Saudi Arabia: Why are Maids and Drivers Ostracized?


An expatriate can come to Saudi Arabia as a laborer and he knows he will have a contract, sponsor and basic needs are met.  The same should apply to the expatriate who comes to Saudi Arabia as a housemaid or a driver but this is not always the case.  Is it because the sponsor is generally an individual instead of a company?  No; I don’t think so.  I think that unlike a laborer who has come to work, the housemaid or driver is seen as someone who has come to serve.  Viewed more as a servant instead of a guest worker the maid or driver can become ostracized to the point where they may feel invisible.


Not all Saudis treat a driver or housemaid in an undignified manner.  For many Saudis the driver or housemaid also become part of the extended family.  They have decent accommodations, meals and a salary which allows them to send money back to their families.


However there is an assumption which is taken for granted that the driver and housemaid will be available to perform tasks for the family at all times.  As a result, the long hours do create a gap between the driver and housemaid and the family for which they work.  The gap can result in a lack of respect and inability to see the driver or housemaid as the individual they are.


Discontent among a housemaid or a driver in turn has its own ripple effect.  The driver or housemaid may start to lose a sense of loyality to the family.  The lack of loyalty can be felt in a downgrade of performance or worse yet, with items or funds starting to disappear from the home.  Yes; when personal items are either displaced or disappear, rightly or wrongly the first finger is generally pointed to the household staff – the housemaid or the driver.


A discontented driver may take advantage of his position.  He may “moonlight” as a private taxi driver without informing his employer.  Of course keeping a log of mileage would indicate excess mileage.  An unhappy driver can make life uncomfortable for any women he may transport.  He can be late in making pick-up’s or take an unusual time if running an errand for a family.


Why exactly can there be large gaps between families and the household help?  Saudi Arabia did not abolish the right to own individuals as slaves until the late 1950’s.  As a result, an attitude of servitude vis-à-vis the driver or housemaid remains.  The culture in Saudi Arabia is such that even the most modest of families may have a housemaid who assists with domestic tasks.  Today’s youth have grown up accustomed to a housemaid and driver tending to their needs.


Most of the domestic help have come from nations where the people are accustomed to an attitude of serving.  While a driver or a housemaid may be discontented by either their treatment, long hours or work expected to perform, their nature is that in front of their employer they will always have a smiling face ready to serve.  The cultural attitudes can result in an imbalance where the Saudi family is superior and the domestic staff seen as inferior.


Balancing the relationship of domestic staff requires special skills. Unlike a traditional employer-employee relationship, the domestic staff do not go to another home at the end of the day.  The domestic staff are totally immersed into the life of the family.  I can personally attest that it takes careful adjustments to having unknown guest workers come and live in your private space with you.


In sum, the relationship between domestic help and the family for whom they work can be complex due to cultural and traditional factors as well as the need for adaptation.  It’s not only the family opening their home to a domestic worker but the domestic worker is also adapting to life in a new country, culture and language too.


24 Responses

  1. ana abdullah
    & we’re all servants

  2. We need to tackle the root of the problem, i.e. the degrading racist attitude that has ruined the experience of many people in our country. The problem is not seriously about the nature of this X’s job, rather the nationality of X. If we ever have Saudi maids, families would never dare to mistreat them. Many families nowadays have Saudi drivers, and they treat them respectfully and pay their salaries on time!

    Oh one more thing, I am not generalizing:)

  3. It should be a sin to bring these people far away from their families when there are poor people in need of employment right there in KSA. If they think they are above cleaning a fellow Saudi’s home then they could work with expats. But they need to quickly understand that ‘Pride goeth before the fall’.

  4. It’s best not to assume anything about the help in this part of the world. Like any job, there are good and bad employers and employees. From the chatter I’ve heard over the years, most expats like to work for Saudis with foreign wives, or for foreigners (in general) because we tend to see them as we do in the West and we pay them on time. However, many employees (as well as Saudi employers) make fun of expats that are too nice. We are seen as ignorant for being so ‘easy’ on them.

    A nurse from a third world country feels lucky to make the salary she does in Saudi (assuming it is paid on time). In her country she might only make a fifth or a tenth of what she makes here. She is able to care for many extended family members by working here even though the work can include long hours at times and that’s why they are willing to do the job.

    Drivers can be difficult to get along with sometimes, but we all have our good and bad days. If it gets to a point where the woman cannot get along with her driver, then the woman needs to find someone who is better.

    Sometimes, drivers or other workers can make a person feel uncomfortable. This can be due to their own bad behavior, or they can be used/ bribed/ or pushed by their employers or others for various reasons to do things out of character.

    Many countries would suffer tremendously without this added income from their workers living and working here in Saudi.

  5. I agree with Saudi Woman. It’s not as much about the position, but about the race or nationality. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. This is why certain nationalities make more money than others.
    A Sri Lankan housemaid will be treated differently than a Filipino housemaid. A Saudi driver is treated better than a Bangladeshi driver. And it goes without saying that all non Saudi workers are treated as inferior to Saudis.
    The belief that maids and drivers posess certain traits/personalities/abilities because of their nationality is one that is shared by a large segment of the Saudi population and change will only begin with education.

  6. Actually I personally do not agree with the system of employing Drivers and housemaids in the families. Why people are getting so lazy,and why they can not help themselves.
    moreover in the extended families where the children are grown up to puberty, and matured , the housemaids and the girls of the families are not safe.
    They might be tempted to do wrong and mischieves which they are not supposed to.
    It is impossible to keep an eye on all sorts of things in the house affairs.
    If they dont care what I say,its upto them and good luck. Every one is responsible for his/her actions.

  7. ‘However, many employees (as well as Saudi employers) make fun of expats that are too nice. We are seen as ignorant for being so ‘easy’ on them.’

    Sounds like a good opportunity to educate them on how civilized people should treat their fellow human being,

  8. I found while living there that part time help worked best for me. We had a maid come in and help for couple hrs a day and leave. we did have a full time driver but he usually had thur/fri off , or whenever F was available. plus i could always get a taxi service when the driver was off.
    I really did not like or want anyone other than family staying with us, we lose a lot of privacy and personal time when another person lives in .

    I’ve never had trouble witht he maids and drivers, i probabl;y used ot pay themmore than the norm and we didn’t have them watch kids , cook etc., so they probably had a easier time in my place.

    Then again most of my SIL’s stayed home, andnever cooked or cleaned or even watched their kids… they just existed i guess…no useful contribution to their family or society 🙂 but again that is a choice, each to his own.

  9. A Saudi woman’s comment is bang on. So why are there the built-in prejudices towards 3rd country nationals who are wanting to earn an honest living?

    However at the same time the majority of the beggars in the Kingdom (greater than 80 per cent) are illegal 3rd world umrah/hajj overstayers.

  10. Where/how did Saudi Arabians who owned slaves until slavery ended in the 1950’s acquire them? Does anyone know the answer to that?

  11. Many of my Saudi friends and family thought I was too nice with my domestic help. I was often told that the way I treated my domestic help made it harder for them as Saudis with their own domestic help.

    It’s typical when there were large gatherings that my Saudi family members would bring their housemaids to help out and of course they all talked among themselves. I remember one Filipina housemaid catching me in the kitchen and begging me to find her employment with other western expats. I had to tell her candidly that I could not do that as it would be a betrayal to my own Saudi family. She was not abused but she noticed the distinctions in the way I treated my housemaid with time off and a regular schedule.

  12. They came from various locations such as Africa and Yemen. Many of these slaves became part of the Saudi family taking the family name very similar to the customs followed in the Old American South during its period of slavery.

    My husband’s family had a slave whose original roots went back from Saudi to Yemen to Africa.

  13. Do you know how they were acquired? Were they bought? From Whom? Were they stolen? Were they tricked (much like some stories I hear about the current slaves, er, I mean housemaids)? Are they typically darker skinned or does the color not matter so much?

  14. They typically are darker skinned and acquired through the slave trade that existed back in those days. I need to do some additional research to answer your questions more thoroughly.

  15. Oh, I can research it myself, I just thought someone here might know. I was just curious how much was the ‘color’ or if it was just an ingrained thing against people from a certain area because their slaves were traditionally from there.

  16. A quick trip to Wikiland states that slavery was abolished in Saudi Arabia in 1962. (It would have been better if it was in the 1950s but that wasn’t the case.) A modern day version of slavery exists in the Kingdom when people work and don’t get paid. You don’t have to be an unfortunate Bangladeshi sweating away on a construction site to qualify for having your pay delayed or forgotten, they are just as happy not to pay an American MBA who has worked for 10 years with the same company. University professors may find themselves without pay and for true pain and punishment you have the business partners who cannibalize their partners and then run the business into the ground. Abuse of domestic help in the houses is a more extreme case of what you will find in the office. May Allah instill in those who hire those less fortunate than themselves to respect their dignity and treat them with kindness. Doesn’t the Golden Rule have any play in our part of the world?

  17. I have been here in saudi arabia for 4 years and been working under the House Driver visa though my employee allow me to work in his shop.
    When I was leaving my country there was a dream in my eyes that i’m going to the country in which the holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born. I thought that the Saudis will must be on the way of our Rasul (PBUh). Bur i was wrong. They treating me as a slave. I have no right to work as my choice I have no right to do etc etc….. only me and my Allah knows how many nights i’ve spent awake and could not sleep and forget their insults… We the out siders (specially south asians) are slave in here…..

  18. @ Gladiator,
    I’m very sorry to hear that you are experiencing a bad time here. It is eye opening to hear it from your side.
    May Allah make your time here easier.

    Carol, maybe you could do an interview of Gladiator on what it’s like to live and work in the Kingdom as a “slave”

  19. As to what I understand , OSTRACIZED means an act of excluding someone from society by general consent.

    I am a Filipina , I have worked in Saudi for three years as a trained Blood Bank Specialist . During my service , I have helped in saving countless of Saudi lives every single day. I am not a domestic worker . In the hospital where i was working , we as professionals are even OSTRACIZED in cases of celebrations , say for a successful audit on an accreditation. The Saudi bosses were the ones honored and given awards to for a job well done when in fact every bit of the job for the hospital to pass such accreditation is done by us, foreign employees. We were even the ones who presented and defended during close door discussions on audits. The Saudi bosses hasn’t even typed a single word on every literature needed for audits.

    Anyway, If us professionals are ostracized how much more the domestic employees like housemaids and drivers where the demand for their service is unimaginable, not to mention the danger of domestic violence they will experience in most of Saudi homes. Their families back home who are eager and excited to hug them and meet them at the airport when their contracts will end but instead meet their months of frozen corpses way past their end-of -contract date.

    I am not generalizing as well…. from personal experiences, I would say it’s the majority.

    In a way,I agree with A SAUDI WOMAN it’s merely X’s nationality.Like I said regardless if X is a professional or a domestic help , if X comes from other country , X will be ostracized. It is the way the culture has been practiced.

  20. @undertheabaya, hello sis, we the people whom are woring as a driver, shop keeper, cleaner etc we face or see the True Saudi culture which is very rude and wild. They think we are less than human, they are the one and only human being in the world the superior than others. The Holy country’s Holy Men. . .

    Every friend of mine will tell you the same story. The story which is full of ignorance, insults, abuse and etc. I always advice to my friends not to come in here for a job.

    Pardon me for my emotional speech and for my poor English.

  21. @Gladiator,

    I second the suggestion that you would be a good candidate for an interview. If this is of interest to you, please email me at

  22. @carol, emailed you already 🙂

  23. Okay…I will check.

  24. This is really sad. I can concur that if you are good to your housekeeper, she will get the word out to any maid that visits, but that will make for HER last visit to your house. Unfortunately, my SIL’s housemaid would tell her how happy my helper was with me, and I would hear about it (from SIL) in such a way that it was hilarious to her that they communicated about that. It’s kind of something you really can’t get involved in. While I could broach the subject of WHY she wasn’t allowed to take the elevator downstairs to the supermarket NEXT DOOR, how could I ask what went on behind closed doors? Just for the record, her housemaid seemed to be treated quite well.

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