Saudis in the USA – How Many Miles?

hippie_by_rodrigowilliamAn experience was shared with me about 6 Saudi Air Force Officers who traveled to the United States in the late 1970’s where among other things they were to receive some English language training.  None of the six officers had traveled to the USA before.  Their only perceptions and images of the USA were what they saw in the news or via American movies.  Considering the 1970’s had some radical times with images of Woodstock, free love, sex and drugs, these traditional Saudis were a little apprehensive about traveling to this unknown destination.


On arrival and after clearing customs, they found this guy who appeared to be in his mid-twenties with an earring and long hair tied back in a ponytail following them and attempting to speak to them.  They were convinced that anyone who looked like that must be a drug dealer and that these foreigners were his earmarked target.  As a group, they decided to simply ignore the man.  However the man was persistent to get their attention.  The group of Saudis convened in Arabic about what should they do with this pesky and suspicious looking individual.  They decided if he made any attempt to touch them, they would jump him.  They continued to ignore the man who, shaking his head, hurriedly walked away.


Now the Saudis felt relief on being on their own but at the same time they were not sure who was to meet them and take them to the facility where they were to receive their training.  They collected their bags and proceeded to the airport exit.  Wouldn’t you know it, right outside the exit was again the suspicious looking man.  But at least this time he was beside a bus and pointing to the logo on the side of the small bus.  Yes; it was the name of the institute.


While the Saudis were still not sure about the character of this suspicious looking American they recognized the institute name and logo so they did get into the bus willingly.  The American smiled and made every attempt to put the group of Saudis at ease but it was difficult given the language barriers.  So the Saudis sat in the back of the bus and sat and sat as the driver drove and drove.  The trip to the facility seemed to be taking a long time and the Saudis talked among themselves wondering just how far it was to reach the facility.  Were they right in placing trust in this unknown American?


After another consultation it was decided among the group of Saudis that the one Saudi who had a few words of English would try and determine how much farther they needed to travel before arriving at their destination.  This Saudi made his way up to beside the driver, shyly saying “hello” in his heavily accented English.  The driver’s face lit up in a big wide smile and readily responded back “HI!”


The Saudi allowed a shy smile to cross his face and in his broken English asked “How many meals?”  The driver looked at him with curiosity then responded while holding up three fingers, “three – breakfast, lunch and dinner.”


The Saudi sheepishly said thank you and made his way back to his seat where his colleagues greeted him with laughter as they realized he was not successful with his limited English.  Shortly thereafter the Saudis arrived at their destination where a translator was present and they were then properly introduced to the amiable driver who had only wanted them to feel welcomed.  All of the Saudis did indeed learn very good English after that and each of them take relish in recounting this initial experience to America in the 1970’s.


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