Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On Being Normal

S ince I moved here to Saudi Arabia from America in October 2007, my life has changed dramatically. There are so many things about day to day life that just don't seem normal to me any more. What is normal? Normal is what you are used to, what feels natural and looks right, the constants in life.

The lack of social interaction between men and women is one of the hardest things for me to get used to. When we go to the market and I say thank you or hello to the salesclerk or even just nod my head with a smile, my husband always tells me that I am not obliged to speak to them. Now, he's not demanding that I not to speak to them, just reminding me that women in this society don't interact that way with men. At many doctor's offices or health clinics, there are even separate waiting rooms for men and women, so no inappropriate behavior will occur. Now, I've been in many doctor's waiting rooms in my lifetime, and I must admit that I have never seen or experienced anything untoward happening in a doctor's waiting room, so I really don't get this separation of the sexes. Anyway, I hate going because I'm stuck sitting there all by myself while at least my son and husband have each other. There are separate women's banks and single men sections at restaurants. Even at many family functions, the men and women sit and eat separately. Sometimes we arrive together, and I'm instantly directed one way while my son and husband go another, and I don't see them for hours until someone comes to tell me that my husband is ready to go. I don't know if I will ever be able to consider this as normal. I haven't been to a mixed wedding here yet - only women have been at the weddings I've attended. And you should see the sexy gowns and the wild make-up and the glitzy shoes worn by all the women attendees - who are all dolled up so other women can see them and they can size each other up.

When I'm in the privacy of my own home, and a workman or my brother-in-law comes over, I am expected to run out of the room so he doesn't see my hair, my legs, or my arms. Unless I'm just out of the shower and standing there dripping with a towel wrapped around me, my mind just doesn't think that way. So I can either stay hidden away in my bedroom, or I can come back out, as long as I have made sure that I have clothing covering every part of me except my hands and face. I've been places where my nieces freak out in such a situation that they grab a pillow to hide their heads or duck for cover under whatever they can find. All because a man enters the room. To me, it's just no big deal for a man to see my hair, but here, freaking out over it is normal.

Not allowing women to drive here is another thing that is just so abnormal to me. I've got forty years of driving experience, an excellent driving record, and I cannot drive in this country. I have to be driven by a man to go anywhere here. I always drove my son to and from school every day, drove myself to work, or to the movies or to the mall, but here I cannot drive. First thing in the morning when my husband drives our son to school, it's a very rare day when I even see another woman walking out on the street or riding in another car. Usually all I ever see are just men everywhere out and about. Makes me feel like an endangered species!

In stores, restaurants, malls, and most other businesses, there are no female employees at all. Well, I take that back - there are some women janitors who clean the ladies restrooms in some of the malls. But there are no women saleclerks, or waitresses, or women chefs, or women store managers. None. And I'm used to stores, elevators and restaurants having piped-in music - but not here. I just can't get beyond the fact that these things strike me as odd. It's not normal to me. But here, it's perfectly normal. Will I ever get used to this kind of normal?

Of course, having to don the long black cloak (called abaya) in this brutal heat feels very abnormal to me too. And making sure not one hair on my head peeks out from under the scarf I have to wrap around my head and neck before I step out the door to go anywhere will never feel normal to me. After all, I didn't move here until I was in my mid-50s, having lived scarfless in the US all my life. I've always liked the look of the colorful scarves I sometimes saw ladies wearing back home, but personally I just always found them stifling, so I never wore them. But here, I have to wear scarves, even though I hate them. Let me think: in my previous life, did I ever wear things that I hated to wear? Well, I can think of two bridesmaids dresses that I wasn't particularly fond of, but those were just a one day deal... so I don't think those should count if they were only a one day deal.

Another thing that strikes me as not normal is how the vast majority of the men always wear white when out in public and most of the women always wear black. It is literally a black and white society. Is there any other society on earth that is so conformist in what its people wear, with so few alternatives, so little room for being different or expressing individuality, and so lacking in color variations? Ok, sure - the abayas come with different fancy trims, and maybe some have pleated sleeves or lace, or other subtle distinctions. But even at that, the fact remains that the abayas are mostly all black. I come from a place where people could basically wear whatever they want, full of colors and choices, and dress suitably for the weather. Of course there are those few who push the envelope on bad taste. But for the most part, people in the West dress responsibly, and while maybe not as modest as the dress here, most people dress decently, comfortably and appropriately. I don't find the abaya or the scarf comfortable to wear, especially in the hot months - which is most of the year here. So I don't think I'll ever feel that dressing this way is normal.

I'm not saying that this country is wrong or bad for these things that I don't consider normal to me. I'm just saying that these things don't feel normal to me because I am used to things being a different way, that's all. What's considered normal here isn't what's normal for me. And it feels weird. These are just some of the things that make me wonder if I will ever consider these things normal. There are some days now when I secretly wish that my husband was from almost any other country in the world besides here - because life here just doesn't feel normal to me. I miss feeling normal...


  1. what would happen if you didn't wear the abaya?

  2. I feel terribly sorry for you. What a horrible life you live, especially having known freedom. Women are treated like slaves. How can you stay when you have other options ? How can your husband who is supposed to care and love you keep you in such a fanatical country ?

  3. a good tuesday to you.
    didn't you mention in previous post(s) that you were not obliged to wear the "outfit" as you are not of the culture? do you wear it because of your husband? isn't there some sort of in-between you could manage and still apease?
    i could not and would not subject myself to such "normal". it is stifling and so restrictive and against everything i personally hold near and dear every day. i will say you have sacrificed a lot for your husband, so very much.
    kudos for being a better person than me in that sense.

  4. I'm so happy you've been unblocked!

    This was such an honest post, Susie. Thank you letting us into your world.

  5. Susie--a great "comeback" post. This gives such an honest and detailled recounting of the day-to-day ways in which your life has become "abnormal" to you. In a way it is a portrait of the deeper feelings of "culture shock". The feeling that every normal, unthinking thing you do on a day to day basis is "wrong" in terms of the "new normal". The sense that others find this life "normal" is part of the feeling of alienation (literally feeling like an alien), as is the "landscape" around you.
    Although I am an "non-car person", my Canadian family and friends are "car people". and I can well imagine their distress if they weren't able to "hop in the car" and go whereever.
    As a non-scarf person, this was the hardest part for me of covering (in Iran--the cloak was more familiar and easier at least on a short term basis).
    It is particularly difficult, I'm sure, to feel unaccompanied in segregated settings while the people who would normally accompany you (husband and son) are off together. I've only experienced this in a time-limited way but it is counterintuitive (to say the least).
    Great to have you back!
    Hangeth in there! (famous 70's saying LOL :) )

  6. sounds like you need a good old fashioned vacation to someplace where you can literally let your hair down (and out of the scarf) Letting the claustrophobic feelings just build up will make you bitter, and may be directed toward your husband since he is the "reason" youre living in KSA. You should escape for awhile- go visit someone back west or a country in europe without the severe muslim doctrine in place so you can breathe for a bit???

  7. Just a blooming commonerJun 2, 2009, 5:32:00 PM

    You obviously don't like the life here in Saudi, eh? So why not take my advice: simply go back to your own coutry, your own town where you're used to the life there. Clearly, you do not belong here.
    And take this from me as a promise: I'm fully prepared to pay for your airline ticket and your escort to the nearest airport.
    Before you do go back to American, Susie, why not write us all a nice post on the latest sewage disaster I'm sure you're well aware of in this city and enlighten the fellow Americans on what horrible rivers of """"" we have to drive through every day.
    My friend calls it Venice... of the unfortunate.
    Bon voyage.

  8. Hi Mr. Condescending - If I didn't wear the abaya, I would stick out like a sore thumb. If I were dressed modestly in normal loose clothing and only my hands and feet were exposed, I might be okay, but I could get into trouble if religious police saw me, or other men might assume I'm looking for some action, or something absurd like that. My husband would not allow me to leave the house anyway without the abaya, so speculating is all I can do.

    Hi Anon - My life is really not horrible, but it is different now, and I was just trying to express how so many things here feel abnormal to me. Women here are treated more like children, but not slaves. This is where my husband wants to be now. He is the oldest son and is the patriarch of his family. He was gone for 30 years and has come back to fulfill his familial responsibilities and looking after his mother is his main objective right now. My husband tries his best to provide my son and me with whatever we need or want and to change things that we complain about, if it's within his power to do so. I love my husband and we have been together for over 30 years. You don't throw away a relationship like that over a piece of cloth I have to wear on my head. I hope you understand.

  9. Cool Susie, and a nice post.

    Can you holiday alone, or with your son? That getaway break idea sounds good to me!

    And good luck.

  10. Hi Erin - I do wear the scarf and the abaya because my husband wants me to and because I don't want to draw unwanted attention on myself. I'm working on getting him to accept me not wearing the scarf when we are in smaller situations where other women might not be wearing the scarf.
    It is stifling and restrictive - and it helps just to vent at times, like I did in this post.

    Hi Janice - Thanks so much for commenting - much appreciated.

    Hi Chiara - You are so insightful. Adjusting to a culture as different as this one is quite challenging. And adjusting your mindset to thinking that all these differences are now considered normal here is almost impossible at my age! Thank you for understanding.

    Hi Alex P - Actually my son and I are leaving for the states soon for 6 weeks and I'm hoping it will be just the rejuvenating we need to hold us for another year! Thanks.

  11. Love you girl. It will be alright and that little vacation cannot come soon enough. It is always hard to adjust and given the circumstances you have done an outstanding job. So don't be hard on yourself or feel guilty for voicing your concerns.

  12. Susie--thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy your 6 weeks "home" in the US. I put "home" in quotes, as I am sure you will feel relieved and rejuvenated in many ways, and yet find that Saudi may be more "home" than you expected. In terms of cultural adaptations you are at the 18-24 month challenging period, when things are not so interestingly new, yet not comfortably familiar. It should get easier over time, especially as your family's commitment to Saudi is open-ended rather than a time-limited posting. This is an advantage in terms of integrating and work, as one of the challenges for the "trailing spouse" is that employers are reluctant to hire someone who is liable to or will leave within months, and university degree programs (for interest or upgrading) take longer than the usual 2 year posting.

    I fantasize you will be driving all over Florida, wearing colourful shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals, hopping in and out of the car at every destination, and greeting sales people, waiters, gas station attendents, etc. with spontaneous American friendliness. Enjoy! LOL :)

  13. Hi JustABloomingCommoner - Sounds like you could use a break from here yourself. Best Wishes.

    Hi UndercoverDragon - My son and I have tickets to go to America soon - it will be good for both of us. Thanks.

    Hi Yoli - Thanks for the pep talk. Looking forward to seeing you in FL!

    Hi Chiara - You are so right about this being a challenging period, and I do hope I get over it and feel more settled as time goes on. Your fantasy is spot on! Thanks again for your input.

  14. So glad to see that your blog is now unblocked in Saudi, Susie. I know you are looking forward to your trip back to the States. You deserve a break.

  15. I couldn't bear to wear the black abaya in such a hot place, not to mention a headscarf I think I would faint with the heat. Your very brave to do it Susie, most women wouldn't be able to.
    Would your husbands mother ever consider coming to the USA?

  16. So what is being normal? The socially accepted way to act in a given culture. I've never wanted to be normal in my own country. If visiting another culture I would try to be respectful, but probably not normal.

    Susie, I can't even imagine being in your abaya. In a hot place men wear the cool white while women are put in the hotest of black. I see children dressed "normally." At what age do they have to change their wardrobe?

    When you are home, which I assume is often, can you dress how you please? If what I'd call normal clothes are even sold in the malls?

    I think you are doing well to adjust to these norms. Culture shock is certainly a reality. Most things get easier with time, yet compromise might also help. The hardest for me might not be the clothing or not driving, which I'd struggle with. But the lack of contact with people to talk to about how hard the struggle to adjust. I'm glad you blob and share your feelings.

    You deserve a vacation! Enjoy!

  17. Hi Kristie - Thank you so much - great to hear from you.

    Hi Chanelle - My mother-in-law would never consider moving to the USA, and I wouldn't either if I were she. She's older than I am and has lived her entire life here in KSA. To even ask her to move would not be an option. All of her children and grandchildren are here. It's not as common for families to move away here the way families in the states might be spread out all over the country, as mine is. Extended families are huge and usually live in the same city. Good question.

    Hi Gaelyn - I see young girls wearing abayas as young as 6 or so, but usually they just wear them open and I think they are wanting to be like Mom or their older sisters because they wear one. Girls don't have to start wearing the abaya until they reach puberty. When I'm in the states, I dress as I please. Usually jeans or capris and a t-shirt or blouse. This is the way I'm most comfortable.
    The malls here carry every type of clothing you can imagine. Casual, fancy, lingerie, sports, formal, business, etc. Women can wear whatever they want underneath the abaya, and when they attend functions where they can remove the abaya, they'll be wearing whatever is suitable for the occasion. One of my problems is that my husband never tells me what kind of occasion we might be going to, so oftentimes I feel underdressed or overdressed compared to the other women in attendance. I've gotten to where I just call my SIL ahead of time to ask her. Thanks for your comment!

  18. Hello Susie,

    I like your comments about your husband. They paint a brief but positive picture of him. I am very close to my wife and I always hope that my words about her give that same kind of positive impression.

  19. after 7 years in qatar i have found returning to our home in the usa to be unfamiliar. I have become accustomed to wearing more modest clothing. seeing fellow shoppers in the mall in "shorts" is a bit shocking at first. Qatar is by no means as conservative as Saudi but i sure understand your learning to live in your new normal.

  20. That sounds tough! It's really hard to try to assimilate or even feel normal in a foreign country and culture. I remember one day walking to work in Korea and thinking, "I would just like to FEEL normal!"

  21. But these issues that you bring up are the foundation of what the US is all about. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedome to dress the way we want too, the right to work, the right to drive, the right to vote, the right to come and go as we please as free citizens. The US is not perfect but we do function as free, self directed individuals. The question is why would anyone want to give up these rights and go live in a dictatorship country? I wouldn't do it and I would not be with a man who expected me to do it.

  22. I have know of this practice for at least 30 years, but your post really brings it all to life. It would be such a hard choice...family or abaya? Most of us don't know that women need permission to leave and sometimes that means children stay behind. Thank you for sharing and opening the eyes of your readers. Enjoy the sunlight in the states. I have wondered if women in these cultures suffer vitamin D deficiency from the lack of sunlight. What do you think?

    sirod um Umar

  23. Hi Jerry - Thanks - he's a good guy and he tries - otherwise I wouldn't have stayed around for more than 30 years!

    Hi Anon in Qatar - I will probably feel the same reverse culture shock when I'm in the states this summer. Glad you could relate.

    Hi Rachel - Exactly!

    Hi Anon - When you've been with a man for as long as I have and you still love him after all these years, you'd be surprised what you might agree to do.

    Hi Anon - Yes, women do suffer from Vit.D deficiency here in this country. Most of the Saudi women I know NEVER go out in the sun. This is not to say that all of them are like this, but the ones I know hate being out in the sun. They like keeping their skin lighter and softer. My skin feels like an alligator compared to my MIL's skin! She just recenlty started taking Vit.D pills, but she should have been taking them a long time ago.

  24. I have all the respect in the world for the adjustment you are going through -- especially after living as a married couple so long in the US. I have sometimes found that some Saudi husbands over compensate when they return after long absenses to re-assure the family and others that they are still Saudi in the their thinking and have not been unduly influenced by the western wife. It is also partly to make sure that everyone respects his wife and so he requires more of his western wife and as we say, she becomes "more saudi than a saudi woman". Having said that I hope he will eventually relax because many of us married to Saudis do not find the same restrictions you are expiriencing -- even in Riyadh. I attend many mixed fuctions (Saudi) and would always greet a salesperson politely. It is true that one has to watch not to be too friendly but courteous pleasantries are certainly not taboo. I have always sat with my brother-in-laws and my husband's family is Nejdi. Many family functions are seperated as you say. But most friends socialize mixed -- but I guess it depends on the friends you make. Most of our Saudi friends are western educated or traveled outside a lot. I don't mind the seperated gatherings but would also find it more difficult if it were not balanced by more familiar mixed friendships. I find as many women as men in cars in the afternoons and evenings. It is true in the mornings most Saudi women are not out and it is mostly men and western women. The subject of no music in the elevators is such a minor point it would not occur to me that it would bother someone. I think it takes awhile to make close friends and become comfortable but the key to mading the adjustment to living anywhere new -- especially one very different --is having a good relationship with the person who you are married to and if the expectations are too difficult it may be time to have a discussion about what you both envision for the years to come. I really was sad to leave Saudi Arabia and return to the US because of all the wonderful friends we made and still have there. I enjoy returning at least twice a year and although there may be things I would like to see change I can honestly say there are things I would like to see change in the US as well. Close friendships and a happy marriage with mutual respect make all the difference although it may take some time.

  25. It is very hot out today here in BC Canada where I live. I CANNOT fathom donning black robes and head scarves and going outside. Ugh. Perhaps the men should have been more gentlemanly and designated WHITE for the women!

    Glad to hear you are going home to the US for a visit. I think it will do you and your son very well.

    How does your son like it in SA I wonder?

  26. Hi Susie, glad you're back up and running! No music in the malls? How in the world do they entice people to buy, buy, buy?
    I hope your dh knows how lucky he is to have you.It seems like such a monumental transition......

  27. I guess I'm the odd one out here... I don't mind wearing an abaya in the heat. It doesn't feel any hotter to me than anything else I own, and the loose material helps air out a bit. Of course I don't *have* to wear one and that might (more like probably) make all the difference.

    I don't really get the whole normal thing either because I'm so used to not feeling normal lol. I'm a non-Muslim who likes to wear hijab (although I don't always), hate driving with a passion, was one of a very few Catholics in a protestant school (one of a few in my family as well), married to an Arab Christian (I shouldn't have to explain how that went over in the family, esp the redneck side... luckily the important ones accept him), etc etc etc. Over the years I've learned to embrase being different. Its just me. But I can understand how hard that has to be... esp when I look back on how I felt when I was younger.

    I'm glad you're going to be able to take that break... It really does sound like you need one. Have fun and enjoy it!

  28. Hmm I was wondering why so strict? I am from riyadh, born and raised in the states but we do say hi to salesmen and smile especially if I am a regualr costumer. I thought Jeddah are more easy going but I guess it all depends on your husband and how conservative he is as for why he would remind you not to speak or smile.

  29. I agree with Patricia about the overcompensating, and concern that you be respected and respectable. I have had this dynamic in shorter spurts on visits to family in Morocco, or even Arab/Muslim functions in Canada (AKA the great hemline debate!!! LOL ).
    Hopefully the longer you stay, the more both of you will adapt and find a comfortable level of acculturation.

  30. Susie,

    What I respect most about you is your honesty and your love for your family. You are describing your life as you see it and live it.

    I am so excited to be hosting a party at my house for you in a few weeks!!!

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Hi Susie!

    Again, welcome back! As somebody who hasn't travelled a lot in her short life, I can only begin to imagine the major adjustments you have had to make to live in the KSA. You deserve a huge round of applause for that, and it's nice to know that your husband has been trying to be as accommodating as possible (with the exception of being a stickler on the hijab, of course).

    I'm sure everybody here knows you don't need to go from one culture to the extreme opposite in order to lose that sense of 'normal'- there are adjustments even if you move from one country to a very similar one. Taking into account the littlest things we take for granted - if they're not there or are different, when added up the small things can knock us out of balance. Heck, when I was travelling around the northern part of the US a few years back, I had to adjust because the definition of 'iced tea' is different on each side of the 49th parallel. Iced tea (sweet and lemony - typically how it's served in Canada) is my favourite drink. I kept ordering iced teas at restaurants out of habit like I do back home, and would have to get the waitress to take 'em back because the drink was not what I thought it was (and feeling like an idiot doing so, as the stuff served had nothing wrong with it...just not what I was used to). It's not quite like an abaya, but it was a small adjustment on a common habit of mine.

    Considering this, it certainly puts into perspective for me the incredible amount of adjustments Susie has had to make in Saudi Arabia. Susie, you deserve a medal for that :) I hope that your 6 weeks back in the US are ultra-relaxing and refresh your spirit!

  33. Welcom to you in men's world
    Not just you feel its abnormal its really killing me i'm far away now to study in canada and im afraid to go back there.Totally that will make me crazy :(
    Thank you dear I like your blogg so much. i hope you can visit my new Blogg and feel free to ask quistions :)

  34. Great blog...just come across it as a fellow expat blog. Cheers! :)

  35. It is really sad. I loved your blog but i felt so sad.

  36. Hi.Obviously you are at a chalenging period.I hope it would be over soon.Living in KSA is really a big sacrifice for an american woman but as I understood from you your husband deserves such a sacrifice.You both are lucky to have eachother.Feeling free to do whatever you want is great, but for me I can sacrifice that for love.
    You are really welcome among us.

  37. I've only been married for about 10 years, but I can understand moving to KSA & doing what you have to do for your marriage. I would think that white would be a better color for women to wear, as it doesn't absorb the sunlight as much - but I do like the fact that men are totally covered up too, that seems a little more fair than what you see here in the US - Muslim guys in shorts and the women fully covered.

    The total segregation would be super weird for me - I've experienced the gender segregation at mosques, iftars, and a few other events - even that seemed strange. I like having my husband somewhere close by - when he's in a totally different room I can't exactly go and get him when I want to leave. He might be having a great time but I might be bored out of my mind. ;)

  38. Hi Susie,

    "How can your husband who is supposed to care and love you keep you in such a fanatical country ?"

    That is the question I'm asking, too.

    Why doesn't your husband love you enough to be on your side instead of making you sad by living in that horrible country?

    I really pity you and hope you are able to get out of there soon.

  39. Salam Susie,

    I am a 28 yr old Saudi working lady, a mother and a wife. I live in Jeddah and in al-Safa district too. I came to know about your blog after it was blocked from a newspaper article, whose writer was writing in your defense. I am sure that the article attracted other readers besides me. So the blocking incident was not all bad after all ;)

    I can sympathize with you in your search for what is normal in your new different setting. It is only normal to feel that way! I am sure how you feel now is just a phase and it will go away after you reach a point when you can decide for yourself what things you can take as normal and what not. You need to know that you are not alone in this experience; I can think of my friends studying abroad and the hardship they face in accepting a lot of bizarre cultural details as normal.

    I want to comment on your depiction of the male/female interaction in Saudi society. How you put it was a bit strange even to me, who has been born and raised in this country. whenever I am out, I say "Salamu Alaikum" or "hi" to everyone I interact with…to the driver, the shopkeeper, the dentist, the receptionist and whoever I happen to meet that day. I also say "thank you" or "My Allah reward you" after I have been serviced, usually I say it while I am smiling. Small talks with these men are ok, and if a goofy thing happens I cannot think why I shouldn’t laugh too. I do so when I am out with my husband or on my own. I am sure that every other Saudi girl are likewise has been raised to interact with the other men in a respectable way that does not give them the wrong messages. "Respectable" here basically means not being too friendly. Now some women are too worried about not giving the wrong messages that they keep the talk with the other men to the minimum. I cannot blame them for that, especially when the situation or the man just does not feel right. …so just trust your instincts, be yourself and you would be ok.

    Regarding the Abaya, it is hard for someone who does not believe in Hijab to wear it. Now Hijab is not necessarily the Saudi Abaya, you can still be observing hijab if you dress modestly and cover your hair even if you don’t wear abaya. In Saudia today, abaya is the convenient way of observing hijab when you are out. It allows you to dress whatever you want underneath it, so when among family members or other women and hijab is not required, you can take it off. I agree with you that it is a bit hard to wear it when it is hot. But we usually work around that, for example when I shop for abaya, I make sure that it is made of light fabric; and I always wear sleeveless shirt or dress if I need to go out in the daytime. … if you used to be scarfless back in the USA, I don’t see why you cannot be here. For me, it is a normal sight to see scarfless women in the mall, restaurants, cars and everywhere else.

    Best wishes and may Allah bless you and your family.

  40. So happy to see your site unblocked and your star is shining again .

  41. Hi Patricia - Thanks for sharing your insight with me. I think you may be right - that my husband is overcompensating for being gone so long. We haven't really had many opportunities yet to socialize with mixed people outside the family. I'm sure I'll get over this hump. Thanks again.

    Hi Amyinbc - My son has had a more difficult time adjusting than I have - he's a teen! But he has done really well, considering, and he helps keep me sane - he makes me laugh every day.
    From what I have been told, the Prophet Mohammed said that the best color for men to wear is white, and the best color for women to wear is black - that is why it is this way.

    Hi Always - Thanks! And no music in the grocery stores either... There are some Western chain restaurants (like Chilis) where music is played in the background.

    Hi MamaK - I got a kick out of the way you describe yourself! You are an enigma! Thanks for making me smile.

    Hi PurpleVelvet - I think Patricia hit the nail on the head - that my husband is overcompensating for being gone too long. Hopefully in time, he'll realize that he really can loosen the reins here and stop being so overprotective...

    Hi Chiara - I hope so too - I think this is maybe a "normal" stage I am going through. Thanks, Chiara.

    Hi Cheela - Me too! I can hardly wait! Thank you so much!

    Hi Mel - I've had the same thing happen to me when I order ice tea in different areas! Thanks for your encouragement.

    Hi DaughterOfArabia - Thanks for dropping by and commenting - much appreciated. I really liked your post on wearing the hijab and I totally agree with you! Blogging is a great way for you to practise your English too!!! Best Wishes.

  42. To me, strict segregation like this just makes you see more sin and evil where there isn't. I went to a catholic all girls school, and I've always felt that an all female/male environment is unnatural and makes for obsessed minds.

  43. Hi Aussie - Thanks!

    Hi ArabicWriting - Don't be sad please. I'm not miserable here and I'm sure things will become more normal as I get more used to them.

    Hi Salma - I agree that I think I am just going thru a challenging time. When we moved to Florida, I felt the same way about many things too - I just didn't blog then. I think it helps being able to express my feelings this way and getting things off my chest. Thank you for welcoming me - that made me feel really good.

    Hi Aynur - I know how you feel. Sometimes I am so bored at the segregated functions... Thanks for your comment.

    Hi Anon - There's no need to pity me. And there are many wonderful things about this country - it's not horrible. This is my husband's homeland - he loves his country. He has done whatever he can to make my son and I comfortable here. Things are just different than what I am used to and hopefully in time, I will get used to things here.

    Hi Fajr - Thanks for putting things into perspective - I know that anyone who moves to another place probably experiences similar feelings as what I am going through now. I guess my husband knows that I am a friendly person and that it can be misinterpreted here, so I think he is just trying to protect me for my own sake. I do see many women around not wearing hijab, and I often point them out to my husband - Hint! Hint! Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me.

  44. Hi Free Spirit - Thanks so much for your kind words.

    Hi Nuri - I agree completely. I think denying or forbidding something makes people want it more and think about it more. Thanks for your comment.

  45. I'm so happy that your blog was unblocked....What always make me wonder is why the women in KSA accept all this crap....I mean when they go abroad to study/work they drive/go around unveiled....I'm vondering how they can live this double life?

    IMHO KSA it's an alien world even in other "radical" muslim countries (eg Pakistan or IRan) Women have more rights compared to KSA

  46. On a lighter note the best tea (hot) with lemon is the Hong Kong version: 2-3 large slices of lemon in a small cup of tea! calle "lemon tea", not "tea with lemon"! :)

  47. The Arab dress and ideas of modesty were designed in a very different world. No air-conditioning, no covered transportation.

    The ideas of modesty may seem God given to some, but they are a reflection of the reality that has changed. Modesty can be re-defined to fit a world in which we live in comfort and don't need to wear clothing that protects us from blowing sand.

    In the West the advent of modern air-conditioning, modern washing machines and the change from public transportation to private has changed how we dress.

    There is no longer any physical need to cover the body completely. Modesty is as much internal as external.

  48. Unfortunately...you sound like a lot of ignorant saudi-gulf arabs. If you and them would only study the religion then most of what you complain about would be answered. Why the separation of the sexes etc. There are islamic societies and mosques who the do the same thing KSA does and wear EXACTLY what you wear in KSA in AMERICA. In Philadelphia,Pa the ghutra and smagh and thobe and abaya and niqab are worn like normal clothes even in big govt offices. Women drive here,there is disagreeing from the scholars of that issue. There are women who have niqab on their driver's licenses here in philadelphia,pa

  49. Hi Susie,

    Thanks for another insightful and honest post. I'm sure your husband is a wonderful, but if I were in his shoes, I couldn't subject someone I love to all of these restrictions. It's not fair to you. Is this move permanent? Will he move with you back to the States ever? I realize you're not miserable and things could be much worse, but why live in a place where you're not totally happy?

  50. Susie,

    This was a beautiful post that hit home to me. I'm an American diplomat's wife, living in Egypt on our first overseas assignment. I just returned from our first R&R to the States; we were there for 3 weeks. Before we left, I had started feeling mostly "normal" here--helped by the fact that as part of the embassy community, I'm surrounded by Americans much more than other expats, so the adjustment doesn't have to be as complete for me as it does for you. But when we got back home, I began noticing strange things about myself. I no longer felt comfortable wearing short sleeves--I wore only 3/4-length sleeves or longer, like I do here out of respect for Egyptian modesty norms. When I was introduced to a man for the first time, I didn't offer to shake hands; I just smiled and greeted him. When another man stuck his hand out to shake, I just looked at it for a second before I responded, because my initial reaction was surprise that a man had initiated physical contact. All this just from being here for a year! And to make the hand-shaking bit even stranger--I've also picked up the European habit of cheek-kissing among close friends (female *and* male) from the expats at my church! Now that I'm back in Egypt, though, I feel like I'm having to adjust all over again. I wonder if I'll ever be able to move effortlessly among cultures.

    In any case, I hope you enjoy your trip home and that your adjustment back to Saudi afterward goes smoothly.

  51. I hope you blog when you are in Florida. I would be very interested in hearing how it feels to be back!

    Another interesting blog topic (if you haven't done it already) would be courting, weddings and marriage rituals in SA. I am assuming the marriages are arranged?

  52. I was SO happy to see you back in full-force! Well, I certainly don't blame you for trying to make this life work out. Keeping a husband in the U.S. who doesn't want to be there, would have been REALLY hard on the marriage.

    You have made so many sacrifices dear Susie! One thing I have missed with the opposite gender segregation even here in Texas is the brains and intelligence of men!!!!!!!

    I truly mean that! As a biology major, they were the ones to study with, and yet I couldn't. We need men for more than reproduction, marriage, and masjid elders/imams. They are essential to giving us ideas about how to run companies, new inventions, new ideas in biology....I could go on and on..

    As for the all black/all white, I love you're perception. Interesting to me that at hajj, these women need to wear white, but revert to all-black everywhere else in the country. Love you!!!

  53. Hey Susie! Don't be surprised that when you and your son go back home you'll experience "reverse culture shock" :-) You get so used to a certain routine, and then suddenly new environment, new routine, and it makes you pause no matter how adjusted one has become. I felt the same way too when I returned to the U.S.

    I was in the Gulf for almost 5 months, and didn't even want to go back home. But as soon as I stepped off the plane in Texas for my layover and walked into the airport, I saw the gigantic American flag hanging from the ceiling and heard English and Mexican-accented Spanish everywhere; I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Home sweet home never rang more true.

    Then I started experiencing the reverse culture shock. I felt actually kind of naked without the abaya. I was so used to seeing long robes (black and white) that I then actually started missing seeing those things! The abaya and headscarf never bothered me that much, in fact I preferred it when in that boiling sun than being bare-headed and sleeveless. Didn't want to burn in the sun. But I do remember one time in Oman, my hosts took me to a port known for it's beautiful coast line. I nearly passed out from the suffocating heat; the scarf felt like an itching, choking sack wrapped around my neck and head, and I wanted to tear it off and wipe my face with it, but ah well....the Omani girls who were with me would have been shocked. I started feeling resentful the rest of the day too. When we were back in the village, I was standing outside the door and I had loosened my scarf to cool down, and my Omani friend told me to cover my neck. I struggled not to snap back at him. I just DID NOT want to. I almost wanted to cry, seriously. But I am sensitive like that anyways, haha. But at the same time I didn't want to insult my hosts you know?

    Then one time when I was in another city studying Arabic, my first day of school I went without my abaya on. But I took it with me. The first day in class I felt really exposed and strange, so after that day, I wore the abaya to class everyday. I couldn't understand why either, lol. You should have seen the shock and curiosity from my Arab teachers and American supervisors, lol...one of them came up to introduce himself thinking I was a new student in class. I wouldn't even go outside without it after that. The only other time my classmates saw me uncovered was when we had a dinner party at one of their houses. Everyone was a Westerner except our Arab teacher who was invited. He commented how completely different I looked without abaya on. I felt comfortable there in the house with it being a small intimate group, but I didn't felt comfortable in school or outside without it, even though I was surrounded by this same teacher and same classmates everyday! You deal with very strange feelings and very confusing emotions. I still feel disconcerted about my unusual behavior back then.

    But just remember....when you are back in Florida, I expect you to go to the beach in the hottest skimpiest bikini.....afterall, when is the next time you will be able to??? :-D

  54. Thanks... I think ;-)

    I second that last comment about reverse culture shock. I had it all three times I came back from Tanzania. In fact I had more of it coming back than going over... My guess is because I was expecting it to happen more there and didn't quite prepare enough for it here (although I was warned).

  55. Oh yes, reverse culture shock is worse than culture shock. It takes you and your friends and family by surprise. At best they don't understand, and at worst they think you are being affectatious. You yourself don't understand your sudden peculiarities in a place you were born and raised, or having to remember what language to speak to your own mother! Do blog, do tell!! :)

  56. Hi Susie,
    I think you made a really generous sacrifice for your family. My husband is Syrian and worked in Medina for 4 years before coming to Canada, ever since we have been married he brings up the topic of living in Saudi for a few years. I just don't think I can do it, but I admire you for taking the plunge. Do you think there will ever be a time when you come back to the states or is Saudi going to be a permanent home for you?

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  58. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  59. I am from the US and have lived as an expat in several foreign cultures. I AlWAYS experienced reverse culture shock when coming back home to the US, probably more than I experienced culture shock in the foreign country. I always thought that was really strange and am so glad to hear that it is kind of normal.

    I, too, think you have reached a plateau, Susie. I think it will start to get easier for you after you return from your visit back to the States. At least, for your sake, I hope so.

    No one who hasn't lived in a country that is not their birth country can really understand what it is like living in a foreign land.

  60. Dear Susie,

    Just another message to say I'm VERY glad to see that your blog is unblocked and you have had the endurance to carry on despite the difficulties you have experienced and all the forebodings expressed by armchair readers (eg people like me.)

    I really applaud you.

    This latest blog really emphasizes just how different social and mixed interactions must be for westerners in KSA. For example, I can't imagine being expected to cover up with an abbaya/scarf even in my own home, particularly in front of people who are relatives.

    Culture shock is an amazingly powerful thing, too, as other people have commented. I remember breaking down and sobbing in a McDonald's in Sichuan, China and being unable to leave the bathroom because they kept playing songs with lyrics like, "I'm leaving, on a Jet Plane" over the sound system. I had gone there to escape feeling sad and lonely but stayed for about an hour and half because I was too upset to leave! I laughed about it later, but not at the time!

    I hope you have a fantastic break when you return to the States!



  61. Kristie and Kristina--I enjoyed and agree with both of your comments. As a non-cryer, non-homey type, imagine my amazement to find myself sob aloud at the sight of my local supermarket in France, after I had been "home" in Canada for a year's worth of reverse culture shock! Home sweet "Supermarché Casino"! LOL :)

  62. I was born in NZ Susie and Im currently immigrating to Canada and even with countries that are similar I still have had a hard time with some of the differences! The food here is similar, great in both places but different, the toothpaste is similar, but it tastes different. The weather is certainly different! Even the way people dress here is different.

    My Mum sends me care packages three times a year with the strangest things, toothpaste, custard powder and vegemite. Sometimes a little home comfort goes a LONG way.

    While I am in Canada I miss kiwi style things, when Im in NZ I miss Canadian style things. Its good to be able to enjoy both lifestyles. Your son especially will grow from being exposed to two ways of living, even if he perfers one over the other.

  63. Susie--Nzingha and I have decided you should treat your culture shock and serve the expat community by opening your own travel agency "Expat Travel Services" in Saudi. See our comments on her blog. :)

  64. Hi again.
    i read your response ,you said in ur comment that "the Prophet Mohammed said that the best color for men to wear is white, and the best color for women to wear is black - that is why it is this way" i dont know this is the first time i know that but there is no specific color to wear its just like the majority in SA people wear those colors you can see other muslims in other countries wear different colors it doesnt matter.but for me its too hard to wear abaya again i'm all the time thinking what to do when i go back to my country even for visiting.i can imagine myself fighting with my mom all the time about that :(

  65. I can understand how hard it is for you, and Saudi is about the most extreme you can get; you're not used to this culture and not Muslim. As you said, it's not normal for you.

    But I just wanted to point out for some of your readers that Saudi women and others are not as miserable as they might think. I live in the Gulf and appreciate many of the things that Susie finds strange. Having separate places for women and men is not so much that everyone everyone will not be to resist each other. It's simply the way people feel more comfortable. If the waiting rooms are mixed, though, men and women here know how to interact; I've been in hospital waiting rooms where a Westerner, for example, will come and sit right next to a Muslim from the opposite sex, without realizing that it makes the person uncomfortable enough to get up and move.

    As a Muslim, I like to visit Saudi and find that I can go in a mall or amusement park without having music blasting at me. And for the persn who asked, they don't have any problem enticing people to buy, even without music! I like to go in a mall that has separate sections for families or women to eat in, because that's convenient for me; yet, I see Western reporters write about that as if it's the most horrible form of discrimination.

    As for the abaya, I don't know if you'd like to wear it, Susie, but the traditional, over-the-head type is much cooler than the one that has sleeves (which is like a coat). You can get it made of VERY thin material, and it isn't tight anywhere; it actually creates a little breeze when you walk. I wear a thin, cotton dress under it, and while it's hot, it would be hot no matter what I was wearing at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (not that we actually stay outside much).

    Just for the record, there is nothing saying that women should wear white at the hajj. Men wear white, but women wear what they normally would, and the women who wear black abayas wear black abayas. At the hajj (or umrah, the minor pilgrimage), you see a lot of women from groups in Southeast Asia who all wear the same white clothes, but that's nothing required or even recommended. The Prophet (pbuh) did say that white was the best color for clothes, but I don't know if he was referring only to men. Black - even a very thin material - is not transparent, which is maybe why it's better for women. Sometimes you can kind of see through a man in his white, when he's standing in the sun.

    Anyway, normal means different things to different people. When my kids were younger, we would go to Dubai and they'd start commenting (loudly, and in English!), "Mommy! Look at that lady! She's naked!" when they saw a British woman in shorts and halter top, or "Mommy, look! A lady smoking cigarettes!" My British friends going to the UK have to prepare their kids for the billboards and ads they'll see that frequently show women barely dressed...

    I'll also be interested to read about your trip back to Florida.

    Another Anonymous

  66. Susie,this sounds like a rant, and it drew a smile to my face, because I felt the exact same way during my first years in the Kingdom.

    Those of us Westerners who last more than a few years usually evolve into accepting, if not appreciating, segregation of the sexes.

    By the time I repatriated, I was UNcomfortable with all the mixing of men and women!

    As for driving, well, the only way to make peace with that is to cultivate personal interests that you can explore at home, like your blog!

  67. Susie - A very enlightening post. Adjusting to a different way of life is never easy, but it is made even more difficult when faced with the type of cultural obstacles you have needed to face. I know that there are many voices in KSA that are advocating for change, both politically and socially, but one has to wonder if that will ever happen.

    Is there anything that would make you re-think this decision to move there, and is it something that you and your husband have ever talked about? That is, if you weren't able to adjust, would he consider moving back to America?

  68. Hi Susie, I just got ur blog by chance while "googling" and I just loved it...

    I am brazilian married to egyptian and my brother in law lives in Jeddah.. we intend to go there this year during ramadan :-) the life in America so different from the arabian countries, but I just love it! I am muslim since 2006 and I wish to make Omra too...

    salam and God bless u

  69. You must love your husband, cuz I would have gone nuts VERY fast and if he wanted to be with me, we'd be living together somewhere else! I like that you are finding an outlet for your feelings and views... I'm glad I found your blog :)

  70. Hello,

    I find your blog fascinating. I write for a blog called the Mom's Resource Network & featured you blog in a "Link Love" post.

    Here's the link to the post.


  71. I don't think life feels normal to many Saudi men and women either ..Take for example me and my wife. We can't enjoy outdoors together .Wife says it's too hot and constricting in abayas to be able to enjoy anything..Thank you Susie for speaking out for us ..
    A Saudi engineer

  72. For those ladies who are afraid to stay too long in Saudi ..I have this kind comforter : Don't worry about it . Getting covered will not change you as a person ..My Saudi wife who have been living all her life in Saudi went from too strict about covering up to modest ..The reason in one word : Enlighement ..Keep getting enlightened that wearing Abaya is not normal nor practical nor logic nor comfortable thing to do in the 21st century .A change might come to Saudi if we challenge this outdated system.

  73. This comment has been removed by the author.

  74. Sorry I miss spell the word : Enlightenment above ..Thanks for correcting it.

  75. My friend lived in Yemen with her Yemeni husband until after the last visit home when she found herself unable to step foot back on that plane for the return trip. Now she swears she will never leave American soil again! It left that bad of a taste in her mouth.

  76. Free Spirit--thank you for sharing your perspective. An engineer, and enlightened: excellent! LOL :)

    The Queen--did her Yemeni husband move to the US with her? or did the marriage end?

  77. Chiara:Thanks for the compliment,although I don't claim to be enlightened that much ..I see other enlightened people like Bill Gates , Al-Gore and al-Waleed ,then I use them as role models..As for engineering ..I wish i did some engineering for the social structure of my society as much I did for roads and buildings..It would have been more fruitful .lol.Thanks all.

  78. A Free Spirit, what's different about the 21st century that indicates that we should stop following the guidelines of our Creator?

    Another Anonymous

  79. A Free Spirit--You seem to have both planned the physical roads and created the metaphorical routes of personal development and growth for members of your society. :)

  80. I'm amazed that you've been able to adapt enough to live there, Susie. I seriously do NOT think I have the patience for it.

  81. Although America was founded on christian values, is the life in America christian anymore?

    .. not so much.

    Nowadays, maybe most Americans will find it difficult (sometimes crazy) to live under christian guidelines.

    Yet i didn't read or heard an American describes the life of his grandfathers as "stupid" or a "living hell".

    Notice that I'm not talking about the material life, but about the values and principles.

    The life in Saudi Arabia is based on the Islamic guidelines (even though that's not always true), and it's the most comfortable way of living for the 100% Muslim society there.

    I understand that the American dominance in several areas, especially the media, created a unified picture of the "proper life", and any other form of life might look "Crazy" or "fanatic".

    Well, there is a life other than the western life, and people need to understand it before they judge it. And to get the whole picture, you must search and ask.

    For example, many people can't understand how most of Saudi women don't work in "regular" jobs: how do they live? what do they do?

    They're here thinking of the non-working western woman, who lives in a very different situation.

    But they'll understand more when they know that Saudis (or Muslims) see the woman working in the most valuable job, and investing in nation's most valuable product, its people. And for that, women there must be respected, protected and supported.

    Sorry about my comment being messy and not well organized.

    Mu - Riyadh

  82. Passerby with a taste for the artsJun 8, 2009, 1:33:00 AM

    Bravo! I truly admire your response my friend Mu of Riyad. I would hereby award you my very own medal of appreciation for your excellent and eloquent way of briefly explaining the way of life here in Saudia. It's so true: what better investment would there ever be than dedicating one's self to the service of the next generation to come, providing them with the best education so they may excel and become productive citizens who are an asset to humankind? I recommend Susie the blog master to dedicate a totally separate post for your words of gold, my dear sir!

    It's well worth doing so, mark my words!

    Well done my friend.

  83. What an AMAZING Post! Thank you for sharing all this for us who have little knowledge of KSA and the life there. Truly fascinating. I'll be back soon~Crystal from the U.S.

  84. "And for that, women there must be respected, protected and supported..."

    Mu of Riyadh...if only that were actually the case in Saudi and other Arab/Muslim states then issues like this wouldnt come up. If women were respected protected and supported...half of the population of Saudi wouldnt be denied so many of their rights that GOD above gave them...simple facts bro/sis? women in Saudi are restricted controlled and held in perpetual suspicion merely BECAUSE they are women...and for that they are made to suffer.

    Nice words tho for those that want to believe they are based on accuracy.

  85. Chiara,
    My friend's marriage to the Yemeni ended. Fortunately there were no children involved.

  86. The Queen--thanks for the answer. I'm sorry her marriage ended, but perhaps there was more than geography involved. No kids makes for a cleaner break.

    Mu in Riyadh--while what you describe is an ideal for some women, for others, including Saudis/Arabs/Muslims/others it is like a death sentence. Career woman, and working woman (full or part-time) also make excellent wives and mothers. All men and women need the support, protection, and love of their families and friends. I am glad your shared your perspective which is one many (men and women) share. Unfortunately many individuals and societies suffer for having 1/2 the population restricted in their choice of occupation to homemaker only.

  87. The Queen--thanks for the answer. I'm sorry her marriage ended, but perhaps there was more than geography involved. No kids makes for a cleaner break.

    Mu in Riyadh--while what you describe is an ideal for some women, for others, including Saudis/Arabs/Muslims/others it is like a death sentence. Career woman, and working woman (full or part-time) also make excellent wives and mothers. All men and women need the support, protection, and love of their families and friends. I am glad your shared your perspective which is one many (men and women) share. Unfortunately many individuals and societies suffer for having 1/2 the population restricted in their choice of occupation to homemaker only.

  88. The Queen--thanks for the answer. I'm sorry her marriage ended, but perhaps there was more than geography involved. No kids makes for a cleaner break.

    Mu in Riyadh--while what you describe is an ideal for some women, for others, including Saudis/Arabs/Muslims/others it is like a death sentence. Career woman, and working woman (full or part-time) also make excellent wives and mothers. All men and women need the support, protection, and love of their families and friends. I am glad your shared your perspective which is one many (men and women) share. Unfortunately many individuals and societies suffer for having 1/2 the population restricted in their choice of occupation to homemaker only.

  89. Coolred38 ..

    Issues will always come up, no matter how do you live, ask the American and European women rights groups. You can't please everyone all the time, especially if they don't share you your beliefs.

    The problem is we want to make men and women equal, not in a good way, but like copies!.

    In Islam men and women are NOT EQUAL, in that way!. Both have special rules and obligations so the can COMPLETE each other.

    What makes many people criticize our situation is that they think that the woman has to do evey thing the man does, and vice versa. So even if the situation is compensated by other rules, they only see the missing things!. We need to see the whole picture to make our judgement.

    Woman respect can be n a way higher
    level than a man. Our duties to our mother are much moe than it to our fathers. and every saudi man knows (or should know) that he can't return a mothers favor, not even a part of it.

    Chiara ..

    I didn't say that women can't work, no one can say that. I described what others see and interpret without knowing the real situation.

    Woman can work, and i know many working saudi women, and they do an excellent job at it. But also, a working woman shouldn't neglect her main rule in the family and society.

    All men and women needs support, sure, but i was talking about it being "obligatory", and a job of someone.

    Also in Islam, women doesn't have to work. A woman can be a millionaire, but it's only the man who is obligated to provide the food and shelter.

    You don't see many people mentioning that!.

  90. I love your blog! I recently read the Princess trilogy and am obsessed with Saudi culture! Back in the 1980's my sis in law had a seven year relationship with a Saudi man. We all loved him, he was such a doll! Wisely, my SIL broke off the relationship, knowing that he had to return to Saudi to fulfill business and familial responsibilities. She knew that she could not personally tolerate the cultural differences and expectations that would be required of her. Sadly, I know that each of them will always consider the other the love of their life. He returned to his homeland and entered into an arranged marriage with a much younger girl.
    I would agree with the other commenters, that your husband is over compensating. I'm sure he is finding his way too and I pray that you both always put your relationship with eachother above all else.

  91. I love your blog! I recently read the Princess trilogy and am obsessed with Saudi culture! Back in the 1980's my sis in law had a seven year relationship with a Saudi man. We all loved him, he was such a doll! Wisely, my SIL broke off the relationship, knowing that he had to return to Saudi to fulfill business and familial responsibilities. She knew that she could not personally tolerate the cultural differences and expectations that would be required of her. Sadly, I know that each of them will always consider the other the love of their life. He returned to his homeland and entered into an arranged marriage with a much younger girl.
    I would agree with the other commenters, that your husband is over compensating. I'm sure he is finding his way too and I pray that you both always put your relationship with eachother above all else.

  92. Mu in Riyadh--thank you for your comment. I hope I didn't imply that you personally disapproved of women working, only meaning that the position about woman's place in the home often does imply that.

    I agree with you, that comparing Western and Muslim gender and family norms is often done by people with little knowledge of both systems, and that in particular the pluses of life for women in a Muslim system are ignored including the abundance of help, both hired and family, in raising children, whether a stay at home mom or a career mom.

    One of the criticisms of US as opposed to European feminism is that it is more binary, either home or career, and doesn't sufficiently value the roles of wife and mother.

    I do appreciate both your comments as they add nuance and perspective to the discussion. Thanks.

  93. Hello Susie,

    I have enjoyed your blog for a long time but am only just now leaving a comment. I am an American but I lived in the middle east myself for several years and I know the feelings you discribe. I suppose it's the price one pays for choosing to live outside ones country of origin. And I don't suppose the feeling ever goes away completely. On the plus side life in a country not ones own gives one an objectivity hard to come by if you never leave home.
    I wish you happiness and wisdom.

    A Fan in Virginia

  94. A Free Spirit--I was going for poetic but humour is good too. LOL :)

  95. Susie,

    This is my first visit to your blog. I admire you for how hard you are trying to be open-minded and adjust to a very different culture. It is also lovely to see how much you love your husband.

    But I can`t help feeling that the lady doth protest too much. Sorry, but I can't agree at all with you that the Saudi attitude towards women is neither wrong nor bad. This is not a cultural difference. It is profound misogyny. Nothing more and nothing less. It sounds like you are living in a relatively gilded prison. If you can accept it, that's your choice. But severely limiting the rights of half the population seems totally untenable to me.

  96. But Mu in Riyadh how can you say women "Saudis (or Muslims) see the woman working in the most valuable job, and investing in nation's most valuable product, its people. And for that, women there must be respected, protected and supported." when it is ok to beat your wife in your country? I do not see that as respectful, supportive or protected. I am sure the average Saudi man does not beat his wife. But he could if he wanted to couldn't he? Here that is a crime. Why? Because men and women are considered equal beings.

    I do not live in the US and do NOT find their values/mores and way of life to be superior to anyone else's in any way. However I do believe women should be granted the same rights men are given. The ability to work if they want, not wear the habib if they don't want to, to vote if they want to, to drive if they choose, and to live in a non segregated society.

    However if you live in such a country as SA I would hope ALL the people of the country are happy with the way things are done and not just the men.

  97. Chiara,
    Yes, there was much more than geography involved in her unhappiness outside of the U.S. It was the culture of the people that she had to live amongst in Sana'a. I guess as the years went on she just couldn't stomach it any longer and although she loved her husband she just could not step foot on that return flight. And the thing is, Susie reminds me so much of my friend who was so adventurous, accomodating,friendly accepting and open to new experiences and ideas. I guess all that one way acceptance can really grate on a person after a while.

  98. Anon...funny you think we want men and women to be equal and thats what all this commenting is about? Sorry but obviously only a man would say that. Having babies and taking care of the man and the elderly in the family is NOT all that a woman was created for ...and its not all that many woman or even most women want...they want alot more than that. They want the RIGHT to want the same things that men want and strive for.

    If a woman is happy at home with her babies and laundry and 6 pm dinner time then more power to her...if a woman would prefer to run her own business and do all the leg work herself and make sure every aspect of her business is running according to HER wishes without needing a MANS name on the ownership papers just to make the patriarchial society happy...then that should be her right.

    To be equal does not mean we want to be able to pee standing up or have the desire to hump anything that moves or to believe we are supremely superior merely because of one dinky little protruding appendage...equal means we should have the same rights to pursue our dreams goals and desires in life exactly and with as much equality as the men do that we share this planet with...anything less is definitely NOT equal.

    I do not wish to be a man...I would venture a guess that most women do not wish to be men either...but if having a penis will entitle me to all the rights and priveledges given to men merely by accident of birth over here in the middle east...then Im willing to have one sewn on somewhere just to please the Holy Penis Worshippers All Boys Club...where do I sign up for that?

  99. '...but if having a penis will entitle me to all the rights and priveledges given to men merely by accident of birth over here in the middle east...then Im willing to have one sewn on somewhere just to please the Holy Penis Worshippers All Boys Club...where do I sign up for that?'

    Are you out of your everlovin mind Coolred?! LOL You are not a prisoner there! Why in the world would you stoop so low as to even consider sewing on a penis anywhere to please people that hate you and that you can't stand? Get the heck out of there!

  100. amyinbc ...

    "But Mu in Riyadh how can you say ... when it is ok to beat your wife in your country?"

    It's not OK for anyone to beat his wife. Actually that's prohibited in Islam. What Islam says and explains is something more like Tapping or gentle beat, in a non harmful way, which is very different than the cases westerns may be familiar with. ِIt's not for harming or humiliating, it's also in certain conditions, after several steps, and within certain rules.

    The problem here is in the translation. The closest English words (whip, strike, beat, hit) has more stronger meanings, and more than that, many people will read the word without it's explanations in other places.

    The prophet (PBUH) said:

    "The best amongst you is he who is the most kind to his wife"

    These words came out more than 14 centuries ago. We live with it and raised by it since then.


    Regarding the similar rights.

    Men and women are different in many ways, mentally, physically, etc. That's recognized wherever you live, and so they get different rights sometimes.

    Men and women are separated in almost every sport, even Chess!. Anyone calling that a segregation?

    Pregnant women has special rights in many western countries, if not all. This kind of rights a man will never have.

    Islam takes this differentiation to a higher and more detailed level. Therefore, women have different rights and duties than men. "DIFFERENT", not "LESS".

    Let's not forget that the rules in KSA are based (basically) on Islamic law, therefore many people from different cultures might find it strange or difficult for them to live under it. Just like it's difficult for many Saudis to live in the west.

    Is women life perfect in SA?. No, actually it could be much improved. Not by changing the principles, but by making a more comprehensive system and following a better practice.

    Mu - Riyadh

  101. Ladies--think phallus not penis, ie. the power currently held by men in some domains, not their physical attributes (Lacan not Freud). LOL :)

    Queen--thank you for the reply. I guess life in Sana'a for her did not match the beautiful historic architecture. I hope her life is happy now.

    Mu-Riyadh--Another interesting comment.
    According to Aisha, the Prophet Mohamed said: "The best amongst you is he who is the most kind to his wife and I am the kindest amongst you to my wives."
    Quran 030.021
    YUSUFALI: And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.

    Both of these would make excellent gifts in calligraphy/needlework for the home of a newly married couple.

    You might be interested in the article by the Saudi scholar Abdulhamid A. Abusulayman or his book (also in English). A reference, and the complete Foreward to the book which summarizes his thesis are here:

    Another scholar has highlighted a key part of his thesis here:
    “The most candid meaning of the root verb daraba [usually translated as beat] in the dialect and language of the Quran therefore implies and signifies to “leave”, to “moving away”, to “separate” (Eminent Saudi intellectual Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman…)…”

    This results in a very different, but linguistically sound, translation of the famous Quran 4:34 and its less often quoted but highly important subsequent ayats 4:35, and 4:128-30.

    American feminism has emphasized male-female sameness over complementarity moreso than has European feminism for example, which is perhaps what you are referring to in the latter part of your comment.

  102. Chiara ..

    I truly appreciate your very valuable remarks.

    Thanks a lot.

    Mu - Riyadh

  103. "greeted him. When another man stuck his hand out to shake, I just looked at it for a second before I responded, because my initial reaction was surprise that a man had initiated physical contact. All this just from being here for a year!"

    Interesting. I thought I was the only odd ball out. :) I never wear shorts now even after 5 years home from Bahrain. I started shaking and crying today when I wanted to swim laps in the apt pool and I have a modest bathing suit. There was a "stange man" in the pool. I forced it. I needed the workout.

  104. Queen...it was a figure of speech...no sewing of nothing on this body...lol.

    When mentioning the Prophet saying all good things about being kind to your wives and all...I do believe when someone came and complained about wife beating being rampant...he did NOT forbid it out right...but merely made the comment...you beat them in the day like slaves then sleep with them at night? (paraphrasing)

    Which incidently indicates that beating slaves was an acceptable action as well...hmmm?

  105. Hi Susie,
    Long time since I left a comment but I am addicted to your blog. I have never missed an entry.
    There were some interesting comments about reverse culture shock on this post This will probably seem strange to you, since you hate wearing the abaya, but we got used to it and didn't mind it at all. Having lived in K.S.A. for over five years, when my soon to be ex husband was transferred to Cairo, it was a very strange experience for myself and my three girls to arrive in Egypt, a country where some women dress in western clothing and others in hijab. I remember boarding the plane in Saudi, wearing my abaya and landing in Cairo. All of us put on our abayas as we left the plane and although there were many tourists at the airport we could not bring ourselves to remove them. In addition, for many months afterwards, if I went out of the house I would slip on a long sleeved blouse over whatever I was wearing, as I felt bare. This may seem weird but my girlsall felt the same,too. Our holidays arespent in England and Greece(my husband's country) andwe never feel culture shock there.
    We have now been in Egypt for two anda half years andit is just now that I am beginning to feel happy and settled.I think that in moving to a new place or country it is normal to go through various stages and once the honeymoon stage is over it is quite common to begin looking at the negatives and finding fault in everything. Later you tend to accept things and try not to dwell on the negatives and make the most of the positives.

  106. Coolred, I knew you weren't going to seriously have something sewn on. But to even suggest that you might even consider losing half of your brains(which would happen if you suddenly grew a penis ;-) ) for ANY reason. UH! Never again speak of lowering yourself that way or I'll have to go there and kidnap you away from that place for your own good!

  107. Hi Susie.
    Great Blog.
    I miss feeling normal too :(

  108. Mu-Riyadh--You're welcome. I've enjoyed the exchange. :)

    Denisaki--an excellent reminder of the time frame for adaptation. Expats on a 2 year firm rotation schedule learn to partially adjust only so as to make the leaving easier.

  109. It must be very tough! I can't imagine living like this.. and admire you for being able to do so.

  110. I enjoyed reading your post and all the comments you received. You speak very sincerely and everyone appreciate it. I think that one of the comments I read was very true, in that if one has not lived in a country which is not their birth country they can’t understand what it is like to live in a foreign land. I know I have lived in the US for over 40 years now and I still have problems with the culture – the over material thinking, always talking about money, the superficiality, the intolerance to foreign ideas and foreign accents, the feeling of superiority over other lands, the lack of empathy for the poor, the over religiosity (compared to my country of birth) the under educated majority and the lack of politeness and many other things. I still miss my country tremendously, and even though I am used to the ways of the citizens here in the US, it is like a hole in my chest which is never closed. I feel I had more freedom in the country of my birth, but like you I married a man who was born in the country where I live now, I married a US citizen many years ago. I try to keep thinking about the best sides of the US and forget the rest.

  111. Aummyz of ThailandJun 11, 2009, 10:47:00 AM

    Dear Susie of Arabia! :D

    I found your blog by chance from searching through the internet about Saudi women and how they live their lives there and found that your blog has been very informative and very helpful!

    My name's Aum, a 27-year-old girl (or should it be a woman already? :P) whose Managing Director I work for is very eager to start his business in one of Middle East countries and I'm responsible for doing some researches on those countries. KSA happened to be the first place I picked up from lucky draw. HAHA!

    Anyway after reading a whole lot of articles and of course, your blog, I'm not so sure now if my business model can be run in KSA (as it relates to cosmetics and skin care for both men and mostly for women).

    Since women there are not supposed to be beautiful because it leads to men's attention, they do not have to apply any skin care to keep themselves beautiful anyway (although Saudi men take beauty as the most important thing to live a life with one woman.. what a conflict!)

    And my business requires girls to sell these products via telephones, under their religious rules I don't think any girls can be employed for this position-_-'' (or is selling through telephones exceptional? I cannot find any info about that anywhere in the internet).

    If you wouldn't mind, can you let me know if Saudi women can spend money on their own responsibilities? Or do they need to have permission from their husbands? If they can, do general Saudi women possess Credit Card or ATM card to use freely?

    It would be really nice to have your advice about this as it would be difficult to get this kind of info from the internet.

    Thanks in advance for your reply and I wish you all joy and happiness there.

    Best Wishes,
    Aum from Thailand :)

  112. Vagabonde--what an eloquent expression of what even long term immigrants anywhere feel--"a hole in the heart". This is sometimes what prompts a return "home" even after decades, or the acquisition of a second home in another country.

  113. Hey Susie,

    I live here in the States and have to scurry off to hide in the bedroom when men come over. I have never understood why Muslims have to hypersexualize everything. Geez. I hear even making the Hajj men will grab your butt. I wish you well. I will never, God willing, move with my husband to a land where I loss most of my rights and have to live like a child. I fight depression from the limitations I face now, due to cultural interpretations and looking good for the community. I couldn't swallow much more. Are you Muslim?

  114. For Saudis, the points you raised are all normal because that's their way of life.

    Just bear up the discomfort, Susie.

    Multi-coloured abayas? I long to see it but I think I never will.

  115. Susie:
    Not sure how I stumbled across your blog, but I am so glad I did! Loved the "normal" post and glad to have you back on the air again!
    I certainly enjoy the photos and the adult female perspective on life in KSA out "on the economy" having lived in the ARAMCO Camps in the Eastern Province back in the mid-70's to early 80's as a teenager. I know that Khobar was more lenient of all of us Westerners and our mode of dress (we could wear loose pants, but generally remained in camp during Ramadam) and know the country as a whole has become more conservative in recent years.
    One question you may have addressed somewhere in your past posts that I am curious about... how does your son accept you now that he is in the Muslim culture? And how does he accept the changes in your life dictated by the religious police?
    Stay strong.....

  116. Zahra--hope you are treating that depression or depressive tendancies: increased socialization (with like minded genuinely supportive people), cognitive-behavioural or other talking therapy, antidepressant (low maintenance dose of an SSRI), St John's Wort, light therapy, bibliotherapy, (whatever works and is safe).

    Kay--enjoyed your perspective and questions.

  117. There are already multi-colored abayas- Some with a black base and very colorful designs and some in colors other that black- also decorated. They have become quite a fashion statement/accessory for some women. I love them with big bell-shaped sleeves lined in patterned satin. Or abayas with completely patterned sleeves.

    I will say though that gender segregation is probably the biggest behavior leading to mistreatment of women and disfunction in the culture here. It is abnormal and unnatural in the extreme and leads to all sorts of weird behaviors. It is really holding the country back.

  118. Susie,

    I love your website here. It is fabulously creative with such a comphrenhensive look into the Kingdom.
    I am an expat too, most post is the Middle East (though I here in States for a few weeks). I lived in three Gulf countries but never step foot into KSA and I am curious...the "forbidden fruit" syndrome I think.
    I look forward to some updates....

  119. Female empoloyees are starting to appear. As much as 2 years ago- I was "busted" by a female security agent at Toys R Us (I was opening a box- to check all the game pieces were there). I've also been rung up by a female cashier at a local mall, and just the other day was waited on by a woman working in a cosmetics shop. So it is starting to happen.

  120. hello

    i live in australia and have visted KSA and i must say its not what the women do its to stop what men do the men in KSA are so dirty and i mean it they look at women as if they would like to have them for dinner
    i must say your brave for living there

    by the islam is not like that and women don't have to cover their face and have all these laws but KSA takes all that to the extreme and people thinks its islam and is not it really isn't

  121. Hi every one...
    I read the post and I liked to say to
    (Anonymous) that living in Saudi Arabia is nice and comfortable..
    not because I'm Saudi... but because this is the truth...
    women are not treated like slaves...
    I'm a Saudi girl and I'm so happy to be Saudi...
    in any country..there is bad men and good men..but that doesn't mean that Saudi men are dirty..they are not...

  122. Rawan,
    Living in Saudi CAN be as you describe. And many Saudi men are fine people. But the fact remains that legally women have a status similar to children. And if the man in charge of you (father, husband) is not good- there is very little you can do about it. If you want to work- go to school- leave your house, you can be stopped from all of this for no reason at all just because you are a woman.

  123. Rawan--I'm glad you spoke up to contribute a balancing view. I'm sure what you describe is how the majority live. The unfortunate ones in conflict with unreasonable mahrems are the ones who most need better protection from the law.

  124. normal is same sex marriage, gay/lesbians, nude beaches, alchochol, premarital sex, sex clubs,

    why 99% of porn sites are from west, and girls appear on these sites are citizens of freee west !!!)

  125. Ismail, gay/lesbians, alcohol, premarital sex, and sex clubs all exist pretty much everywhere- including Saudi Arabia.

    People who want to view porn, view porn. Do you have any evidence that 99% of the porn sites come from the west?

    What about abuse of domestic staff and human trafficing. Those things are more commen in the Muslim world?

  126. Hi Susie, I sympathise with your condition and also admire the extent of sacrifice you can make for your marriage - I wouldn't make all these sacrifices and I am not from the West, not even living there, though have seen parts of the West. Yes I can uderstand how much you have to stretch yourself to accept what you are not used to, though I wouldn't say any particular lifestyle should be made normal for every culture, as some people feel.
    Is there any other place where everyone dresses up in Black-and-White? perhaps you'll find this interesting - When I was in London, everytime I went out in the street, I found everyone dressed up in either black or white! No other colour for them and they thought it was normal! I come from a very colourful country, where we all take great care to see that our dresses don't resemble those of others in colour, design and patterns or prints, so I couldn't bring myself to wear only black or white and sure enough, I was the only one wearing colours in the streets of London! Often car drivers stopped to compliment me about my colourful dress and my relatives who live there told me I should try to merge but I argued with them and insisted on wearing colours - and the dresses of my country too. Yes I did feel uncomfortable because I looked different but I didn't care what people thought. I guess if you have to live there for long, may be you can talk to your husband and wear loose fitting dress like the Pakistani Salwar-Kurta as you wrote and may be not in loud colours but in pastel shades. As you've yourself written this is accepted, so why not follow it - you don't have to mortify yourself to conform - just go to the extent that is respectful of their culture without sacrificing your individuality. As you say your husband is a nice man, I'm sure if you talk to him he'll understand.

  127. Hi Susie,
    I am an Italian woman and among few weeks I will come to Jiddah as tourist and to see some opportunities for a possible investment. Would I want to know that also in these cases I can go out only in abaya and accompanied by a mascular relative? Must I bring my father with me in Saudi? :-) What obligations do the tourists have in this case?

  128. You feel it is abnormal to you because it is abnormal, period.

    I grew up in the Kingdom and it is a home far away from my own, unknown, home (Palestine). I would like to also add that I owe that country and its people a whole lot.

    However, nowhere does it say in either the Quran or Sunna that you have to conform to everything a ruler/cleric says or orders. Islam is rebellious religion that encourages debate and discussion. Yet what we are experiencing is a 70 year constant revival or tribalism in it most crude forms. One that is being exported to other Arab territories.

    Even in the country itself, up until the late 50's the rules and regulations regarding the dress code for foreign women were not as stringent as today.

  129. Thanks for all the comments.. I apologize for not replying to all of them. I got way behind and have been traveling.

    To the Last Anonymous - I've been told here that Islam should NOT be questioned, and this is one of my problems. I have so many questions and I get either no answers or unsatisfactory answers. To follow rules without question is just not in my nature. Thank you for your comment - now I don't feel crazy.

  130. Susie--look up the tradition of ijtihad in Islam and its predominance until about 200 years ago, and its contemporary manifestations, and you will feel even more sane. Also travel to other Muslim countries, and see Islam being lived in a respectful but less conservative way.

    Or better yet--throw hub and kid in a car and DRIVE them around another Muslim country! Don't give up the steering wheel to anyone else! Wear knee length shorts and a tee shirt while doing so. Let your hair wave in the breeze. If I didn't hate driving so much I'd meet you somewhere east of Casablanca and West of Jeddah! LOL :)

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