Apparently, my recent Saudi culture posts have been causing quite a stir at my home. Yesterday, I received a call from the housekeeper asking me to stop writing about life in Saudi! she also informed me that my eldest sister is having a heated argument with my dad about those life in saudi posts! then, she went on to say something else about my other sister and how she’s reacting to my culture posts!
All I did was say: OK. Because sadly, there isn’t any middle ground for a conversation with them. Since we both think in different ways, and have managed to live diverse lifestyles. More about my Saudi family and blog-related controversy in a future post. Actually, explaining that would require an autobiography – so I might leave it for then 🙂
Moving on to answering a family-related culture question from a blog reader. His inquiry came as a comment on my post about the gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. You can read that post here.
To give you an idea of the topic, this was the reader’s question:
“What about family gatherings? Are these segregated? Suppose it’s Eid and entire extended family is at one place. Could you meet and talk to your male cousins on such occasions?”
As with every post about life in saudi, I like to emphasize the fact that my explanations are specific to the city and background that I come from. Therefore, what I talk about might not necessarily apply to other people from Saudi or who are currently living there.
As a kid, we used to celebrate Eid with my mother’s family. So, this would be at my uncle’s or aunt’s house. The aunt had a son who was married with kids. So, we would visit their house for Eid lunch, have a nice Eid meal and then move to the other house. During lunch, the women would sit together at one table, and the men at another table in a separate room. As I explained, I come from a traditional – somewhat conservative family. My parents are a bit more liberal, but we are by no means liberal Saudis.
Let’s say the cousin (my aunt’s son) wanted to say hello to us, he could sit with us in the same room and have a normal conversation and everything. But it wasn’t with the rest of the men from the family. It’s not like we were all gathered together in one room, sharing an Eid meal over one long dining table. It was more like a one-to-one kind of meeting and chat.
The same concept applied to other Muslim celebrations or family gatherings. If we were visiting my uncle’s house for a Birthday celebration or some other Muslim holiday festivity, then we would be hanging out with my female cousin (who’s a few years younger than me), and her female friends (of course). We could say hi to my male cousin (one year younger than me) and chat with him, or even play games with him as kids, but we wouldn’t be all sitting together (that’s very rare to happen).
I must again state that this setting doesn’t apply to all Saudi families from my city or Saudi families in general. To give you a better idea of the social differences, let me tell you about people in Jeddah.
I had a friend from Jeddah who I met when I was studying in Switzerland in the year 1998. I had visited their house in the year 2000 and had stayed with her and her family in their home in the city of Jeddah.
It was surprising and impressive to see how the whole family (both male and female) sat together at a big long table to share a meal. Even when we were sitting in the living room to catch up everyone (men and women) were sitting together having a nice conversation or cup of tea. In the case that any of the women had to cover their hair with a Hijab, then they did so while still sitting with the men in the same living room or dining room table.
You can find this very civilized and comfortable setting in other cities in Saudi too – not only in Jeddah. My extended family are just more traditional, old-fashioned and conservative. This is also due to the age demographic of my aunts, uncles, and parents. Older people constantly surrounded me. That’s why I matured quickly and from a very young age.
As I explained earlier, I could sit and talk with my male cousin. There was a time when we even played video games together, or some other games if I remember right.
This was when we were kids, or teenagers. Long before the time that I grew up to be an independent woman who knows what she wants from life, and who wants to explore the world around her. Long before my mother decided to send that same male cousin to speak to me when I first landed in Dubai in 2010, in the hopes of convincing me to move back to Saudi.
That was the last time we sat together and spoke. I was wearing normal clothes, he was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Wearing Western clothes doesn’t make anyone think differently though. It’s what’s in their mind that matters the most.
He tried his best to convince me that Dubai wasn’t as good as it seems to be. How it’s a pretty flower with no scent (I think those were his words).
In my opinion, what I learned in this city throughout the past five and a half years is priceless. The way this city has helped me grow and develop as a person is priceless and irreplaceable with anything in life.
I hope that I managed to answer my reader’s question in a simple way, and to give him an idea of life in Saudi and how we celebrate on special occasions.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about this post or any of my earlier culture posts.
Stay safe, warm and most importantly, stay hungry for knowledge and self-development.