Saudi Arabia – The Expectation of Assistance

I have noticed a tendency among Saudis to frequently and easily ask westerners for assistance. This is understandable when there are requests that a native English speaker can perform so much easier than a Saudi. These requests can include facilitating university admissions, preparing cover letters and assisting with research and writing papers. Interestingly some Saudis may even ask Westerners assistance for finding opportunities for young women too since many westerners are exposed to more “open” environments and therefore more diverse opportunities for women. I think it is fair to say that the majority of westerners will be happy to assist and oblige with such requests. Working together helps foster understanding, build bridges and solidify friendships. Yet as I hear from a number of westerners while they have been pleased to help out Saudis there has been little to no appreciation shown in return. It is almost as if there is expectancy on the part of the Saudi that he or she (the Saudi) is doing the westerner a favor by asking him or her for assistance. More often than not, the Saudi fails to say just a simple “thanks” for the assistance on the part of the westerner. The Westerner is helping out of goodness and not expecting any payment or a quid quo pro but simply relishing in that feeling of goodness by being able to help. Why is it so hard in turn for a Saudi to express his or her appreciation with just the words of thanks or an acknowledgement for the help?

18 Responses

  1. Alot of “tribal” Saudis are not really familiar with the word “Please” or “thank you”

    But I dont think that they have forgotten the favor though. its just that the “tough” nature of the Saudi environment and the group think hyper masculinity in this society pushed for men here to be less “polite” when it comes to thanks and asking.

    I think that those favors are not forgotten, and maybe another form of gratitude will be present. like a gift, a dinner, a good word to other people.

    I noticed some guys don’t really thank the person directly, but thank them infront of other people when he is not around…

    and who knows, maybe that other person who didn’t thank was just an *** ****

  2. I agree with what abdullah is saying… Saudis are among the most hospitable people, and in arab culture in general it is extremely rude to not appreciate such acts of kindness by others…

    I assure you for the most part it is not forgotten, perhaps gratitude is not expressed as is expected in the west…

  3. Regarding “hyper masculinity” of Arab culture… is there a reason why I’ve been told men here in the middle east stare at me due to my clean shaven facial hair, number 2 buzz cut and lack of excessive body hair?

    Someome told me some people here think men without facial hair must be gay!

  4. its mostly mustache ha ha, but its really how it was and not how it is.

    its like the 50s in the USA when long hair was considered woman like. I think that mentality is disappearing.

  5. Abdullah, It was quite interesting to read your explanation of ”please”

    While I never help people to expect excessive thanks, or payment, I am yet quite hurt if I don’t get a ”thank you” or if I can’t see they’re at least happy. (I’m talking Dutch people here)

  6. I think it comes from a tendency of entitlement. They think it’s the other person’s duty to help them. Or perhaps they got used to being serviced without acknowledgment. Either way it’s something of an attitude that should be changed.

  7. I’ve helped a few people out and had no problems w/ the thank yous. I have heard horror stories of expats who have helped out Saudi children in learning English though. They have no sense of time, responsibility, and the parents don’t show much appreciation.

  8. Salaams Carol:

    Ryan wrote:

    “Someome told me some people here think men without facial hair must be gay!”

    Ha ha … that cracked me up. Coming from men (not you, but many Saudi men) who shave and do not keep a beard despite it be required for Muslim men!

    I’m with Mezba. I think it may be entitlement. The many non-Saudi Arabs that I know always say thank you, whether it be “shukran” or “Jazaka Allahu Khayr”.

  9. In Yemen I have yet to hear someone utter a please or thank you nor have I seen that common courtesy of waiting to be told to “enter” before barging into a room un-announced.

    In Cairo I always heard “What?” whenever someone called a person by name to have them do something -sorry I’m a tad Southern in my ways- I would have “smacked the upside of their head” for that What – let alone omitting the other social graces…but its the ME we are talking about… and like Mezba I also agree with the entitlement issue and a good dose of lack of education…

    I have witnessed how children in the ME will yell and scream at their parents. The mamas and the papas won’t even bat an eyelash…ok let quit right here before I go where I am not supposed to and hijack Bedu’s post!!

  10. I don’t think it is limited to Saudi. I belonged to a language club and I have spent many hours helping Arabic speakers with their English- helping prepare for interviews, correcting papers, only to have them disappear without a thank you. This is not all people, but most. I finally quit the language club because I felt I was being taken advantage of.
    I also noticed that people did not really want to put in the hard work that it takes to learn a foreign language. If it could not be done quickly, then forget it!

  11. Saying thanks or (excuse me, may I…) is totally a cultural thing. My Chinese instructor told us once that if any of us hear a Chinese person saying “give me…) (open the…) we shouldn’t consider this as rude . It’s totally polite for Chinese to be talking in this way.

    Then, a Canadian classmate said that some time people go so extreme in that. They think you have to always say excuse me please … She works in Subway, and she said once someone came and was saying, “excuse me, may I have some tomatoes ,(then she put the tomato in his sandwich),he said then,excuse me, I’d like some pickles please. and it went like this. According to her, it was so annoying to say “excuse me every time:)

    I found Saudis in general say “shokran” when you do something for them or assist them in something; however, when it comes from someone from other culture they might not feel comfortable, language barrier or not knoing the other culture well may be the cause. They don’t say please though. Similar to the chinese case I guess 🙂 usually when I hear other Saudi guys ordering from a Cafe/restaurant etc. I try to tell them the polite way of ordering (I want latte to I’d like a latte please (something around these lines)

    several times it happened to me that I said “sorry / thank you” and the reply I got was you don’t have to apologize or thank me 🙂 so some time someone may wonder 🙂.. i.e. someone was phoning me, and I couldn’t pick up the phone because I was busy. Later when I call the guy, I apologize for not picking his call, and the reply I get “you don’t have to apologize” It’s really strange and sometime confusing.

  12. sometimes its polite to apologize, and its also polite to reply is ” you don’t need to apologize” but that transfer does add to the intimacy one feels with the community surrounding them

    every culture has its ways of showing solidarity and intimacy, i guess

  13. Abdullah this reminds me of a different language and somewhat related culture- that of the Spanish and the by products found in the Americas. When we say Gracias (thank you)- the usual responses are “A sus ordenes” (at your service); “De nada” (literally-from nothing); “no hay de que” (a shortened version of -no need to thank me or there’s no reason to)- but they are responses expected and not to be taken literally meaning don’t thank me later on… In English it is basically the same- you accept the thanks and you respond with “your welcome”; “don’t worry about it”; etc. The social assumption is the same…
    “Southern” as I am- more south of the border if I look at it too closely- I would say that I have been brought up to expect some type of acknowledgement for the time taken to do another a service- whether I am obligated or not- which is not necessarily what I see among Arabs.

  14. Inal, it’s similar in arabic. If you thank someone they will like say, “wajabi” (my duty).

  15. I would like to let you all know that American Bedu is not ignoring any of your comments. She’s just having an internet withdrawal at the moment, and it is expected to last till Saturday, November 1. Since most of her posts are written in advance, she’s asked a friend to upload them for her.
    For updated information on American Bedu, you can check the following:

  16. Each and everyone of his has his/her ways of saying “please”, “thank you”, “may i” etc and although in some cases, it might sound annoying and rude but hey, we all learn from one another.

    Cultural diversity rocks and everyday, we all learn something from this blog. 😀

  17. In my own experiences the reaction of whether receiving a courteous word varies… I guess it has been about 50/50. In the work environment I have never been disappointed and found the Saudis to be extraordinary polite and courteous.

  18. Reuters chose to carry this post:

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