By Ibrahim Al-Ammar
April 27, 2015
Anymore who has been to Saudi Arabia will probably notice this: Compared to some other people, Saudis are aloof. Not all: Some are exceptionally outgoing. But in general, it appears we are withdrawn, reserved, reticent.
I’ve noticed this comment from some non-Saudis I know. It seems to be an observation uttered especially by those who come from extroverted cultures.
Why is that? Why do Saudis keep to themselves and avoid mingling with people from other cultures?
The main reason, in my estimation, is culture. This one is natural: People mix better within their own culture than with other cultures. People from culture X may socialize with people from culture Y, but within culture X, the socialization is much more natural and relaxed.
Another cultural aspect is that there are cultures that encourage socializing and extroversion. You can look at the Egyptian culture, for example, and see people who are very sociable. In a line at a restaurant, they are much more likely than Saudis to chat to strangers and joke around with people they don’t know. Saudis are more likely to stand quietly. You can see the same split in western cultures as well: Among the Americans, they were more likely to chat with strangers in a public place. But with the Germans I’ve been around, everyone kept to themselves (I almost felt like home!).
This observation about Saudi aloofness is something I encounter every now and then from non-Saudis. I am often asked, “Is it out of condescension? Do Saudis think they are better than everyone else?”, and in my opinion, that’s not the reason at all. It’s just that we as a culture were not raised to be actively sociable and constantly mingling and chatting with everyone. I’ve seen Saudis attempt to chat up people from other cultures and, after talking about the weather, the Saudi guys just stood there not knowing what to ask next!
Another thing: Saudis are withdrawn, so we don’t intimately know the character of other cultures. When we encounter someone from that culture, we’re not sure what to talk about. The exchange is brief and generic, nothing new learned about the culture. In the next encounter with a person from that culture, flashbacks from the earlier conversation make a person think, “Ok, it’ll be awkward and generic again, so what’s the point?,” and so the aloofness is strengthened. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
I’d like to see Saudis be more sociable and outgoing. It’s fun to be around people from other cultures, learn about their daily life, their cuisine, their customs, how they view the world. Knowing Saudis though, I think we have a long road ahead before we reach that point.