Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Saudi Positives

In response to the line cutting post I was asked by a Finnish reader to write about an example of a very good behavior or a nice deed I witnessed done by a Saudi.
No problem! It's very easy to write about positive incidents in Saudi-Arabia because they do happen all the time, we just don't hear about them often. Or then, people are blind to the positives and can only see the bad and negative in things. This is often the case with many expats here, unfortunately.

I'm going to mention a few random things that came to my mind about Saudi-Arabia and GOOD manners, hospitality and friendship..

A very recent really nice deed by a Saudi man happened just last week. My husband and I had left for a long walk with the stroller on a Friday afternoon around Diplomatic Quarters. We had walked so far that we had actually gotten lost! Suddenly out of nowhere a vicious sandstorm hit. We started walking faster but realized it would take at least another half hour until we reached anywhere near home. Suddenly a car stopped and a man asked us to get in his car, insisting on driving us home without even asking where we live! So we gladly took the ride home (he insisted on taking us all the way to our door) and only then realized how far away we had still been. Here's a pic of the sandstorm rolling in:
Once I was flying alone with my then 8 month old daughter with three large bags. I had been struggling with all my stuff on the previous flight out of Finland, but no one had helped me. When I was boarding the next flight to Riyadh suddenly Saudi men were going out of their way to help me.

As I stepped on the airport bus I noticed it was full of Asian men (very common on flights to Saudi) and a group of Pakistani men were sitting and occupying all the seats but none of them moved their butts, they just ogled at me with no shame. I was standing there with all my things and a squirmy baby in my arms. One Saudi man had already helped me lift all the stuff on the bus.

Another Saudi man (looked like a muttawa btw) then noticed the situation and how uncomfortable those men were making me feel and told those staring men off. He made way for me to sit the benches, even PUSHING one reluctant guy to the side and asked men to clear three seats for me. The men reluctantly moved and seemed like they had been told to do a huge favor.

Later one young Saudi guy insisted on carrying all my things up the plane, then went to search for an empty over head locker for them and when we landed he fetched everything and brought it all to the airport cart for me. He was so polite and respectful and didn't try to chat me up or anything.
This was not an isolated case, I've been helped by Saudis with the baby and things every time I traveled alone with her.

Another incident from the airport, again I was alone with the baby and now had the stroller with me and needed to pass through the security check. I found it extremely difficult to maneuver with all the stuff and as we know usually all around the world the personnel don't usually assist much. Well this time the Saudi national guards saw my despair and motioned for me to pass the whole queue.

 One officer took the baby and started to play with her on the other side. The other one came to fold the stroller and lift it up on the xray machine. At this point the women have to go into a separate female check-up room so I left the baby with the men(they were so fascinated by her cute smiley face that they forgot to "check" her) and went in for the pat down. When I came out they were all gathered around admiring the baby, had re-assembled the stroller and placed all my belongings next to it. None of them were looking at the monitor :) That really warmed my heart and made me smile.

Just last week at Al Owais souq we had first a negative incident but it lead to such a positive response from others I want to mention it. I was walking along the souq alone while my husband was still at the car getting the baby out of her car seat. A car full of young Saudi guys pulled up and they all start trying to chat me up suggesting all sorts of things. I have zero tolerance for this kind of harassment and knowing my husband was nearby I started shouting back at them. I told them to eff off and their jaws DROPPED.

I turned around and followed them now openly flicking them off. They got really angry and shouted insults. I saw my husband approaching and pointed the car to him. When he realized the situation he RAN after the now panicked fleeing boys (with the baby in his arms). When the car reached the intersection they had to slow down and my husband was able to kick the car as hard as he could before they screeched away from the scene.
Immediately other Saudis watching the situation came to our defense asking my husband do we need any help and cursed those men out. One man said he saw how disrespectful and horrible they were and we were right to react. Then another passerby came and asked my husband does he want them to follow that car and catch the guys. People were also suggesting to report them to police and they had taken the license plates.
It felt good that this sort of bad behavior was condemned so strongly and people were openly supportive of us.

A few years ago the family of a long term patient of mine wanted to arrange a wedding party for me, after hearing we had just recently gotten married in Finland but we didn't have the chance to have a celebration yet. They insisted on hosting a female only party for me. It was so sweet and to this day I keep contact with one of the daughters.

Another family I got to know well through a patient over a course of few years became really close to me. They invited my whole family over for dinner when they were visiting Saudi the first time. They gave me a wedding gift when they heard I got married, and another gift when I converted. I became friends with one of the older women in this family and she is a big fan of my daughter! This family has given me so much warmth and made me feel like I am part of their family. The best moment was when the 90-yr old grandmother wanted to kiss me on the forehead as thank you and high respect she had for me for caring so well for her husband!

I can't count the number of times I've been asked to pass the line to the front by Saudi men. It has happened at grocery stores, airports, all sorts of offices and places where lines have formed consisting mainly of men. As the sole woman they acted like gentlemen and let me cut in front and nobody ever complained, it is taken as granted that women shouldn't be made to wait that long.

Once we had gotten stuck with our SUV in the desert with a group of expats and were unable to get the vehicle out of the sand. We were literally in the middle of nowhere (600km from Riyadh) there was a sandstorm and it wasn't looking good. Luckily some Bedouins had seen us dummies from far away and came to help us out. They pulled the Hummer out of the sand with a Toyota pick-up truck and then lead the way to a very nice campsite we could never have found without them and made us Arabic coffee on the fire!

I had a patient once whose grand daughter has to be one of the most beautiful persons inward and out that I've met during my time here. I was new to the Kingdom and she helped me with many things in the beginning. We often had long discussions over Arabic coffee during my breaks on night shift. She confided in me about many problems from her life and I felt a real connection between us. She was my age and the sitter of her grandmother and present in the room most of the time. She was not married which is very uncommon for such a stunning woman of her age.  From her own will she remained single because she simply had not found the right person and had refused all the cousins and other relatives! I was impressed by her strong will.

I was very sad to hear when the patient was moved back to Jeddah where they lived but kept in contact with this woman.
A year later the same patient was back in our hospital and when they arrived the family immediately called me in the room. I was so happy to see them and vice versa. The grand daughter gave me an incense burner like the one they had had in the room which I had so much adored! I couldn't believe she had remembered and brought it all the way from Jeddah for me.
What saddens me is I don't know what happened to her after they left the hospital again. Suddenly her phone was cut off and her Facebook page deleted. I often think of her and wonder how she is doing and hope her problems were solved and that she found true love.

There are many many more stories to tell but I will leave you with these which I think are good examples of the considerate and polite nature of Saudi people.


29 comments:

Kuwaitin kaunotar said...

Meilla taalla Kuwaitissa, usein miehet ovat ystavallisempia kuin naiset. Oletko huomannut siella samaa?

Alice said...

Great post, really good idea to write about this small positive things!

MBH said...

assalam alaykum, great post. Where live in Leeds, UK I come into contact with lots of Saudi students who are here doing batchelors, masters, phds etc.

I have to say they have some of the best manners I've ever witnessed and when you are a guest, treat you amazingly. They are especially interested in people who convert to Islam (I am one) and seem to have a real passion for dawah.
However, I have seen the flip-side of this when I visited Saudi for Hajj a couple of years ago, until they realise you are a westerner and a convert, then you seem to be treat differently, Allahu alim.

I think the difference comes down to education and being aware of the world and most importantly, having a heart full of good intentions.

Umm Gamar said...

Salammualykum Laylah,

Thanks for sharing some positive sides of Saudi.

Anonymous said...

Layla, thank you for this post. I believe it is human nature to notice the bad of situations. I have to MAKE myself look at the good parts of my life. Turning off the television helps too.

I'm really impressed that the Saudis went after the young men in the car. I have often heard that bad behavior on the part of men is tolerated in the Kingdom.

Annie

Anonymous said...

Love your story! Thanks for making me smile! I am quite impressed with the Saudi gentleman! Good on them for treating a woman with respect! Francesca from Ottawa, Canada

Zella said...

Even though it seems a lot of negative things happen (everywhere), it is always inspiring to read about positive things....leaves you with a smile on your face and an improved impression about the human race ;)

Laylah said...

Olen huomannut kylla! Oli vaikeampi muistella naisten tekemia yllattavia hyvia tekoja, ainakin julkisesti he on selvasti enemman pidattyvaisia. Johtuisko kasvatuksesta, etta naisen ei pida menna juttelemaan tuntemattomille tosta vaan julkisesti..Voisko siina olla myos kateus osasyyna,Tai sitten miehet vaan toisaan ON kohteliaampia!

Laylah said...

Annie-me too! I've not seen many times this before, that ppl so openly condemn this type of behavior.

Farooq said...

thanks for sharing your experiences. I firmly believe there are good and bad people everywhere, in every culture, in every nationality, in every race and every religion.

Susie of Arabia said...

I know I'm guilty of complaining a lot about the things that bother me about living here in KSA too. But I have to say the Saudi people are the warmest, most polite and most generous people on the face of this earth. Unfortunately the ones who misbehave here are mostly foreigners.

nassima said...

During my stay in Arabia I noticed that when somebody asked me for my impressions on the country I often complained about the things that bother me. i talked especially about the negative sides. I often forgot the positive sides which were more numerous.
Now I am a follower of the positive thought and I try to keep in memory only the positive events of my life.
Great post Leïla, really big idea to write about positive sides of your life here in saudi Arabia!

Anonymous said...

This is really nice to read... I sympathize with the frustrations of living in another culture (I'm an expat too) but it is really a pleasure to hear all these acts of kindness. Always an inspiration....

Nasser said...

Nice post. I wonder about the intention when it is pointed out that "foreigners" are impolite. I note Susie does this too. Hopefully you haven't adopted the Saudi fashion of scapegoating foreigners for all crimes committed. I'm Saudi and am tired of hearing all the "evils" by the Bangladeshi! Come on.

Anonymous said...

Maa shaa Allaah

This was really nice. I really enjoyed reading your expereinces with the good natured people of Saudi. There are good and there are bad, but the optimistist focuses on the good and is pateint with the bad.

I'v enjoyed, in my travels to the middle east, much hospitality from the people.

I hope to read more such articles as this on your blog. It seems that you have much to share.

Thank you :D and thanks to your friend for suggesting it. :)

Umm Abdullaah Khadijah USA, KSA and UAE

flawlessvelvet said...

Very heartwarming

Hilary Beath said...

I really enjoyed that post. It leaves such a nice feeling after reading it, and I bet it left you with a good feeling after writing it.

Anonymous said...

nice post laylah...i hope it would enlighten some people who only think about the negative sides of being here in Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah From Arabia said...

Kyllä Saudi miehet ovat parempia. Naiset ei ole hyvä kuin miehet. Onnea meille.

1 Miehet vs 0 naisia

Olen yrittänyt kirjoittaa suomea!!!! Mitä mieltä olet?

Laylah said...

Susie-True! One of the reasons behind the bad behavior might be the horrible and stressful circumstances those men live under plus being far from family(mainly WIFE) which might worsen their behavior toward women..Not that it's any excuse though..

Laylah said...

Abdullah-Taidat olla oikeassa ;) Kirjoitit hienosti suomea ja sait minut hymyilemaan :)

I'm impressed!

Laylah said...

Nasser- We're foreigners too so..My aim was to point out it was NOT Saudi men that were behaving badly. The world always seems to blame the Saudi man about all the bad stuff that goes on here. It's simply not true. Look how many millions of foreign male workers there are in this country! They are not completely innocent either.

Katja said...

Hei Laylah

Kiitos ihanasta postauksesta! Kyllä sielläkin osataan olla ihania toisissa asioissa. Suomessa emme saa heposti apua lasten ja matkatavaroiden kanssa. Ollessani matkalla lasten kanssa, kysyin rohkeasti, että voitko auttaa. Muuten olisin saanut yrittää pärjätä itse. Se oli bonusta, jos joku tarjoutui auttamaan, esim. junasta ulos lasten ja tavaroiden kanssa :) Ts. Saudit ovat ystävällisempiä ja avuliaampia, mutta suomalaiset ovat järjestelmällisempiä (kuten jonoissa ja muuttofirmoissa-heh!).

Hello Laylah

Thank you so much so nice post, Laylah! There are many things good and very nice way. In Finland we don't get so easily help with stuff and kids. When I have travelled here I ask someone to help me with luggages and stuff. If I wouldn't ask any help, I would have to get managed myself out from the train for examble(or someone can help me- then I'll be happy and keep smiling whole day :). No I noticed arabic are more friendly giving more help (of course in Finland people can help, but not so often) and in Finland we are more ordinary (or how to say it) and doing what we have promised like movingcompanies and in line.

Have a nice spring to all!

Danielletrini said...

Yes this post does warm the heart. I have heard of the extremely hospitable Gulf culture but this illustrates it well. I sometimes get very frustrated by the bad manners of my Finnish people. When I was pregnant, my belly was huge and my back was always hurting. On morning on my way to work on the tram I asked a girl to let me sit in her seat which was reserved for the elderly, infirm and pregnant people and she gave me a look like I must be crazy. I then looked at everyone else in the area at least 3 others were also in seats reserved for people like me. Everyone looked away or through me and pretended like they didn't hear me or even see me. I was so angry. I would never do that. How hard is it to be kind to some one in need and offer a seat for goodness sake!

Nauman Khan said...

Assalamualikum, I wanted to share ur this post on my fb but couldn't find any sharing option, u can enable them in ur blogger.com options, for an example u can c mine http://naumankhan.blogspot.com

Laylah said...

Hi Nauman! I have the share buttons for fb, twitter and google+ at the end of the post, are they to visible to you? Can you try with another browser, I can see them with chrome :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Laylah,
I have always believed that in all peoples of the world you will find the good and the bad and I am happy that your post confirms my belief.. But many years in the magical kingdom have left me desillusioned.. and I still have to wonder, do you think the saudi men on the bus/plane would have treated you the same way if you were an asian or black maid carrying her child? Have you seen saudis giving up their place in a line for a Sri-lankan or Sudanese woman? Wouldn't they just take for granted that the asian woman in the grocery store line is a maid sent by her employers to do some errands and never consider the fact that she just might be a top executive out with her family? The incident with the man that stopped the car for you and your family is heart-warming, but to be honest, anywhere else in the world it would not be such a remarkable deed.. If there are people around and they see a family with a small baby in such distress most compassionate human beings witll react, but I guess in the kingdom human compassion is a rarity that entitles you to internet fame.. And I am sure many women enjoy the chevalry on display, but unfortunately it is many times un-invited and quite patronising and reflects the view of women as lesser individuals "less of mind, less of religion".
Regards
Bella

Laylah said...

Hi Bella! Thanks for the comment well you have got some valid points there of course..But I like to think YES they would also help ladies of other nationalities in those situations. Especially the guys on the flights..they would, I think a gentleman is always a gentleman no matter what.
I think it's also a privacy issue, in the Kingdom people act different, they keep to themselves more and it's assumed that others don't want to be bothered and rather left alone in their own privacy, you know what I mean? The step to intervene or help is much higher here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laylah,
Thank you for answering and sorry if my posts to you have been critical or intense. I agree with you that one finds lovely people in the kingdom, but we also agree that there are flaws in the culture and hopefully, by talking about it we can be part of changing attitiudes. I think you are great for spreading positive vibes. Stay well and take care.
Bella