Saudi Arabia: Caught Between Two Worlds

Whether one is a foreign spouse, a child of a bi-cultural marriage or even a Saudi who has dual citizenship, he or she can not escape the feeling of being caught between two worlds.  For each category, there are differing challenges.

In the case of the foreign spouse, who is typically a woman, she is the one expected to make changes and sacrifices.  She’ll move to his country and rebuild a new network of friends.  If she is fortunate, she’ll also be able to forge close and long lasting relationships with her Saudi family too. Regardless of how well she adapts, she’s still caught between two worlds.  When she goes back home to visit family or friends, she’ll find that eventually a chasm develops because of the differences in their lives and the path she has chosen.  Family will generally stick with family but sometimes friends change their views.  People who do not know her personally may look at her with a lack of understanding on why she would give a known world for one so very different.  She may not feel entirely accepted by either world as more years go by.

Similarities can apply to a degree to the children who are the product of a bi-cultural Saudi marriage.  In most cases the child is accepted and raised as a Saudi.  In other cases, the children may be seen as “half breeds” and picked upon or bullied by cousins and classmates.  The non-fiction book, “The Red Sea Bride” characterizes in great detail the challenges a bi-cultural child can face from birth to adulthood.  Some children feel they must reject the heritage they have inherited from their mother in order to be accepted into Saudi society.

There are also Saudis who have dual nationality.  I have Saudis among my circle of friends who have both Saudi and American passports.  I’m not referring to the child of a Saudi man with an American mother but rather the Saudi who was born in the United States of two Saudi parents.  One friend in particular is seen as a feminist in Saudi Arabia.  She wears a hijab in order to cover her hair but has never covered her face.  She is not shy on speaking her mind and at ease in professional groups of mixed gender.  The “older” generation in Saudi see her as too forward.  Yet when she is in the United States and wearing her hijab with Western clothes she is kept at arms length because she is different in appearance.

In each case I’ve illustrated, these are individuals who are caught between two worlds.  I’ve had my own experiences both during and continuing on after Abdullah’s death.  For the foreign wife of a Saudi man, it’s as if we are at times viewed with suspicion.  Where and to whom do our loyalties lie?  This question is either asked or thought by ‘both sides.’

For myself, the experience and knowledge of the challenges these groups encounter, it makes me all the more determined to build bridges of understanding amongst people.  We all need to look at each more as individuals rather than see a light skinned woman in a dark skinned land, or an Arabic speaking child with hazel eyes or the woman who is viewed with suspicion because of either how she wears a hijab or where she wears a hijab.  Look beyond and just see the person.


9 Responses

  1. Oh my gosh Carol you hit the hammer on the head. I’m in Saudia right now and can so relate to everything you said. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here however, with me being the “foreign” wife and having bi-racial children does bring its challenges. Unfortunately, I have to constantly remind the children how to act and what to say when we go out or see family as well as keeping myself in check. I know we are being watched like a hawk and any slip ups will spread through the family faster then CNN can present Breaking News! Moreover, it’s even more difficult when we go back to the States dealing with reverse culture shock; at least it is for me. The truth…..I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. The pros definitely outweigh the cons.

  2. I can relate to having to adapt to multiple cultures and feeling a bit “lost” everywhere, though I can’t completely relate to someone who has spent each half of their life in two separate countries. The people who seem to understand multiculturalism the best are the ones who have had to adapt to multiple cultures for one reason or another. I do have to admit feeling a bit shy around Arab men though, generally speaking, due to my past experiences.

    I don’t mind it when women wear the hijab, as long as they don’t mind it when I don’t. In fact, there’s one woman who dresses far more fashionably than I ever do, and it’s always a pleasure to see what colorful combination she’s come up with for her abaya (or similar westernized style) and hijab. While I enjoy fashion, I tend to be that girl who just grabs whatever out of my closet in the morning because I’m in a hurry.

    I find it very interesting that people tend to be a bit shocked when they learn that I am American after my habibi introduces me as his significant other. They seem a bit curious as to how that could’ve happened. Sometimes, it’s a bit frustrating but mostly it just makes me smile.

  3. LOL! @ *how that could’ve happened*

  4. @Aafke,
    What makes it even more amusing is that both American-born Americans and foreign-born (possibly green-card holders) wonder how this happens within the US. Seriously?! Usually, they think I’m from a different Middle-Eastern country within the region even when I talk in fluent English and don’t seem to understand much Arabic. Some even ask me multiple times, “Where are you from again?”

  5. I made a comment this afternoon, and it is gone. If things are gonna be like that, then quit sending me emails.

  6. I don’t see terrorist I see a religious message with the dresswear to which I find repulsive, opression, and psychologically damaging to genders and it is my right to have that opinion.

  7. Thank you for this post. It is interesting to think of someone who doesn’t fit totally into one culture for the various reasons you mentioned. As for the woman born in the US to Saudi parents, this reminds me of the book I’m reading now “American Nations.” The author speaks of how WHERE we are raised within N. America has a great influence on how we think and believe. Even for children born of Yankee parents, for instance, raised in the Far West or Deep is just interesting to me. And the Saudi lady who speaks her mind, mixes freely with men possibly because of where she was raised (was she raised here or just born here?) … anyway, that example reminded me of this book.

  8. Everybody: we have had comments disappearing in Spam again.

    If you posted a comment which did not have more than one link and yet did not appear it has probably gone into spam.
    We do not know why WordPress sends approved comments into spam. There is not anything we can do about this problem.

    As Bedu is such a large forum, it gets a lot of spam. There were about 3000 spam messages to search through to find the comments.

    Instead of complaining, it is much more effective to let us know your comment has disappeared so it will be relatively easy for us to find it and release it out of spam.


  9. It is best to forge along in life with good intentions and in confidence. Just forget about the negative attitudes of strangers and others who aren’t willing to at least listen (even if they might disagree).

    I’m not trying to be trite but ask those who are non-white and have had experiences of being misunderstood / have been a target of racist remarks/attitudes.

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