I was out at a mall the other day with a friend who had an infant with her. While we were sitting and waiting for our bus to show up, two Saudi women walked straight up to the baby and began cooing at her, inches away from her face. The first one was so excited she kissed the baby through her face veil. The second one did the same and went in for a grab. Unfortunately, the baby got scared and resisted, so that was the end of that. The women waved goodbye and happily went on their way.
To a western woman, the interaction was a bit strange because we have such a notion of personal space for infants that we rarely ever see strangers walk up to kiss and touch our children on their faces. Hands and feet are a little different for whatever weird reason and are deemed 'touchable zones', and before people pick up babies they always ask permission from the mother. Alarm bells immediately go off for most of us when this sort of ritual isn't followed, to be honest, because we aren't used to seeing anything else, and I reckon there's some notion buried somewhere that the only time people grab babies suddenly is when they want to steal or eat them. But I think it goes to show how babies and children are so cherished here in the middle east. Certainly, Riyadh feels built for them (though not for teens). I don't know how many castles and giant playgrounds I've passed in this city, not counting the elaborate play areas in all the major malls. It's sort of eye opening to see a little glimpse of affection come out of the local women here, because they seem so mysterious otherwise...
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