Sunday, January 2, 2011

stereotypes

I'm posting a random thought because I'm back in the Kingdom for a visit and thought I was overdue for a blurb.

One thing that expats pick up in abundance in Saudi are stereotypes. It's a natural consequence of being thrown into compounds and work with people from all over the world. It's in human nature I think to look for social patterns so that we feel we have more control and understanding in our interactions, and that can be difficult to keep sorted out with so many nationalities around.

Say for example you want to invite someone over for a party. After living here you begin to take a log of your interactions with various cultures and can predict with some accuracy how different people will respond. If you invite an American, they'll probably enthusiastically agree to it, talk about how great it's going to be all week, and then 80% of the time they'll show up as long as no better party crops up. If you ask a German and they say yes, they will be there without fail and at exactly the time you tell them. If you ask a Brit, they'll give a tentative answer and take some time to deconstruct how much they actually like you, and if they don't like you, how important you are and then give you a formal decision a few days before the party. If you ask a Saudi and they say "inshallah" it means they are not coming. If you ask a Saudi and they say they will be there, then they will come an hour later than everyone else or at 9:00pm, whichever is later. If you ask your Indian driver, fifty percent of the time they will nod their heads and agree but will not show up because they didn't understand you, and the other half of the time they will decline because they know they will feel out of place and uncomfortable. If you ask a Philipino to come, they will ask if they can bring a friend, then show up with ten friends, some rice, fish and a karaoke machine. If you ask a French-from-Paris to come, they'll turn you down because you didn't ask in French, and because you are clearly not French. If you ask any other Frenchman, they will show up with amazing home made food that will put your selection to shame.

Canadians are somewhere in between the American and the British response and because Canadians are often made up of different ethnicities that will play into it as well. But as a sidenote let me give you a tip. If you invite a Canadian to your party and start loudly making fun of the way they say "about" for a protracted period of time, they will laugh politely at your joke pretending that wasn't the millionth time they've heard it, and then they'll mark a huge mental X beside your name under the category "Hate You Forever Pigface Heathen" This hostility stems from an underlying desire every Canadian has to "blend in" and also from the intractable frustration of not being able to hear the difference between an American "about" and a Canadian one.

Of course I am generalizing...there will always be exceptions, and not only that, there are class distinctions and geographical considerations as well. New Yorkers are very different from Californians, not that you'll ever meet a Californian in Riyadh. There are massive differences between upper class Saudis, lower class Saudis, old fashioned super religious Saudis, and younger (often educated-abroad) progressive Saudis. Then there are Brits who went to London private schools, and working class Brits. Etc etc. I could go on forever but...I'll spare you the pain, and now you and I can both go do something more interesting.

13 comments:

Om Lujain© said...

Hey.. I've missed your posts! You should continue to post from wherever yo have gone. That was a very interesting and funny list of stereotypes, but sadly many are pretty much spot on.. :)

Anyway, just wanted to pass by and say HI... and btw.. there are Californians in Riyadh.. :) I know a few :D

Orchidthief said...

Hi Om Lujain! Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment. I have thought about blogging from my new life but wasn't sure anyone would be reading. I'll let you know if it happens ;)

I haven't met a single Californian here - I just assumed none of them were crazy enough to leave such a beautiful state. I guess I was wrong!

Sam said...

Hey...
It is interesting to read your blog posts as I do from time to time. What I like mostly your human feeling towards different types of people in this part of the world.

Orchidthief said...

thanks very much sam!

ipv6 said...

Nice sum-up, BTW the typical Indian will nod & "shake" his/her head regardless they understood you or not. It's inbreed in their culture just watch 'em.

Anyway in the early day of outsourcing in the States, when the white supervisor brief a bunch of their Indian programmers of executing a simple task, all nod and moved their head in such a way that convinced him that they understood.Unfortunately for him (and the company) it's not alway the case and there's myriad of interpretation of his simple order which result in a costly delay and silly cumbersome and many more..

Call me Veeds said...

I'd be happy just to be invited. Single American guys who live in segregated housing don't get invited anywhere...except to go grocery shopping with the other guys.

TheOneWhoNeedsReminders said...

First Post i've read by you and I already like you. Jokes apart, there are always exceptions.

I haven't lived in KSA but in UAE as well, they are some stereotypes while others are totally different in their personalities.

Call me Veeds said...

Thanks for the nice comment "One."

You can see more of my writing about living in Saudi Arabia at http://jveeds.blogspot.com

Most recently: Rooftop Shenanigans: What 9-year olds do on a Day of Rage.

The Mujahada in Prada said...

Haha! great post! just wanted to add, however, that you are quite lucky if an Arab from ANY country arrives only one hour late. I'm married to a Jordanian, and I have learned in my five years of marriage that Arabs have their own sense of time. If they say 4pm it means sometime between 5:30 and 7He makes fun of me for writing invites and thank you cards. I make fun of him for never showing up to anything he's promised to attend, and always saying he'll do something...even when he has no intention of doing it. And yes...insh'Allah usually does mean NO. Unless it's used in the following context: Q: Will you be coming on Friday? A: Yes, insh'Allah. Then it doesn't mean no. It means....maybe. LOL love your blog. Keep it up!

Canuck from Toronto said...

Hey Orchid, your blog is spot on...specially about the Philipinos bringing a karaoke machine - not that I have anything against them, infact i find them to be the most friendly people on earth! And the Indians nodding to everything - actually sometimes its hard to tell whether they're nodding or shaking their heads :)

Now about the Canadians (as I am one myself), you're quite right 'about' the 'out n 'bout'...i learned that when one of my American friends picked on me 'bout 15 yrs ago.

Since you seem to be very knowledgeable about Riyadh I have a question: are there any ice hockey clubs, leagues, etc. in Riyadh - both for adults as well as kids? I'm planning to move there shortly.

Canuck from Toronto

Scrubs Hookup said...

Single women in Riyadh? Yes! There are plenty, and they are usually either nurses or teachers.

I have just applied to work in Saudi Arabia. I am an RN and single. Of course, I am much older (51) and hooking up with a married man is not on my agenda. I just had to laugh because here in the USA I see so many nurses going after the Drs. Neither one are worth the time or effort.

Great story....

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