Saudi Arabia: Can’t People Detect the Smile?

My immune system is presently compromised.  I am unable to easily fight off infections and highly susceptible to germs or viruses.  As a result I wear a mask when I leave my residence…which nowadays is just to the hospital where I receive daily injections to give my bone marrow much needed boosters.  I am finding that people are more wary of a person wearing a medical mask than wearing a niqab.

I’m by nature a gregarious person who enjoys the company of others.  I have no difficulty to give a smile of welcome.  Smiling was something I had to learn to curtail in Saudi Arabia where a simple smile could be misperceived.  However in North Carolina most people do smile.  Now that I havr to wear the mask people can not see that I am smiling in spite of the medical challenges.  I look at an oncoming person and find that most tend to avert their gaze down to the ground when they see I am wearing a mask.  Can they not detect there is a smile behind the mask?

It is also a natural instinct I think to look down when passing a woman wearing the niqab.  In her case she has chosen to cover her face and thereby silently states she wants her privacy protected.  Yet I have also noticed how expressive women who wear a niqab can be with their eyes.  I guess years of practice make a difference.  Or perhaps when random folks see a mask they do not bother to look at the eyes.  I guess next time I go out I’ll draw a smiley face on the outer side of my mask.

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20 Responses

  1. I thought I read by nature I am a gorgeous person…to which I replied YES YOU ARE!

  2. Great idea!

  3. I think when a person smiles from their heart it shows in their eyes and your eyes are not hidden by your mask so people will most likely be able to see it in your eyes!

  4. I wonder if it’s because a medical mask denotes a sick person or a healthy person trying to avoid the germs of others.

    In the first case it could be people divert their eyes due to not knowing how to react to someone who is ill (we all like to pretend we are invincible!) whereas in the latter case, they might feel you think they are germy! :)

    Likely, no, they don’t see your smile because they don’t take the time to notice it in your eyes. They may be fearful if they look at you directly – as we southerners/Americans tend to do – that it would be perceived as staring (rude) so they are trying to be polite and avert their eyes instead.

    I tend to notice the whole of people’s faces – eyes, smile (or frown), whether their eyebrows are scowling or surprised or normal. With half your face covered, people are more unsure. (We aren’t used to reading covered women’s faces here like they are in KSA!)

    And maybe I am trying to analyze this too much, but I’m trying to think like North Carolinians might think since I’ve lived here since I was 4. :)

    Drawing a smiley face is a cute idea! I really think people would like that! :D

  5. Drawing a smile on your mask is a wonderful idea! I might suggest it to the patients in my hospital.

    People in America are nonchalant to the point of rudeness. Everyone is so afraid of offending someone else by staring that they go to the other extreme– pretending they don’t see you.

  6. I live in Japan where the defacto practice is to wear a medical mask at the slightest sniffle. Because of this we have masks in all sorts of styles from those with funny faces on them to disney characters on them.

    You could get some fabric paint (or regular) and put something on yours. Or, if you have access to a printer you could get some of the printable fabric, print any design on it you like, print it, cut it, and pin it to your mask. This would allow for washable reusable designs to fit your mood.

  7. Marahm: “People in America are nonchalant to the point of rudeness. Everyone is so afraid of offending someone else by staring that they go to the other extreme– pretending they don’t see you.”

    That’s funny to me since we are normally accused of being too friendly around the world.While living in Saudi Arabia, I have needed to curb both my natural tendency to smile at everyone, as well as using the greetings (Good morning, for example) we are taught to say to everyone from shopkeepers to strangers in the States. Go figure.

  8. American Bedu I have seen your photograph and you ‘stars’ in your eyes…I think in the end, it is all in the eyes.

  9. “Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. Peace begins with a smile”. — Mother Teresa

  10. I’ve read a hadith I believe that states “smiling is like charity”.

    It is my understanding this is encouragement to smile and be kind to others. I assume this applies to any Muslim, male or female; though I am left scratching my head when I think of the women smiling and covering their faces. :I

  11. :neutral:

  12. I think people are so scared of germs and diseases they look away because they dont want to deal with it.
    Saudi women that wear niqab are really experts at expressing their emotions with the eyes only.
    You can see from a mile away that she is really smiling :)))
    Maybe you can draw just the smile on the mask and see what reactions you get!

  13. I shall let everyone know. I must go out Tuesday and with the mask.

  14. [...] so I’ve never challenged why Abdullah was taken back home to Him in February 2010 or asked why my own cancer keeps progressing. Yet my own analytic nature does have me looking back at events and wishing for [...]

  15. I hope you are feeling better, I just caught on my blog reading and came across this post and I felt I must comment. First, of all do try the smiley face mask idea, I think it will help over come the distrust people in the West usually have of someone who’s face is covered regardles of reason (religous or health ) and help set a humorous tone so they realise what a cheerful person you really are.

    Secondly, in my opinion, people in KSA are adept at reading ‘eye expressions’ you learn at a young age to recognise your mum by her eyes;generally in Eastern countries more emphasis is placed in the eyes in expressing emotion whereas in the West more emphasis is placed on the whole face, to the extent that the emoticons used in chatting are different too. You might find this article interesting:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8199951.stm

    And lastly, in a humble effort to make you smile an anecdote:
    I’be been brought up in Saudi, and am generally a very ‘smiley’ person, but growing up in Jeddah I quickly learned and was taught that smiling in publi, was misinterpreted and especially when the smile was bestowed my thirteen year old girl. I learned to restrain my smile and not make eye contact with guys in the shopping malls unless I wanted to be harassed/stared at /followed. So when on my Mum and her friend decided to go shopping one day, I decided to go too but on top of my usual abaya and scarf I wore a niqaab that hid my face but left my eyes open. I was so delighted that nobdy could see me that I was smiling all the time and looking at everyone. Half an hour into the trip, I realised my niqaab seemed to be failing terribly as every one was smiling at me, and a few would’ve followed me if I was unaccomapnied,So I took my Mum aside and said, I think these guys can see throught my Niqab..is it transparent? My Mum said no. But after watching me a few minutes said, ‘Your face is covered but they can see your eyes silly!’ .. I was so embarrassed, I’d been walking around acting like I was surrounded by One- way glass. :-P

  16. Where is the smile, ha? I don’t see any smile.

    Why Saudis ought to smile?

    Only those psychos and the mentally ill smile, or perverts !!!!! (._.)

  17. @al-zuhayyan

    smile and the world will smile with you, cry and you will cry alone !!!!

    haven’t you heard of smiling nd laughing your worries away , or smile for a long long life

  18. The only times I’ve had a person come upon me, I was badly injured and going into surgery. Hence, I’d have a natural avoidance to such a masked person.
    That said, I also KNOW that about myself, as I examined why I recoiled once when I DID see someone wearing a surgical mask on the street, then adapted.
    No, the smile can’t be seen through the mask, unless one looks at your eyes.
    The first thing avoided by the fearful.
    Humans are a natural fearful species, overall.
    Consider it this way: When faced by the lion, tiger or angry hippo, what defense does a human have, lacking our technology of steel or even bronze?
    We’re toast!
    Humans are pretty much, the weakest species on the planet. The ONLY time we are not is in groups.
    THAT is the first impetus for those avoiding your eyes and obviously, the smile you’d offer, if you could.
    In short, it’s not YOUR failing, but a failing in THEM and their education.
    Were you walking around with that mask in Japan, you’d not even draw ANY attention.
    People are people, culture is one of the primary differences between them, religion is the final difference.
    We may not like it, but reality is reality.
    Education only takes time… :/

    Al-Zuhayyan, indeed! I ALWAYS meet strangers with a smile, even REAL Bedouin, many of whom I’ve shared meals in their tents. So, as THEY greeted ME with a smile, you claim they and I are insane OR am a pervert. OK, guilty on the last part, but that is between my wife and myself in our bedroom. Or something. I suggest you review your view of the world, as your shaitan seems to have your ear and that one is NOT one who honors the creator, but the other one. Our words for that creature may be different, the meaning that is mutually understood is not. You listen to the wrong whisper, which endangers you greatly.
    But then, the creator knows more better than I what you do. I only offer gentle advice.

  19. a smile in the face of another muslims is sadaqa! how far have the muslims strayed from their beautiful faith? good health to you.

  20. Add a positive nod & a hem sound with a smile , it means you smiled with a mask on :)

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