Friday, 30 March 2012

Be Careful What You Say In KSA

Be careful what you say in KSA.
A slip of the lip can land you in deep, ummmm, kaka (Kiwi word for trouble).

There are some definite no-go areas of discussion that get people from the region all hot and bothered under the collar, particularly if you're being less than complimentary.  So don't dis:
  • the religion  - not even if you think you're being constructive
  • Prophet Muhummed
  • Allah
  • the King or his 2.I.C
  • any one else of lofty lineage
  • Bearded Ones
  • locals in general or the local modus operandi (a.k.a. their own quirky way of doing things)
Those are the most obvious no-go areas for critical discussion.  There are, however, other topics that could have you in hot water.  Topics we westerners wouldn't give a second thought to.  What are those topics? 

It's Story Time

Here's a story:
    One day a western man was called into the bosses office.  He wasn't sure why he was summoned, but wasn't concerned at all.  Perhaps the boss was going to congratulate him on the fine job he'd been doing since his arrival.
    He settles into the chair across the desk and they pass pleasantries.  Then the boss clears his throat. We've had a complaint.  You were heard using inappropriate language. 
     The Western Man is somewhat taken back.  He's a fine upstanding gentlemen who abhors profanity.  A complaint ? For inappropriate language?  Can I ask what it is I am supposed to have said.
    You were heard saying 'Dance'. 
    ' Dance'? repeats the western man. 
     Yes, that's right. 
    After some discussion and a promise not to use such a terrible word again while explaining to students the difference in accents between Kiwi's and Australians, the western gentleman returned to his office shaking his head in disbelief.

Here's another story:
    The teacher waited for her students to settle into class.  Today there was a listening exercise and she wanted to explain the vocabulary and the process.  Once she had dealt with questions and was sure the students were ready, she directed them to begin.  After the class, the teacher was pleased.  The students responded well to the listening exercise.  She went to the staffroom to tell her peers.  On the way she was stopped by the head of the school.
    I need to see you.  Come into my office, says the head.
    Is there a problem? asks the teacher, somewhat nervous given the tone of the request for her attendance.
    There has been a complaint of inappropriate activity in your class. The teacher is shocked. Inappropriate behaviour.  I don't understand.  All my students are very well behaved and you know I teach with attention to the highest standards.  What is the basis of the complaint? asks the teacher. 
     You were playing music in class. 
      Playing music in class?  The teacher is confused. 
      Yes, that's right, replies the head.
    After some discussion the source of the music was confirmed to be the trill in the listening exercises that indicate the beginning of different sections.  The teacher promises never to use listening exercises without such abominable sounds contained within their recordings again!
Westerners, on hearing these stories (which are true stories) wonder if there is a comprehensive list of culturally sensitive things they can and cannot do or say at their places of work.  Such a list is still forthcoming. 

Given words like dance and trilly sounds in listening exercises are off the list of 'acceptable' in Saudi, I do wonder how topics like 'reproductive activity that ideally takes place in marital relationships (for Saudi women, that is) and results in making babies is covered. 

And in case you're thinking that topics covering our fabulous human anatomy and it's response to exciting stimulation will obviously be discussed at university level where use of words and illustrations much more intimate than  'dance' and trilly sounds will be acceptable, think again.  Both the above stories happened in universities!

The moral of this story - definitely be careful what you say in KSA.

Ka Kite,


  1. The inappropriate language thing was funny, did the western guy invited someone to dance? Actually this is against saudi culture. correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Hi Yasir, If he was inviting someone to dance I could understand the reaction, but he simply used dance in a sentence and was overheard by someone who took offence. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  3. To be honest, I find that a lot of people are quite understanding of such things. They won't complain just because they hear you use a word or a phrase. They also understand contexts. However, people here are quick to jump to assumptions about you and have knee-jerk reactions to what you say or do. Most of the time its mean and spiteful. A lot of people simply do not like foreigners. Yes, arabs fawn over people with blond hair and blue eyes. However, a lot of arabs also consider such people to be in league with the devil.

    Plenty of arabs freely and openly talk about sexual intercourse and homosexuality when it arises in a classroom discussion. Although, I'm not sure if that was because the professor was saudi I doubt that would have been the case if the professor was white.

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