Sunday, February 13, 2011

Newpaper Article - Valentines Day in Saudi Arabia

Florists told to avoid red as Valentine’s Day approaches


Flower shops and gift shops have been asked to remove all red items and heart-shaped gifts until after Valentine’s Day by the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia or Muttawa).

Celebration of the so-called day of love is frowned upon by authorities in the Kingdom.

Every year, Haia officials visit the shops a few days before Valentine’s Day, giving them instructions to remove all goods that have even the slightest hint of red, including roses, chocolate, wrapping paper and stuffed animals.

“We’re used to seeing Haia members a couple of days before Valentine’s Day asking us to put away all red items until after that day,” said Alan, a salesman at a gift shop.

“They also threaten that if we sell even one red rose or gift they will shut the shop down and get all the staff fired.”

Chocolate shops usually manage to make big sales the day before Valentine’s.

“Many young men come in a day before Valentine’s Day and ask for red chocolate boxes for the day of love,” said Hassan, a salesman at a chocolate shop in Rawda Street.

“They ask for heart-shaped chocolates in red heart-shaped boxes. If Haia men saw us selling those kinds of goods, they would stop our business, saying we are encouraging these young lovebirds.”

Members of the commission mobilize on the streets as part of a mission to trap couples who secretly meet in restaurants and cafés.

“I was so furious last year when I was having a romantic dinner at a restaurant in Jeddah. Haia men marched in and grabbed my husband by his arms and cornered him, while I was surrounded by a number of them asking both of us stupid questions,” said Sara Naseem, a 27-year-old college lecturer.

“I was horrified by how they ambushed us and treated us like we were doing something immoral and inappropriate in public.”

The ban on selling red flowers on Valentine’s Day could have a negative effect on profits, according to florist Alex.

“Our annual plan for Valentine’s Day to keep our profit stable is to sell red flowers and gifts from under the counter or behind closed doors,” he said.

“We don’t sell them to everyone, we only make secret deals with trustworthy people or tell open-minded people to keep ourselves safe. We raise the price from SR10 for a red rose to SR30 because it’s the high season for them.”

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