Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Cultural Sensitivity and More Man On Man Action

The Middle Eastern chaps at work are forever putting their arms around each other and distributing shoulder massages, hugs, kisses and handshakes. When they come into work they often greet each other like long lost friends. Liberal numbers of kisses are deployed on large numbers of cheeks, often accompanied by subtle slurping noises.
Despite having lived here for almost one year, this behaviour continues to amuse and surprise me. I cannot help my innate Englishness. In the West you're lucky if you get a mumbled "Good Morning" when you arrive at work. I am not used to all this male physical affection. In Riyadh I am Margrave, the untouchable.
Last week one of the guys was departing for a holiday. He was going to be away for ten days. I anticipated some frenzied man on man action before he left. I was not to be disappointed.
I watched cautiously as he gradually kissed and hugged his way through the entire team.
He was getting nearer and nearer to me.
I grinned nervously.
I looked him over. He's a big man. If he gave me a bear hug I could be lost for weeks. He might board the plane for his holiday without realising I was still stuck under his arm, my muffled screams drowned out by the hum of the engines. I hoped he was going somewhere nice.
I mentally prepared myself.
He walked towards me… this was it. Stiff upper lip, old chap.
…he thrust out his hand to shake mine.
No hug. No kisses for Margrave. Not even the briefest of shoulder massages. Just a handshake.
He wasn't touching me, but his cultural sensitivity was.
To me it's still odd that holding your wife's hand in public is frowned upon, but being touchy feely with your male colleagues is business as usual.
I wonder what my colleagues think of me. Margrave the emotional retard? Hell, maybe they're right.

Perhaps, just once in the future, I'll copy their behaviour in a Western work setting somewhere. Can you imagine the responses from the Western men as I slowly kiss my way through them all?
Margrave the untouchable, indeed!


Hosam said...

so what margrave, you wanted those hugs and kisses? :)

it seems fair...we kinda know how you guys feel about these things so we would spare you the trouble.
I'm not sure but i guess your friend is not just going on a holiday, he might be getting married or something. because usually the hugs and kisses happen when he comes back not when he's leaving.
for me it's the other way around, when I'm abroad on business like for a conference or a workshop i get goodbyes from female attendants and I'm just not sure what to do. it's not that i'm not welling to hug and kiss. it's just i'm not sure it's going to be well appreciated!! so i always end up with a handshake!!!

Alwan said...

How come some American men hug then? My American friend who invited me to his house gave me a worm shoulder message as well as his wife. I was surprised! I thought he is just complementing my culture but he did that with others. He is a white American from Scottish roots.

If you go to the southern region of Saudi Arabia, you’ll see even weirder way for men to greet. They kiss each other’s noses!!

Margrave said...

Maybe its just us repressed English then!

Anonymous said...

There are many places in Europe where men kiss and hug. In the French speaking south of Belgium for example men kiss, but in the Dutch speaking north they don't. I think men also kiss in Spain and France.

Khalid said...

You guys kiss and hug a guy leaving for ten days?? where do u work my friend? :D

It reminds me of the Mormons the way South Park (the American cartoon movie) showed them..

Anonymous said...

I have been to Argentina and I see men kiss each other. Unlike Saudi, who their lips don't touch the other man's cheek, Argintinaian literally kiss each other on the cheek.
Also, it's OK to hold your wife's hand in public, you just can't give her a hug or a kiss!

By the way, I guess you're exagorating because we, Saudis, don't hug or kiss someone we see everyday like co-workers. We would do that for our friends that we didn't see lately.

Carlinhos said...

hello Englishman

This is the first time i visit your blog.

I guess this culture difference is even bigger for you English than for us, Spaniards... I couldn't stop drawing a smile in my face...

Why you think English people are so distant?

Anonymous said...

im an englishwoman in Saudi Arabia.
At first when i saw men greet each other by kissing etc... i found it surprising (not oh how gay) but it seemed nice to see friendship and security between them.And for those of you who do know -the Saudis do not kiss the cheeks of men, they make the sound only, as do the women.
Unlike us stiff upper lip British lot who do not have the most colourful way of greeting ppl. After living in Saudi for some time now,i too have adopted this way of greeting. Yes! the spanish do kiss wen greeting also, cos i get it all the time from my spanish side of the family.
As for Margrave- you seem very narrow minded (how sad)
But you are free to have an opinion.

Amenah said...

You didn't see the rest of greets on freaking way that we do ! .usually we hug each other if we r close friends .
during work It's normal to get kiss on your cheek . something like that
but you know , this day we focus , see , hear , read more about "gay thing", that make me a little bit not prefer to do a lot of physical touching !

daydreamin 24/7 said...

I found his post hilarious, very British indeed! But seriously you weren't really disappointed at being 'left out', mainly relieved just a niggling doubt as to why you were left out. Give them credit, I think a lot of Saudis understand that this kissing thing is not a part of everyone's culture, and don't do the same with foreigners unless you initiate and show you are at ease with this custom. Plus no one wants to be considered as insensitive or (Shock-horror!) gay

Anonymous said...

Hi, i was wondering...
my girlfriend (gf) is living with a Saudi Arabian guy at the moment and they are very close as in friends.
One day the Saudi Arabian guy kissed my gf on the lips and he said "its our culture to kiss whoever we are closed too"
Wondering that guys kiss close girls?
googled it up but nothing came up about it, so i leave a comment here.

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