Culture Shock

I had read quite a bit about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before I arrived, and almost all of it was negative.  I read about women being oppressed and having no rights, about the men who persisted in oppressing them, and about the fanatical Islam culture in which they live. Sometimes I would read about their romanticized Bedouin past, the beautiful women and princely men of that past, or how the Bedouin’s tribalistic, third world culture still persists – much to the detriment of the Saudi Arabian people.

I was warned that I would not be able to drive, that I should not marry a Saudi or I’d be trapped in the Kingdom forever, and that I would probably feel and be as oppressed as the Saudi Arabian women..

I began to mentally form a picture of an unhappy, unproductive, oppressed group of people who wandered aimlessly around lost in their archaic, outdated traditions.

When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was surprised at what I had not read.  From the moment I off-boarded the plane, the men were respectful, pleasant and polite.  When I met the women in my classes, they were like any other group of young women I’ve taught: eager to learn, curious about the world, and optimistically looking forward to a bright future.  My students also spoke warmly of their affectionate and intact families.

I also discovered that when I go shopping, I am given assistance immediately.  I exist. My nationality is unimportant.  My skin color is unimportant, and I am spoken to in Arabic.  When I respond in English, I am still treated respectfully and addressed as “Madame.”  No one looks as me suspiciously.  As I walk through the mall, no one acts as if they are afraid of me. On my job, my students, supervisors, and superiors assume that I am competent and qualified to do my job. I am asked to take on new projects.  I am respected.  I am human.  I am whole.

Sometimes a man will slyly and quietly flirt with me, but never aggressively.  His eyes cannot settle on my bust, my butt or my hair.  I am looked in the eyes – directly, curiously, honestly.  The smiles are genuine; the graciousness and good manners are plentiful.

Strange that I never read about these things, and wonderful is the complete feeling of freedom.

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A Beautiful Gift from my student Maeshal

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