In conservative kingdom, Saudi youth use technology to flirt
By Associated Press
Published August 12, 2005
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The restaurant, like all Riyadh eateries, has taken precautions to prevent its male and female diners from seeing or contacting each other.
White walls surround each table in the family section, open only to women alone or women with close male relatives. Other male diners are on lower floors.
Despite the barriers, men and women flirt and exchange phone numbers, photos and kisses.
They elude the mores imposed by the kingdom's puritanical Wahhabi version of Islam - formulated in the 18th century - by using a 21st century device in their mobile phones: the wireless Bluetooth technology that permits users to connect without going through the phone company.
"It's more fun coming to a restaurant these days," said Mona, 21, as her two friends giggled. Their Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones rested on the table.
"I've been using Bluetooth since it came out last year. We're always looking for new things to add a spark to life," Reem, 24, told the Associated Press.
The women would not give their full names when talking about communicating with the opposite sex - so strong is the taboo in this kingdom where men and women are strictly segregated. Unrelated men and women caught talking to each other, driving in the same car or sharing a meal risk being detained by the religious police.
But connecting by Bluetooth is safe and easy. Users activate the Bluetooth function in their phone and then press the search button to see who else has the feature on within a 30-foot range.
They get a list of ID names of anyone in the area - names, mostly in Arabic, often chosen to allure: poster boy, sensitive girl, lion heart, kidnapper of hearts, little princess, prisoner of tears. Some are more suggestive, like "nice to touch" and "Saudi gay club."
Users then click on a name to communicate with that person.
There is little the government can do to control Bluetooth use. Last year, it banned camera-equipped phones, but backed off because cameras have become a feature in most phones.
For many Saudi youths, who have almost nowhere to meet members of the opposite sex, the technology is replacing a favorite method of flirting: throwing phone numbers at women through car windows or in shopping malls.
For the most part, the messages are innocent. But for this conservative society, it is pretty bold stuff.