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Safety advice for Oman

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Safety advice for Oman

Just returned from a 3 day trip to Oman (mainly muscat but we also drove to Jebel Shams via Nizwa on our final day in the country) with my sister. We are 2 mid-twenties English girls.

Despite dressing conservatively (loose, long clothes with wrists to necks to ankles covered, hair tied back) we did have a few uncomfortable situations so I thought I would post advice here for other travellers as everything we had read said Oman was 'very safe'.

My advice would be to avoid taxis wherever possible, which is easier said than done as there is no public transport. I think that the reason many people talk about the country being so safe is that many people rent cars however, this wasn't possible for us.

We always sat in the backseat and agreed prices from the start but quite a few of the drivers made us feel uncomfortable, asking if we had husbands and other personal questions like how much our hotel cost a night etc.-(not in a friendly way either).

The worst incident was when our driver to Jebel Shams who had seemed quiet and safe the whole trip- we had barely spoken to him or he to us so there is no suggestion we gave the wrong signals-asked in broken English if he could come up to our hotel room to get changed, indicating his clothes, when he dropped us home in the evening. We were taken aback and said no sorry as we had checked out already and then swiftly made our escape inside the lobby however I now regret apologising and wish we had said just how inappropriate and offensive this suggestion was!

Since coming back I have done some research and wish I had read these links before going so thought I would leave them here to advise other women to be even more vigilant than we were-if at all possible rent your own car!!

…blogspot.co.uk/2010/…

muscatmutterings.com/2010/…

It is such as shame as it soured our trip to what is actually a beautiful country. Many of the people we met were genuinely helpful and harmless but I feel it is potentially dangerous to insist that the country is so safe when there are still many dangers, even when taking all precautions advised.

Hope this helps-it is not designed to scare but just to help you to be more informed.

Muscat, Oman
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1. Re: Safety advice for Oman

Having lived in the Sultanate for 25 years, I know the place pretty well. Ten or fifteen years ago, you would not have had stories like yours to tell. The situation has changed for a couple reasons. First, some five or six years ago there was a royal decree reserving taxi driving positions for Omani nationals only (The Indians and Pakistanis who used to make up the bulk of taxi drivers in the country would have never dared do such a thing.) . Omanis figure they can get away with it. Second, I'm afraid, too many Western women have paraded around -- especially in the Interior -- wearing far too little too often. By definition, women exposing skin is as good as advertising that you're a call girl or worse. You said you were wearing your hair back, but you didn't mention a scarf. Covering the hair in a Muslim country is very, very important, almost as important as covering skin, if you're out and about alone or with another woman. A scarf, or better, an actual "hijab" would have taken care of the problem. I'm sorry you had the experience that you did, for the country really is a wonderful place.

Washington DC...
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2. Re: Safety advice for Oman

I am sorry to hear of your uncomfortable situations.

Please forgive me if this comes off as discounting your experiences or blaming the victim, as neither is my intention. These are just some thoughts that come to my mind.

Unfortunately we, as Westerners, sometimes don't understand how the vibes that we send off will be received by people who are used to a different type of inter-gender interaction. Even if you think that you are being conservative and reserved, sometimes there are little things that are just received differently. I would disagree with gecko that you need to wear a hijab or other head covering (as more and more Omani women are even shedding them now, with the hijab being worn largely due to the cultural symbol), though I do think that visitors should cover up better. It really isn't uncommon to see shoulders and knees, even in the interior. While this dress pretty much never leads to a direct negative encounter, it contributes to a perception of foreign women being more sexual.

Omani women take taxis as well, but taxi drivers know that they aren't interested in more than the taxi ride. If there is ever confusion, a stern demeanor and quick responses hammer it home. Believe it or not, even foreign guys (ask me how I know) are occasionally confronted with similarly uncomfortable remarks. That said, after living in Oman for years (yes, I owned a car. Before that, though, I regularly took taxis and hitchhiked), I can only think of one truly uncomfortable experience in which I had to go beyond my initial response (and that was hitchhiking in a rougher area of town than any visitor would ever go).

Avoiding taxis as a solo female is a decent idea. My female friends here in Washington D.C. do the same thing. However, I wouldn't agree with avoiding them altogether. A large number of taxi drivers are actually mid level government workers who live outside of Muscat and use their taxis as a way to make some extra cash while in town during the week. If you use taxis from a hotel, while more expensive, they are more likely to understand Western behavior and not be doing anything to jeopardize their ability to work out of the hotels. In addition, I have found younger taxi drivers to handle Westerners better and also not try to rip us off as much. I would also disagree with gecko on the worsening of conduct by Omani taxi drivers. Putting aside the Omanization discussion, Omanis are just generally pleasant and non confrontational (and perhaps even docile). Sure, they may think that they can get away with more than a migrant driver, but they have more to lose. Reputation is key in a society like Oman. If one ever feels truly uncomfortable, you just need to get the attention of another Omani or say that you will call the police. This will either make them consider the societal ramifications, or engage another Omani who will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable in their country.

It is also worth mentioning that discourse can be different in Oman. Questions about being married are often innocent (though really annoying). I know that it is different for women, and that is why some women choose to wear a fake wedding ring (as they do not only in the rest of the Middle East, but a number of other regions as well). Something like asking to come up to a hotel room is way out of line, but also don't assume that other comments were leading in a harmful direction. Certainly get out of a situation if you ever feel uncomfortable, but know that, when in Oman, you are usually very safe. I know that there are anecdotes about bad taxi experiences, it is the same as bad hotel reviews. Sure, people had bad encounters, but how often do good taxi encounters get published? The odds are in your favor. Not to mention the MM link makes it seem like the woman was sitting in the front seat (while I can never condone the driver's behavior, women shouldn't sit in the front seat of taxis).

I am sorry if you feel that we misled you with our comments about safety in Oman and if it led to your bad experiences. I do, however, stand by the advice that we give and hope that it will be kept in mid while also following one's own comfort levels and situational awareness. Hopefully you can revisit Oman at some point and not have to deal with these bad situations again.

3. Re: Safety advice for Oman

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