Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Questions and Answers

In response to questions I've received recently:

Question: You’ve mentioned that the kids can run free and you don’t have to worry about them. Is there really tight security within the compound?
Answer: We lived in a completely walled compound. The security is very tight to get on the compound. You cannot enter the place without a legitimate reason and you must confirm with the reception who you are and why you are coming. When I invite guests, I have to register them with the reception. Within the compound, there are speed bumps on the roads, and only residents can drive their cars onto the compound. This means there is limited traffic that moves very slowly. My three oldest boys do have free reign on the compound-though I request that they check in with me before going to a friend's house and also to let me know if they are changing locations. I do not let my 5-year old or 2-year old run around without supervision.

Question: Do you have to wear your Abaya when you are outdoors in the compound?

Answer: I only wear my abaya when going out of the compound. Within the compound, even going outdoors, I wear regular western clothing. The compound does restrict access to Saudis and does not allow abayas or the hijab to worn within the compound walls. This is to prevent conflict and also to give westerners some measure of freedom within the compound.

Question:I'd love to know about the school system; at what age do the kids start, are boys and girls separated, do they learn English?

Answer: I am not really sure about the starting age of school for children here. Schools are sex-segregated and teaching is based on the Koran. I do believe there is some level of English instruction. The royal families and wealthy families do send their children to private schools.

Question: Are there preschools?

Answer: I do not know if there are preschools for Saudi children here. Most compounds have preschools for ex-pat children.

Question: Do most women stay at home or are they working?

Answer: I have only seen a handful of women working. There are not female shopkeepers, only male. The women I have seen working are in the medical profession. I believe, though am not completely sure, that access to education and work seems to be dependent on family wealth and status.

Question: Is it really true women aren't allowed to drive?

Answer: Yes, women are restricted from driving. This has been a point of contention in the country, with more fundamental Muslim clerics denouncing the practice as a means to lead women into temptation and also is seen as a step toward western culture, which is seen as a negative influence.

Question: How much ground has western music gained among the youth?

Answer: I hear very little music blaring from cars when we are out. Most of it seems to be Middle Eastern. Though yesterday I saw two young men dressed in thobes and Yankees ballcaps blaring some rap. It was an incongruous sight.

Question:How do young people dress?

Answer: Girls dress in Western clothing until they reach puberty. You can find just about any European or American clothing store in the malls. Girls continue to dress in trendy ways once they hit puberty, (judging by the store displays) but begin the practice of wearing the abaya over the clothing. It isn't unusual though, to see young girls wear the abaya in public. I rarely see children in short-sleeved clothing or shorts. Young men either dress in the thobe--a white robe, with a head-dress or they wear Western clothing. I get the impression that many Saudis wear very trendy and fashionable clothing--though it is always concealed beneath an abaya if one is out in public. I have noticed that young men and men take tremendous care with their appearance, most facial hair is impeccably groomed--though the occasional wild beard does make its appearance.

Thanks for the questions. Please let me know if you have a question and I will address it in a later post.


  1. That is interesting! So how do men and women socialize in the culture?

  2. Jocelyn, the short answer to your question is they don't. Women only have interaction with men who are relatives: husbands, fathers, cousins, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, and sons. Men and women who are not related simply do not mix. I think your question deserves a follow-up post because it is an incredibly important part of Saudi culture and is something that is SO dramatically different from our American and European cultures.

  3. I should amend my answer to say that if in the presence of a male authority figure, such as a husband or father, a woman can have limited interaction with a male who is not a relative. But really, the sexes do not mingle. Wedding receptions have two different parties: a male party and a female party.

  4. Can't wait to hear more! I remember reading as much in a book about Sadam last year...