Saudi Arabia: The Smile or Even the Hug…


Growing up American a young girl does not think twice about her smile, her laugh or even a spontaneous hug.  After all, most of us were raised to be friendly, polite, welcoming.  But in Saudi Arabia a young woman is not to draw attention to herself or if she is speaking it is generally through her brown eyes with the rest of the face obscured.  As a result, there can be major albeit innocent misunderstanding and miscommunication between the male Saudi student and the American girl.


The American girl wants to make the “foreigner,” the newcomer, feel welcomed.  She may walk up to him with a smile on her face and take his hand in hers as she gives him her name.  She’ll encourage him to call her by her first name and without a second thought volunteer her cell phone number too.  After all, she is just being American.  Yet to the newly arrived Saudi student he may be receiving confirmation that all he heard or read about American women were true.  They are easy!  They like me!  They may not be too ‘clean’ or worried about being clean because she is talking to me and touching me.  She smiled at me!


I don’t know if I have an answer on how to easily clear up this misunderstanding that too often takes place.  One can only talk about the distinctions in culture and upbringing in the hopes that these nuances become better known.  More Saudi students will be coming to America.  More American students will be going to KAUST too.


Perhaps international students association should begin writing their own experiences and tips on how to avoid miscommunications.  International student life is a great experience for all involved but it is imperative to start these new relationships with the right foot forward.


What experiences or situations have YOU found yourself in which involved a foreign student or newcomer with differing traditions?  How do you clear any cultural misunderstandings?  What are the best tips to have the new friendship cement into a lasting one?


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