RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH ARABNES.COM
A recent column in this newspaper claimed that Saudis on the whole are aloof and withdrawn and do not talk easily to strangers, and especially to foreigners in the Kingdom. The author claimed it was our culture that makes us so introverted that we more resemble the socially frigid Germans than the enthusiastic Americans. Perhaps, but here we are trading in evolving stereotypes, and I think that we Saudis in general have become more inquisitive and open-minded as a nation over the past 20 years due to better education, chances to travel abroad and, yes, globalization.
While it is true that when at home in our own culture we do tend to stick together, after all it is the natural thing to do to seek out those who speak your language and come from the same background, small cracks have started to appear in this nationalistic armor that have served to enrich and make Saudis and the Kingdom a more interesting and tolerant place. With so many foreigners living and working in the Kingdom for decades now, it was perhaps inevitable that this was going to happen. The isolation of our way of life has been shattered forever, mostly for the better in my opinion. We have grown up with Filipino maids, Indonesian drivers, Indian office co-workers and Egyptian accountants. There is no way that this daily coexistence could not have had some effect on Saudis and on the foreigners living here. I still meet foreigners abroad who when I tell them that I am Saudi wax nostalgic about the years they lived in the Kingdom, remembering the good life and friends that they had there.
For sure, there is much more that we Saudis could do to make foreigners feel more welcome in our country such as inviting them into our homes to share meals with us, and have our children play with theirs in the playgrounds. We must get over this master-servant complex that some Saudis still have when dealing with foreigners, and see them as equal human beings who are helping us develop as a nation.
Perhaps more Saudis should visit Brazil to get some lessons from Brazilians who are definitely masters of friendliness and extroversion. Everywhere you go here a complete stranger will easily strike up a conversation with you, whether you’re in the supermarket checkout line or at a government office. The other day I was with a Brazilian friend at a café talking about the built-in obsolescence of cellphones as a ruse of manufacturers to get us to buy new ones every few years. Upon hearing our conversation, a young woman with her mother at table next to ours had to jump in and tell us her experience with her broken cellphone and how she had gotten it exchanged with only one day left in its guarantee. Would this have happened in the Kingdom or Germany? Probably not, but younger Saudis are changing and opening up.
Luckily for us Saudis we have not been overrun by foreigners like some of our Gulf neighbors. This I consider a true blessing. I lived for a year in Abu Dhabi and I could go for several days without ever having to speak to an Emirati. This would never happen here: Being able to go for several days without having to speak to a Saudi. There are just too many of us. Therefore in that sense, I think we can afford the luxury of being more open and not fear that foreigners will overwhelm us and ruin our culture, unlike our counterparts in the Gulf who feel outnumbered by them.
— The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.