Saudi Arabia: Is There a Chasm for Expatriates

It’s been three years now since I left Saudi Arabia with my husband never expected to not return.  However that does not stop me from having the Kingdom in my mind each day.  I packed a lifetime of memories during our short time which we were in the Kingdom.

Today I was mulling over was there truly a chasm for the expatriates in Saudi Arabia?  Well, the answer is yes.  The wider the chasm between the Saudi nationals and expatriates depends on both gender and nationality.

I believe it’s easiest to close that chasm and experience some male bonding if you are a Western or Arab expatriate man.  There are great opportunities to know one another, build a friendship, bond and do things together.  Most expatriate men in Saudi Arabia are likely working with or for Saudis.  There are many places they can go outside of the workplace and do activities together from treks in the desert, visiting estrahas, going to coffee bars and going to each other’s homes.  They generally can converse in a common language.  They can talk “man-to-man” on business, politics and other issues of interest.  It is easy to bring a Western man into a Saudi home and uphold the tradition of segregation.

Expatriate women on the other hand have a harder time to get to know and make Saudi friends.  She is prohibited from socializing with any man unrelated to her.  Therefore, if she is a single expatriate woman, she will unlikely to receive invitations to a Saudi man’s home.  If she is a working expatriate woman, she may build relationships among Saudis but they can be limiting.  Only the minority of other working Saudi woman will take the initiative and invite an expatriate single woman to their home.  If she is not working, it is even more difficult for her to meet and make friends with Saudis and especially women.  There may likely be language barriers to start.

However, there are activities which can bring Saudi and non-Saudi women together which will offer opportunities to converse and exchange information.  But there may be limitations on how Saudi and non-Saudi women can meet outside of an activity.  Depending on where an expatriate woman lives, she may not be able to have Saudi guests to her home as some of the Western compounds prohibit Saudi nationals on the premises.

My suggestion is to first plan on meeting for lunch at one of the many restaurants located in ladies sections of certain malls where woman can relax, get to know one another and build friendships.


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