in case. How old are your kid(s)?
re the turtles, I suspect your brother might be horrified if he had seen how some people were behaving.
Yeah, the wadi - just take a lightweight t-shirt and shorts with you. You won't sink! By the way, the kids can wear anything, the covered up rules don't apply to children. Maybe take some kind of shoe that you can swim in too as the wadis are normally quite stoney, I usually forget and am the mad woman hopping around going "ooh ahh oooh ahh"
Just a little aside, whilst Oman is a beautiful country the people have not had it drilled into them (like we have) to not litter so don't be surprised to see rubbish around (and possibly floating in the wadi and the beach), it's a real shame but the message is slowly being put across.
We didn't swim in the wadi today as there were a lot of Omani men around and it's Ramadan so we are not supposed to flash the flesh. Instead we went to a beautiful quiet beach where the water was soooo blue and I just had a cossie on (my friend had a bikini on).
My kids are: DD 3.5 and DS 13months, so a bit younger than yours I think? No idea what Cat mail is but I was thinking that if you needed any assistance and your hosts weren't available then I could be a contact for you should the need arise and of course it would be fun (and mad) to meet up if the opportunity arose! It's ok I'm no mad woman - tribpot can supply references, she put me on to this site and this is the only time I've posted as it's a subject I know something about.
Anyway it's nearly 10pm here and we are knackered after the turtles so I'll say goodnight and look forward to answering any other questions you have.
Happy to confirm mummy2005 is no more insane than the rest of us (although not entirely sure what that means ).
CAT is 'contact another talker', have a look at the link at the top under 'useful stuff'. You just need to make sure your preferences are set to allow people to contact you via CAT. In fact, I might do that now just to see what happens.
Re: visiting Oman ourselves, well some other friends of mine are about to move to Barbados Am really most annoyed at you lot moving to glam locations now that I have a little one who can barely cope with the flight to Amsterdam, never mind further afield.
HI mummy2005 - will cat you so you should get an email from me sooner or later. x
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