Saturday, February 10, 2007


I wish bill payment were as easy here as in the UK. Direct Debits and on-line payment facilities are positioned on Saudi Arabia's technological radar roughly where hovercars and "Jaunt Belts" (who else remembers The Tomorrow People?) are on yours and mine.

I expect you pay your mobile phone bill by Direct Debit, you may have a standing order on your bank account for the annual home insurance premium, and for several other things you can rely on the Post Office's payment collection services -- luxury.

I suppose I'm not helping matters by continuing to use a UK bank account while I'm here. I have opened a Saudi account, but trying to transfer money to it from the UK is a financial quagmire of forms, charges, and restrictions. Far easier -- but alas I fear, more expensive in the long run -- is to simply withdraw cash from my UK account at an ATM, and then use that to pay my bills.

I received a letter about my car insurance the other day, which is now due for renewal as it is a year since I bought the Prado and took out the policy. Their offer of accepting payment by bank transfer or cheque is no use to me, as my Saudi account never has anything in it, so it's the good old fallback of hard cash once again. So now I have to phone the person who wrote to me from the insurance company, arrange a date and time for me to visit, obtain directions to their offices in Riyadh, then go at the appointed time with my cash and sit across the desk from a man who will take about thirty minutes to scrutinise my policy details, the letter, my money, my face, the weather outside, and his mobile phone (for texts from his mates), then finally send me on my way with new insurance documents for the second year, and at least two hand-written receipts each with three rubber stamps. I may spend all day tomorrow on this.

Likewise I travelled to the local Mobily office this morning to pay the childrens' mobile phone bills. I haven't seen either bill. Instead I am informed that the bill needs paying by Abigail telling me she can no longer send text messages. Luckily there is a Mobily office in the DQ, so just a couple of minutes by car. As I sat across the desk while the clerk, in full Arab dress, got on with his scrutinising, my eyes wandered around the showroom/office at all the advertising posters and leaflets (I had actually brought a book with me in anticipation of a long wait, but thought it rude to open it at this point). A couple of things interested me. First, the image of a smart-looking laptop on his desk calendar showing Mobily's website had clearly been doctored.

The laptop was an Apple Macintosh Powerbook -- chosen no doubt because of its elegant silvery looks, yet the screen was a shot of Windows XP, Start button 'n' all. A good example of an Ad Dept.'s desire to show the most attractive image they can; a sleek laptop showing a familiar screenshot, regardless of its technical innacuracy and misrepresentation. The other thing that made me smile was this flyer:

Since images of women (and often children too) are banned here, leaflets like this that would otherwise help to sell their wares by radiating female beauty are instead covered with hairy blokes chatting with each other on the phone.

The clerk's eagle-eyed attention to customer service was a credit to him. He'd noticed me turning the desk calendar over in my hands, and as he gave me my six receipts he also produced another desk calendar for me to take home, and as an added bonus threw in a Mobily wall planner. Of course by now -- wall planner, desk calendar, six receipts, the flyer, my book -- I needed a Mobily carrier bag to lug it all home in. Not only do they make you travel to them so that you can pay them, they send you out a walking ad campaign!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Guess what - just to upset you some more - you no longer have to go to the Post Office to send mail! As long as you have a kitchen weighing scales, you can print off your own stamps and lables to anywhere in the world direct from their web site. Sample to be sent soon............