Saudi Family Gatherings: Dispersed Society

saudi family gatherings

Today’s post called Saudi family gatherings answers a family-related culture question from a blog reader. His inquiry came as a comment on my gender segregation post.
This was the reader’s question:
“What about Saudi family gatherings? Are those also 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?”

Saudi Family Gatherings

As with every post, I like to emphasize the fact that my explanations are specific to the city and background that I was raised in. Therefore, what I talk about might not necessarily apply to other people from Saudi or who are currently living there.
When I was 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.

My Traditional Family

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 Saudi family gatherings. If we were visiting my uncle’s house for a Birthday celebration or some 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).

Not all Saudi Family Gatherings are the Same

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 an idea of how this is done completely differently, 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.
Honestly, I was surprised – and impressed – 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, this was done with everyone (men and women) sat 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.
This very civilized and comfortable setting can be found in other cities in Saudi too – not only in Jeddah. It’s just that my extended family are more traditional, old-fashioned and conservative. This is also due to the age demographic of my aunts, uncles, and parents. I was constantly surrounded by older people. 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.

Independence

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 seven years is priceless. The way this city has helped me grow and develop as a person can’t be measured by any currency. It also can’t be replaced for 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 with Saudi family gatherings.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about this post.

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