by Shaban Rashid (Saudi Expat Living In Riyadh)
I expect my story might not please the majority of readers here, but I speak out what I think not what people like to hear though.
I have been living in Saudi Arabia since October 2010. I have lived in five cities so far; Riyadh, Albaha, Alkharj, Sabia, and Jazan.
I am lucky that I speak Arabic and now understand the Saudi culture to a greater extent than someone who doesn’t. I watch Saudi TV, read Saudi papers, and talk to Saudis of a variety of backgrounds, age groups and social statuses.
What is really sad for me is that millions of expats who work in Saudi Arabia can’t penetrate or grasp the Saudi culture due to several factors.
They come and spend years in Saudi without knowing who Saudis really are and often times form distorted and confused opinions about them just through watching what happens around without deeper understanding.
The most obvious of those factors is the language barrier. The vast majority of Saudis don’t speak English well. This is a fact. The education system in Saudi Arabian schools is backward and rote teaching is the norm.
The whole approach is exam-driven and all exams are written. No wonder why English proficiency of students and teachers is that poor.
Now Let Me Tell You What Has Shocked Me In Saudi Arabia
1- Saudis Are Hilarious
They appreciate jokes and understand humor very well. A quite easy way to win a Saudi’s heart is to talk and act funnily. Saudis enjoy throwing jokes and having a genuine smile in any kind of social context.
Fathers would prank their kids, kids prank them back, wives prank husbands, old people prank each other and so on.
It’s hilarious. I love that atmosphere.
Just type/ copy and paste مقلب سعودي which means Saudi prank on YouTube and see for yourselves.
2- Saudis Adore And Master Poetry
I always read about early Arabs that they used to appreciate poetry and tell almost everything they wanted to tell in poetry and how skillful they were in improvising it but never thought it would be still true at the time being.
I’ve found out that almost all Saudis I met still have the same traits our ancestors had thousands of years ago. No matter what social context it is, poetry is always present.
People interact in poetry! If I want to tell a student of mine a message, I always try to find a couple of lines that convey the meaning I want to deliver, and surely they would make a better impact than prose.
Saudis memorize poems of tens of lines perfectly. It is hard to find a Saudi who doesn’t like or isn’t moved by poetry.
3- Saudis Enjoy Their Lives Very Much
Yes, most Saudis don’t drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia at least, as there are no bars, cinemas, discotheques or nightclubs, but yet Saudis enjoy great times with their families and friends through different activities.
I’ll give only two examples here.
Camping And Going On Picnics
My friends have camping and cooking tools in their car boots all the time. They don’t need much planning to go on a picnic or road trip.
Moreover, the tools are available almost everywhere. You stop by a convenient store at the highway and find mattresses, coal, logs, grills, torches, and tents at affordable prices across the country.
Desert picnics are quite popular. Groups of friends would stay late at night out in the desert cooking, playing cards, listening to music, joking, playing, dancing and doing whatever they enjoy unwatched and uninterrupted.
Many groups of friends I know rent a guesthouse (where there are playgrounds, a swimming pool and barbecue facilities, etc.) on an annual basis and spend most evenings together.
Try to mix with Saudis and see how nice it is for yourself and taste their lifestyles.
Women and girls visit and gather at homes, farms, or guesthouses and have fun too. Men would drive their female family members and either wait for them or leave and come later to pick them up when they finish.
My friends sometimes pick their wives or sisters as late (early) at 4 o’clock in the morning!
Saudis travel a lot in and outside Arabia. I know of an average of half a million Saudis who spend most of or all the summertime in Egypt, for example. London, Paris and New York have always been favorite tourist destinations to upper-class Saudis, while Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia have become popular in the past a few years. Middle-class and even lower-class Saudis travel too.
4- Most Saudis Are Open Handed
They spend all their money on daily pleasures and care the least about saving.
They like fancy cars, good food, fine clothes, perfume, cosmetics (women of course) and travel and spend a fortune on such things.
It’s so common to meet Saudis who earn so much but are either broke after the first few days of the month or indebted to individuals and banks all the time.
You can’t imagine how many clothes and perfume Saudis buy unless you live there and mix with many of them.
Believe it or not, my Saudi friends go to salons to have a haircut, get shaved, or have face service every week.
They buy everything they like no matter what! It’s fun but one may argue it is finance mismanagement.