Married to a Saudi? Be Flexible…

Saudi plastic barbie doll

If you are a foreigner (especially Western) and married to a Saudi, be flexible…very very flexible!  While you may think you have made many great sacrifices by leaving your family and your country to be with your spouse in the Kingdom, don’t expect him to fully appreciate the gesture.  Do not expect any special gratitude from his family either; they will consider that as your role and duty as his wife.


If you are a Western wife, you will be expected to be more tolerant on issues than that perhaps of a Saudi wife.  Also as a Western wife, you will be viewed as more capable and independent (whether true or not).  If you are working you are expected to contribute not only to your home and husband but to his extended family as well.  However do not maintain any illusions that the same would hold true if the situation were reversed.


You may learn unexpectedly with little to no notice that there may be visitors….lots and lots of visitors.  Do not make an absurd suggestion that they may be more comfortable in a furnished apartment or hotel regardless of how long the visit may be.  Family takes care of family and stays together.  Have no illusions that if you receive a significant number of guests which may exceed 25 in number that there would be a “joint kitty” to help defray associated expenses for extended guests for a long term visit.  In fact, the Saudi custom and culture prides itself strongly on hospitality and face.  No matter how much of a financial burden may be placed on a Saudi man for hosting a large number of extended guests (family) for a period he will never ask for monetary assistance.  If any were to be offered, it would be automatically refused as accepting would be viewed as a loss of face.  The Saudi husband and wife will simply have to “suck it up” and hopefully have planned in advance for such occasions.  (“yeah right” a wife told me speaking under condition her identity not be revealed)


The above was candidly shared with me by a western wife who gave her approval to share her experience.  When I asked her what advise she would suggest to other western wives if they were to find themselves in a similar situation and find it difficult to cope, what should they do?  She stressed emphatically that if it bothered a wife significantly then don’t be around to deal with the pressures.  Take advantage of the opportunity and arrange to have your own mini-vacation break somewhere. 


But what if you cannot get away?  How can you make the best of an unfamiliar situation?


Try suggesting some outings for the women. Presumably the family members will have children so suggest they go to amusement parks and the like. That may give one a break for a few hours. The trick here is not to make them feel like you are pushing them out, but that you been to those places and they should see them before leaving town.

– Organize the women a little on helping you. Again, tricks like telling one of them that you love her recipe for a dish may spur to take over making the meals for that day.


– If there are teenage girls recruit them as helpers. Young Saudi girls are fascinated by westerners, they may like getting closer to you.


35 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing Carol. Personally, none of this would bother me if I were a good cook! Or even semi-good. I never have ideas on what to make. People who ate my food said they liked it, but it was always only one or two people at a time, I have never cooked for five let alone twenty five!! Perhaps my lack of ideas or interest in cooking comes from being single, and I pray I get better if Allah wills that I marry. At the moment I just cannot picture myself cooking for so many (picky) people and leave them satifisfied.
    So I need everyone to make dua for me, smile!!

  2. That is a very positive attitude, Dalia! I think cooking once or twice for 25 would be a good (and possibly pleasant) experience but could not imagine an extended routine as such!

  3. I guess you have stayed in saudi arabia long enough now to notice all that? :)
    well, i myself come from an islamic society (Egypt) but comparing to saudi arabia, it’s a VERY free society.

    i am in saudi arabia on a business trip, it’s been almost a month now, and the things i experienced are truly amazing!!! VERY weird, i’ve seen things i never expected to see.

    The culture here, (though it is arabic and islamic) is different than that in Egypt or other arab\islamic countries i’ve been to.

    Good luck with your life :)
    ps: advice, take a vacation, go to miami,FL or something :) or come to sharm el sheikh egypt if you want to be near the kingdom :)

  4. I agree, once a month or better yet every other month (taking the arab culture into consideration) would be okay with me under the condition I become a better cook!

    Also, I do not mind unannounced guests if it is a group of maximum five people, under the condition that they are okay with being served tea and cookies or a small meal. And I would prefer of course if it is not every day, let’s say once a week is okay. Boy I sound like there could be some trouble in paradise if I married an arab, smile!

  5. It is a tremendous sacrifice to leave your home country and go and live at your spous’s. It is even a greater sacrifice when your spouse’s country is Saudi Araiba!! Many Saudis are having a hard time living in their own country, imagine how hard it would be for a westerner.

    The difficulty of adjusting to life in Saudi is the reason that you don’t see many mixed couple in Saudi now adays, not like back in the 70’s , when many Saudi students returned from the U.S. with thier wives. I struggled with the idea of getting married to an American girl when i was in the U.S. but then i didn’t want to subject her to life in Saudi, and i thought it would be better for both not to venture into such thing. Many of my friends did the same thing, they figured it was better to break the hearts of thier girlfriends, rather than subjecting them to a life they will definitly regret in the future.

  6. That’s quite a candid admission Shadow Whisperer and appreciate your honesty and sharing!

    I try to present all faces of Saudi Arabia and anyone involved with someone from a differing culture should be aware of the good and the bad.

  7. Haha nice post!
    But that’s not true for Hadhar (west coast people).
    You should rename the topic to “Married to a tribal man?”. Cuz that’s also true if you’re married to a tribal from any country in the gulf.

  8. Hadhari,

    Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting.


  9. Interestsing that some Saudi men would not want to bring Western wives to the Kingdom because of potential unhappiness. I’m sure that is always a difficult decision, for both man and woman.

    Though I was married to an Egyptian, not a Saudi, I hasten to say that I know more than a handful of Western women who are very happy in Saudi Arabia, married to their Saudi spouses.

    I simply want to point out that while moving to the Kingdom can be difficult, requiring a long period of adjustment, it can also be a great experience that the woman would not have missed for the world.

    The real problem is that she cannot try it out before making the commitment.

  10. Interesting. It is clear that often in the “land of Islam” that culture trumps the religion. In the religion a wife that works is under NO obligation to give ANY money to her husband, let alone his family. The money she makes is hers, and hers alone. Any money she gives to her husband is considered a charity.

    Also, visitors with little or no notice? The Saudis I know here, of course I have never lived in Saudi, would find an unannounced visit to be very rude. Who knows what the people who are the target of such an unannounced visit might be up to? It could make for a very uncomfortable situation!

    This has happened to us a few times here in the USA, always by non Saudi Arabs, and it has always upset my wife. With everyone having a cell phone today there is no excuse for not giving a 30 minute or more warning of one’s pending visit.

    My father in law was famous, or maybe infamous/lol, for refusing to let people in if they did not give advanced notice. In one family legend he actually kicked out a Morrocan lady that the family knew and told her to come back when she had learned some manners. Of course they knew her but he wasnt too fond of her, but the point as made. She always called after that.

    In typical regional bias my wife’s family refers to that type of behavior as being very “bedu”.

    The fascination thing is 100% true. Because we are a rare couple, we get lots of interest from Saudis.

    Question for you Carol. Have you had much interaction with non Saudi Arabs? Have you experienced any jealousy from them because you are married to a Saudi? What about from Saudi females themselves?

    I have had issues with Saudi men who are upset that one of “theirs” would marry an American, but I am sure it wouldnt be the same if it was an American woman. I have also had non Saudi men get upset that I could “land a Saudi woman” and they could not. These are usually guys who think all Saudis are rich.

  11. I agree with Abu Sinan: any money a wife has, or makes, is hers alone!
    I also thought that even if you dó gatecrash, three days is the maximum you can stay, and except for the first meal, you take pot-luck with the family!

  12. Abu Sinan – I have had a lot of interaction with non-Saudi Arabs both within and outside the Kingdom. My experiences with them have been very positive. Where I have felt jealousy or resentment have been from Saudi females. I think in some cases I am viewed as a threat in the sense of a Saudi man who chose a western wife over a Saudi and in other cases their is the resentment where the Saudi woman feels that a Saudi man should marry a good Saudi woman who needs a husband.

    I have also experience the reverse or rather mirror image among Americans who felt that an American should not be marrying a Saudi for various reasons. These experiences have not taken place in the Kingdom but in the US or elsewhere.

    Yes; I can see where you are also viewed as an anomoly as a Western man with a Saudi wife.

  13. Carol,

    These visitor situations also happen with the African community and almost exactly as you described in your post. Alhumdulillah,it has not happened to me yet,we’ve had up to 5 visitors for meals and up to 2 for overnights lasting about 3-5 nights,but I know my time will come sooner or later and(ALLAH please forgive me!) I’m not looking forward to it! I have to admit,like Dalioness said, I probably wouldn’t be so bothered by it if I were a good cook! Insh”Allah one day I will be!

    Peace & Blessings!

  14. There’re things that a Western woman should also know so as not to be too flexible too and this could sometimes cause men to take her for granted and continue to require things from her that no woman in Saudi is expected to do usually. Such “taking for granted” might eventually make him feel that she is not exciting anymore, or that she is no “challange”. I notice, and so does many of my Saudi friends, that in such a routinic society, men are so fond of challange. I would expect that men who marry Western women are even more so in their demand of challange and thrill.
    For example, asking for a maid or even two to help her at home is very normal and expected. Even if the wife was a stay home, and especially if her husband is a generous host and owned a house. Now a days no woman is required to cook or entertain guests at short notice, and usually if she has no maid, it is very common to order large meals from kitchens- thabeeha (round plates of roasted lamb over rice).

  15. Good points and advise. There are some things in a bi-cultural relationship that may not have been discussed prior to arriving in the Kingdom. This is an issue that should be raised as it can easily make or break what may have been a good marriage.

  16. Why can Arabs or Muslims be more accepting of their wifes culture? If the western wife does not like the life adapt so that it suits.

    The guys first allegiance should be to his wife, if it’s not then she needs to get out.

    This is so common and it’s because everyone is so accepting that everyone has to be so understanding of culture and religion.

    Imagine what will happen when the truth gets out that all religions are bogus and that all of this cultural understanding is just an exercise in unpleasantness.

    Damned if I’d be subject to those cultures…

  17. Jim,

    What I have observed in regards to relationships in the Kingdom, a Saudi man’s first allegiance will likely be towards his mother. Whether this is due to the nature of arranged marriages or the segregation, I will not venture to guess.

  18. WHY??????

  19. Hey, how about give me the gold and you can go play with the boys. Woman are this, woman are that. Woman make babies, but the boys have fun with the boys….I have come to the conclusion, Saudis suck!!!!

  20. I have only been in Jeddah for almost 5 months now, but I guess I would have to consider myself lucky that I have not been imposed on like your friend in this post. My husband’s family always hosts the various get togethers. They have larger homes and maids to help. My husband has been guilty at times of giving me very short notice about going on these outings, but I just go with the flow and everything is fine. When we lived in the States, we did have several sets of guests from Arabia who overstayed their welcome. My husband’s “open door policy” did get to me at times, but again, it was not a major problem and he is usually very considerate. Being flexible is important in any relationship.

    What is wrong with “nearlynormalized”? How rude!!!

  21. Hi Susie and welcome! I am sure that many of the Saudi Wives who have been in the Kingdom for several years all wish you the best and hope that your husband does not change. I have a future post forthcoming on the “Transition of a Saudi Man” based on discussions and observations of the Saudi man and how his personality and demeanor usually goes through some form of a transformation as he readapts to the life and customs of the Kingdom.

    I’ve no problem with “nearlynormalized” speaking his views. He simply illustrates that the Kingdom is not necessarily for everyone!

  22. In my experience, great numbers of guests are the expectations of Muslims in general. If I invite a sister to my home who has children, it is a given that the children will come, all 4-6+ of them. If the kids are Arab, they usually tear through your house like a tornado, lol. (my experience ONLY before anyone jumps on me)

    If a sister finds out that another sister has been invited, it is usually rude not to invite her too. And then she may have kids :) On and on …

    I used to lock my bedroom and bathroom doors when sisters with kids came to visit, to kind of limit where the kids could run, etc.. My husband and I are up in years and our home isn’t kid friendly/safe anyhow. One time, a child was trying to turn the door knob and his mom said, “he wants to go in there” like I was going to unlock the door and let him tear up the room :)

    I am also on a limited budget. I cannot afford a spread for an unexpected horde of guests. It is better for me if I can plan to have guests over.

    It may not be a Saudi thing so much, Carol, but perhaps an Arab thing.

    Now with Jewish people (like my family), they fight and argue to take you to a restaurant, and then who is going to pay the bill :)

    Allah (swt) forgive me if I have offended anyone. Above is just my experience.

  23. Saffiyah,

    Yes; I have noticed that the children especially can be quite feckless and little discipline is enforced on the part of the parents as if to imply “of course it is okay to tear up and destroy ones house.”

    You made good points that even when one has purposely invited guests it is not unusual to have others come along so be prepared and have about 2-3 times as much (or more) prepared for these extra guests.

  24. why does the woman have to adapt? if she is not arab then why must she act as if she is? a lot of the arabs i know that live in the US keep their culture so why should a western wife forgo hers if her and her hubby move to his country? my egyptian husband and i butt heads about this. we live in egypt and i have made it clear that people need to call before they come to our house and that he did not marry and egyptian so why should i throw all my customs out the door just because we live here. if i felt that egyptian customs were something wonderful then i would adapt some of them but i really do not agree with the way they do things.

    if an arab or men from other cultures want their wives to follow their customs then why marry a western woman?

  25. Ilka,

    Welcome to the blog. I would imagine that many women who have no friends and family in KSA or elsewhere in the Arab world may feel pressurized to fit in.

    You certainly ask good questions but I don’t think there is necessary a “pat” answer!

  26. Marham said, ‘The real problem is that she cannot try it out before making the commitment.’

    Actually, because my husband didn’t grow up in KSA, and I had only been to Canada other than USA, we made a special deal with each other when we got married. We decided that we would not have children for the first year or two until we were sure that we could be happy together in KSA. That way, if anything went wrong, we could end it easier than trying to do so with children.

    That said, we never had any major arguments until we HAD children. They were not allowed to go to the international schools in KSA, so we started arguing about where we would live and raise them at school age. It got to be a very intense argument that lasted for years and almost broke up our marriage. (Obviously, we worked it out.) I have seen this problem cause divorce or separation in many cases here (in mixed marriages) and it is very sad. Foreign women really need to understand what it means to marry a Saudi and how it will affect their future and that of their children. When you are young and in love, you just don’t get it.

  27. Miriam, not to try and segue too much off of the subject but perhaps times have changed.. the majority of my friends with children and married to Saudis have children who go to the international schools here whether American or British. I do agree the decision you and your spouse made on waiting to have children until knowing how things would work between the two of you in the Kingdom. Yes; there are so many many factors to consider.

  28. I read that article

    what I got that customs are different so you should tell ur husband about that “pressure”

    also your husband facing the society pressure because of his marriage. He may try to proof that no different between western or Saudi wife by acting like an oridnery family here in saudi arabia.

    finally, all our vistors call before come even we’re a tribal family .

    in saudi arabia ” change is faster than any where else ”

    thx a lot

  29. Saudi Unmarried Guy,

    It’s nice to hear the perspectives from a Saudil male. The comments made in this post are based on discussions and observations of various foreign women who have married to Saudis. Naturally the post does not mean to imply every Saudi man is as described but it does seem that a large majority of the Saudi men who have chosen to bring a foreign wife to the Kingdom may face many of the issues cited.

    Yes; there is indeed pressures when one leaves their family to relocate to a new country with different customs and cultures and I believe it is natural that spouses and families should support the one who has followed another to a new environment.

    That’s great that all of your visitors call. In many cases it seems that is not the case.

    I hope you will continue to comment and share your perspectives.

  30. uf! so much difficulty to be faced! how many successful marriages can be found then? then, why at all a girl to marry saudi man :(

  31. Im waaaay late on posting on this one but Carols comment about the transition Saudi (arab) men go through once they arrive back home seems a bit late for some men…most of them make that change on the airplane ride over with new shell shocked wife in tow. They leave America (or wherever) with fun loving out going ready for anything Ahmed…and arrive in said Arab country with quiet, reserved, extremely proud and rigid almost aloof Ahmed bin Said bin Hamad Whoever….it can be a daunting change to witness.

    In days past the American Embassy website actually warned American women of this transition when travelling to an Arab husbands country…we never learn though.

  32. Srinivas – there are indeed some successful marriages but like with any marriage, it does take work and likely more work when considering a westerner and saudi relationship!

    Coolred – the American embassy does have a statement (albeit dated and needs revised) on American women married to Saudis… but in this case I do ask how many put credence in governments warnings about marriages whether from the US Government or Saudi Government or anywhere else?

    And yes…the airport transformations both to/from Saudi are quite interesting to observe! (smile)

  33. “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” – Benjamin Franklin

  34. Salam aleykum ,i’m moving to SA and read the forums ,unfortunatelly i’m neighter middle eastern ,neighter westerner kind of wife ! The balkanian type of wives are unsopportable ,they want to rule it all and are sos tubborn and ambitious ,uffff ! I am very soft balknaina woman ,i imagine if my husband married some of my friends he would really have hard time llol!so I imagine i would not have porblems with any of this matters alhamdo lilah but i want to be a good muslim and try hard to change some of the characteristics of balkanian women in me ! Otherwise i love SA!

  35. i’m muslim and i’d rather die than marry a saudi.

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