Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Demise of Arab hospitality

WHEN I was a young girl growing up in Madina, it was common for my mother and her neighbors to welcome new residents in our locality – irrespective if they were Saudi or not – with food and friendly visits.This was not a custom of Saudis only, but it was common throughout the Arab world also.

Those days are sadly passing away, the recent Expat Explorer survey conducted by HSBC bank shows just that. The survey found that only 54 percent of expatriates living in the United Arab Emirates make friends with their Emirati hosts.While the report did not specifically mention Saudi Arabia, the UAE can certainly serve as an example for other GCC countries.

The survey examined, whether expatriates made friends with local people; whether they joined a local community organization; whether they learned the language of their host country; and whether they purchased property there.Questioning 2,155 expats in 14 countries, the survey found that Canada was the friendliest country for foreigners, followed by Germany and Australia.

Germany ranked the top spot for expats learning the local language, Spain and Belgium followed next. France was the best place for foreigners to buy property. India, China and Singapore were the least desirable countries for foreigners to buy property in.The UAE was ranked as the last place where foreigners could make friends with the locals and was ranked 11th for learning its local language, Arabic.

It was slightly better at the No.7 spot for purchase of property, and was ranked 10th for how many expats join a local community group. Overall, the UAE ranked 13th, second last, as the best place for foreigners to assimilate.I am not singling out the UAE for inhospitality towards foreigners.

On the contrary, my visits to Dubai have been nothing but pleasurable and my non-Saudi friends have only praises about what wonderful places Dubai and Abu Dhabi are to live in.But it doesn’t surprise me in the least that non-Arabs have difficultly in learning the language and making friends with locals.

One UAE newspaper, which reported the results of the HSBC survey, pointed out the significant cultural differences between Westerners and Arabs. For example, Arabs may not feel comfortable having newcomers in their home, especially since their wives and daughters in conservative families may live more secluded lives.Perhaps that is true, but to me the reasons are much more fundamental than cultural differences.

We now live in a society – and I am talking about Saudi Arabia as much as any other GCC country – that has less time to practice the traditional hospitality Saudis and Emiratis are so well known for.I know that in places like Baha that are more traditional, greeting newcomers is very common in the community.

But we are increasingly adopting a more urban lifestyle as our society is getting accustomed to the comforts of modernity. Satellite television, the Internet, computer games, DVD movies and, I suppose, the pure joy of shopping at the new mall, has irrevocably changed us into insular families.This is not criticism for the simple fact that we are products of the 21st century. The modern lifestyle is having an effect on all of us.

I’m sure most of us have not even consciously felt the loss of some of our traditions as we now lead a more hectic lifestyle that is limited to our families and existing friends.But we are also a lesser people because of it. Saudis should take a look at the expat websites and booklets giving information to foreigners coming to Saudi Arabia for the first time. One of the prevailing theme throughout the publications are references to the “famous Saudi hospitality and generosity.”

Now ask yourself. Is that really true?
Picture by : Heather Thompson (OG)


Tyler said...

As one soon to visit Saudi Arabia for the first time, I hope you exaggerate this trend. I wish to meet many welcoming strangers in Jeddah.

Max Andersen said...

I live in Riyadh, and I thought the reason for me not having Saudi friends to begin with was because I lived in a compound(security reasons only). I have since contacted people via the internet and now have friends in the local community. This is of great value to me, since the Saudi lifestyle is very lonesome for a single person(family in another country). Saudi's are very friendly, yet strange, sometimes :)

Anonymous said...




Average Joe Body Builder said...

I am not sure if I totally agree. I have seen good and bad both at work and outside of work. I have been invited to Saudi's homes, a few times, but enough for it to count, and I have invited Saudi's to my home. There of course is a big difference to how I treat my guests, and how my guests treat me. The man of the house doesn't seem to have a problem greeting my wife. I know I wouldn't be able to get away with that, but the fact is that while I don't think I will ever understand Saudis (or anyone else for that matter), I do understand that good is where you will search for it, and bad is where you will search for it.

A negative experience I had was when I was taking a white American Muslim friend to the Masjid (he was new to KSA), and everyone, I mean everyone just eyed him the way radar follows its target. Then after Salat people who I had known and seen from the masjid, who never bothered with getting to know me, just fawned and swooned all over him. One guy who used to live in the same building as me seemed like he was almost falling in love! He said "you must come to my home for dinner because in Islam our neighbors are like our own family!" To myself I was thinking, guys what about me? My wife was watching this from the side, getting totally pissed. After he finished meeting people he said to me, "Hey man, it's true what they say about Arab hospitality!" I said "Yeah... it's true..."