Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Cultural Information - Saudi Arabia

Country Facts

Links to the best Web sites for virtually every country in the world.

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

Work and family are some of the recommended topics to start a conversation when meeting Saudis for the first time. Saudis are generally friendly and sociable. They are well-travelled and the majority of those with professional and administrative jobs had their education abroad. Questions such as : where are you from, where did you study and what part of the world have you visited would make a good first impression.

However, questions of cultural and religious nature such as "why do men marry more than one wife?" should be avoided. Topics such as alcohol drinking and women's driving can be offensive. Saudi Arabia is an islamic state and most Saudis are religious and conservative. The majority of people strictly adhere to religious rules as part of their lifestyle. There is a fine line between traditions and religion and they are often treated as unquestionable values. Saudis have a reasonably good sense of humour. They exchange humour as long as it doesn't touch what's considered to be religious taboos and social values.

Canadian Perspective:

Family is always a good and generally safe topic of discussion; Saudis love children and they are very family oriented. If you are unmarried and have no children this may seem a bit strange to them, as they expect people to marry young, especially women. If you find this to be an uncomfortable conversation topic just give a short reason for your single status and try to interest yourself in their family. Protracted explanations about Canadian lifestyle are not necessary unless among friends. Work is also an excellent topic as it will allow you to find out more about the structure of a working environment, what type of jobs seem common, or the level of expertise of your new acquaintances or colleagues. 

If you are a woman in a career that is generally male dominated, expect surprise or even incredulity; Saudis with professional careers have more than likely studied abroad and have seen women working in "masculine" careers, however within their own country they are simply less likely to encounter women in male dominated careers (for example, engineering, business or politics).

There are several topics that one should steer clear of in polite conversation, and should be treated carefully or even avoided when with friends.  The Arab/Israeli conflict is very complicated and too delicate to discuss, and (unless it is part of your job while in the country) it is probably safer to stay away from any discussion of Iraq and Afghanistan or terrorism and the US response. It is very important to remember that the topic of religion is very touchy and you should not enter into debate on the subject. If you want to become more informed about Islam then most people will be happy to talk to you, but your criticisms or comparison to other religions will not be welcome. Above all, if you are an atheist DO NOT say so. Muslims in general are supposed to respect the Judaeo-Christian faiths, but atheism is neither understood nor tolerated. To not believe in God is totally unacceptable and will lose you respect.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

The Saudi society is segregated in general. However, you find women working and/or dealing with men in some workplaces such as hospitals, industrial companies, media and some business institutions. Distance is a must when communicating with female workers/colleagues. Most Saudi female professionals are conservatively dressed in an islamic attire (hijab) which consists of non-revealing loose clothes and head covers. Some are fully veiled in black "niqab' which covers face and body from top to toe, showing only the eyes. It's important to avoid shaking hands with those female workers.

Communicating with male co-workers is different in this respect. Men are usualy dressed in loose white robes: the national "thobe" which is made from light fabric (in summer) and could be revealing, but totally acceptable! Space is usually not maintained between males dealing with males (i.e. when communicating with the same gender.) It's customary for men to greet each other with hand shaking and/or exchanging two kisses on cheeks. Kissing the shoulder of a superior is customary among some people who come from the Central region of the country. In general, Saudis are comfortable touching each other when speaking. It's not unusual to see two male friends holding hands while walking. This also applies to females, although somewhat more. Gestures among Saudis are heavily used especially hand gestures to convey emphasis.

Some gestures are considered rude (middle finger down or up, boxing fist up), and their usage indicates a lower social and moral class. Body language is a part of the culture and you often see people nodding head down to indicate a "yes" response or an approval of a statement. Moving head from right to left is usually associated with the negative response "No". Eye contact is usually used during conversation. The individual's nature determines the level of maintaining eye contact with the other.

Canadian Perspective:

Saudis are modest about personal contact, so be conscious to stay about arms length away when talking to someone, especially if they are of the opposite gender. Avoid touching unless invited to do so; for instance, it is very common for two people of the same gender to hold hands as they walk or sit together. If someone of the same gender takes your hand, enjoy it and consider it a sign of friendship and respect. When shaking hands; do not extend your hand in greeting to a member of the opposite sex (unless invited to do so. This may be the case with more liberal families.). If someone of the opposite gender makes physical contact, such as holding your hand, be sure to politely avoid it.  Making physical contact with the opposite sex is taboo and can lead you into trouble. When greeting each other, Saudis will kiss each other three times on the cheek, usually right-left-left. Again, this is a sign of respect, warmth and trust, so if they do go to kiss you just accept and appreciate the gesture (just make sure that they make the first move!). With a foreigner they have just met they may just shake hands, but be prepared!  Again, kisses between those of the opposite sex are to be avoided.

You may see women walking behind men, and segregation of the sexes is common during meals or other social situations. It is best to follow this gender segregation as much as you can, especially as a guest in a Saudi home (although if you are a woman, don't ever feel the need to walk behind men). Avoid making prolonged eye contact with the opposite sex as this could be interpreted as an invitation. Do not make the mistake of assuming that Saudi women are submissive; women in Saudi Arabia are very assertive, so if you are a woman, don't be afraid to be aggressive in order to get what you want or need. 

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Although Saudis are very affectionate, they are somewhat reserved in terms of expressing their emotions in public. Some degree of dualism applies on what constitutes the social image. A man can be stigmatized by some individuals if seen holding hands with his wife or kissing her in public. At the workplace, anger is communicated occasionally between superiors and their subordinates but self-composure dominates. High tone of voice at times and dramatization when speaking are characteristic of Saudi culture and not necessarily an indication of a particular emotional stance.

Canadian Perspective:

Public displays of affection are not acceptable; when in public you should be modest and try to avoid calling attention to yourself.  Displays of anger should also be low key, although not necessarily because anger is socially unacceptable. If you, as a foreigner, are considered to be harassing a Saudi, then no matter how good the reason for your anger you may get into trouble with the law (this is an extreme scenario, however, for your own safety always keep in mind that in an altercation a Saudi will always win over a foreigner). In general, public displays of emotion are not that common.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

Saudi men are generally dressed in their national "thobs" with the head cover "scarf" (ghoutrah) and black head-band (egaal). The white ghoutrah is typically worn with the white thobe in summer while a red "shimagh" goes with the thicker darker thobe in winter. For formal occasions, the "abaya", an overall coat trimmed with gold is worn on top of the thobe. Western attire (pants and jackets or suits) are becoming more popular business attire for Saudis working in private sectors and in some foreign companies. Expats are not required to dress like Saudis. It's expected from foreigner workers to dress conservatively for work. Long sleeves and long skirts are recommended for women both at work and in public. Men and women dressed in shorts are not accepted by the society despite the high temperature in summer.

Colleagues are often addressed by their first names. It's customary, however to address colleagues and/or supervisor using  the  title "Abu....." which is a prefix means "the father of " followed by the name of a person's older son. e.g. (Abu Khalid, Abu Hashim, Abu Mazen etc..). This indicates more familiar and respectful relationship.Men and women who hold a doctorate degree in their specialty expect to be addressed as "Dr." followed by the first name and/ or the last name.

Most governmental institutions work from 8-2. Private sector working hours vary depending on the nature of the company's work. They usually work from 8-4 or 8-5 with an hour lunch break. Some institutions such as banks have longer breaks which divide work between the morning and evening. Punctuality is valued especially by bosses, but a 5 minute delay may not be regarded by the employee as being unpunctual. An employee is excused to take some time from work for urgent family matters. During "Ramadan" the month of fasting for Muslims, working hours are reduced at least by 2 hrs/day. Some tardiness and less efficient job performance are expected during this month.

Deadlines set within a reasonable time frame are to be met. It's not uncommon for employees of higher grade codes to work overtime in order to meet a deadline. In private sector, work is administered according to high western standard criterion. This particularly applies to oil and industrial companies, hospitals and banks.

Canadian Perspective:

Always dress conservatively, whether you are male or female; long sleeves on shirts, long pants for men and long skirts for women.  Women should not wear pants unless it is appropriate for the work environment. Women may also be required to wear a head scarf in the workplace. It is Saudi law that when in public, women must wear the long cloak called an abayya over conservative clothing, as well as a head scarf which completely covers the hair. Generally, most professional Saudis have been Western educated, and they will be aware of Western work etiquette.  However, to be safe use a last name when addressing colleagues, unless invited to do so other wise.

There is a saying in Arabic, inshallah, which means "God willing," and you will no doubt hear it a lot when you ask about deadlines or punctuality. There is less of a sense of urgency surrounding due dates or when people are expected to arrive. If you ask for something to happen by a certain time, you will no doubt be told it will happen "inshallah."

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

The educational background of a local superior is truly valued as one of his/her key-factor assets by both employer and employees. Other factors such as hands - on experience and positive attitude towards work comes next. Most employees look for leadership characteristics in their managers as it helps them learn and pursue their goals. Being personable and open to new ideas strengthens manger-subordinate relationship and plays as an important source of employee's productivity.

The same principles apply to a non-local manager/supervisor.Although, more openness to new ideas is somewhat expected from an expat boss. Staff level of motivation, productivity and friendly attitude are indicators through which a manager can gauge their attitude towards him/her. Personal interaction is amongst employees is another indicator.

Canadian Perspective:

Your education and experience are your most valuable assets, as Saudi companies tend to hire foreign workers when they cannot find a Saudi with the expertise.  Your interpersonal and leadership skills will also be an asset, as they may wish to learn from your working style.  In this case you may be there to make changes and bring new skills to the work environment.  If the supervisor is also an ex-patriot then you may find that the staff are used to a Western management style, in which case you may just work as you would in a Western environment.  Your staff may not approach you directly with problems; be sure to create avenues through which they can privately approach a mediator who can take their problems to you.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

In general, the immediate supervisor of a unit or a division can propose changes and decisions are taken after consulting with the highest rank administrator within the professional ladder. It is a common practice for a unit/department head to meet with his staff for the purpose of generating new ideas. The execution of such ideas however, has to go through a superior of a higher rank who would consult with his upper rank boss. Although most supervisors delegate tasks to their professional staff, it's acceptable to go to immediate supervisors for answers and/or feedback.

Canadian Perspective:

Most Saudi businesses are organized in much the same manner as Western businesses in terms of management, however there is greater deference to superiors.  There will be similar divisions of authority and some of those in higher positions may be ex-patriots but the majority will be Saudi.  Decisions may be made unilaterally by higher-ups, with little or no explanation as to reasoning. Often Saudi businesses are connected to the government, so decisions may be made on a level far beyond your supervisor's control. Your supervisor will no doubt be used to Western employees, so they may be used to your directness of approach, but you may not get the answers that you need. Saudi society is very non-confrontational; you may embarrass your employer if you are too direct and they may not be able to give criticism or direction in person. Go to a colleague that has the respect of your employer and ask them to take your issues to your boss. Be delicate when offering ideas or criticisms; always offer a compliment as your main point and work in the idea or critique. 

For many years Saudis have dealt with Western workers telling them how to run their businesses. They have benefited from Western expertise, but they are not as dependant on foreign input anymore. Western assertiveness may no longer be the right approach; if you treat your employer with the respect they expect from a Saudi then you may surprise and more easily earn the respect of your boss.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:

Gender:
There is a clear distinction between male and female roles in society. Although women have been increasingly assuming more leading roles both in career and business, certain jobs remain open only to men. This includes political, ministerial, diplomatic and high-level managerial positions, field work which requires mingling with men and some of the services jobs such as waitresses and flight attendants. Throughout the last decades, women have been given equal work opportunities particularly in educational and medical field. Almost all educational institutions are segregated from elementary to university level. It is interesting to note that men and women working on the same profession are paid equally. According to Islamic "Sharee'ah" law, women have the full right to manage their financial possessions. Men are obliged to fully support their families regardless of the wife's financial status. This explains why most companies limit their home ownership program only to male employees.

Religion:
Islam is the main religion in Saudi Arabia and the Islamic "Sharee'ah" governs all aspects of life including the legislation of civil laws. During the past three decades, the country has undergone a great deal of infrastructure developments as well as lifestyle changes. The movement of modernisation, however, is kept in compliance with Islamic Sharee'ah, being defined as suitable for all times and places. Most Saudis incorporate religious rituals into their daily lifestyle. Almost all workplaces assign a room for employees to perform their prayers. The timing of  noon "Dhohr" and afternoon "Asr" prayers coincides within work hours. Most employees are allowed to take prayers breaks, which is about 10-15 minutes per prayer. It's not uncommon to see some supervisors and/or staff perform their prayers in a mosque if it happens to be located near work location.

Class:
Most Saudis fall within upper and lower middle class. People of higher class have more influential social roles. Distinction among different classes is felt in a subtle way. Having connections with a person of high class may have a negative impact on some peer workers who don't have those same connections.

Ethnicity:
Saudi society is ethnically diverse. Those who come from the western province of the state generally descend from other ethnic origins such as Turkey, Indonesia, India, Yemen and the like. People of the southern part belong to the major Arabian Peninsula tribes. The central province contains the majority of Bedouins. The eastern province is known for its people from mainly "Shaits sector". Discrimination based on family names and ethnic religious sectors existed in the past affecting career opportunities. Under the pluralism applied recently in Saudi Arabia, this has lessened to a large extent.

Canadian Perspective:

Gender
There is great gender disparity in Saudi Arabia, which will be quite obvious when you are there. You may find yourself working with very few women, if any at all.  If there are women, the workplace may be segregated, although this is not the case in all businesses. Women will have to wear a head scarf and conservative clothing if working with men. Female doctors will work exclusively with female patients and male doctors with men. Wives of westerners working in Saudi Arabia may find the situation quite difficult, especially as women cannot drive and there are few opportunities for women to work.  

Religion
There are no churches or other houses of worship allowed in Saudi Arabia. Many ex-patriots will gather at home for prayer services, and while this is not technically allowed, it is tolerated. You will be required to state your religion on your entry card when entering the country. Christians are respected as "people of the book," but Hindus and Buddhists are not well respected. As far as I know Jewish people are not allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia, however, special consideration can be granted in some cases. It is best to avoid discussion of religion as much as possible as any criticism of Islam will most likely be taken with great offence. Never admit to being an atheist.

Class
Most Saudis are middle class so Saudi society is not particularly class based.  However, there is some resentment towards the Saudi elites, especially the Royal family. The stratification of Saudi society may be evident in the workplace, especially if you are working with top management, as they will most likely be Saudi princes.

Ethnicity
There is some racism in Saudi Arabia, especially towards people of colour. For instance, if you are a Muslim Pakistani you may be considered of lower status than a white Christian. At the same time, a Muslim Canadian of Pakistani background will be given higher status than someone who came straight from Pakistan, but he may still experience intolerance. Saudi Arabia is not a democracy and it is not a particularly tolerant society, however if you are a foreign worker in a high status job, you are a guest in their country and you will no doubt be treated as well as if you were a guest in their home.  But you may not be considered an equal.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

It's not significantly important to establish a relationship with a colleague before getting to business. It's somewhat more important to establish a relationship with a client because of the nature of business which requires selling a product or an idea. Generally, a colleague or a client can be invited to a café or to a restaurant to meet socially at first. Some Saudis exchange home invitations with business associates. Local attitude in this respect vary to a great extent. While some are quite liberal and open to social meetings some are reserved and may reject an invitation outside the work environment. Your first impression meeting with the person may be a good indication to how open or reserved that person is. 

Canadian Perspective:

There will be some socializing to be done before business; you will drink tea or coffee and ask about the welfare of each other's families. You may chat for up to an hour before you get to business, however, this is very traditional and your Saudi colleague may be more familiar with Western business style. Take your cue from your colleague or client.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

Yes, a colleague and/or an employee expects a special privilege given your personal relationship with him/her. This includes expectation of preferred treatment, hiring of his/her relatives and friends and status upgrading. You are not obliged to grant such privileges particularly if you feel your business is greatly disadvantaged. One classical example which you may consider in this respect: you and your family are granted a discount or an upgrade if you, as an executive or department head, have frequent business with a particular institution.

Canadian Perspective:

It is possible; nepotism and favouritism are rife in the Saudi system and you will no doubt encounter such work relationships. However, it is not necessary for you to contribute to such a situation if you really object to such behaviour. Not all Saudis participate in such a system of hiring and by participating you are aiding in a corruption of the system. If you do choose to participate in favouritism, then you will no doubt reap reciprocal benefits, but you may lose the respect of your other staff members.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

You may discuss work-related problems directly but it's advisable to do it in a private manner with the respective employee/colleague. Generally, Saudis are on the bashful/shy side and they don't appreciate confrontation. A colleague who is having a problem with you or offended by something you have done may act in a distant manner or try to avoid you.

Canadian Perspective:

As far as I know, Saudis are proud but non-confrontational. It is best to privately work out your issues with a colleague through your superior or another colleague. When the problem has been negotiated, then you can approach the other party directly for a peace offering. Ask your superior for advice as well.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

A local colleague is motivated to perform well by a number of factors. I have listed them, in my opinion, from most important to least important:


- Money                                    
- Job satisfaction                        
- Status gained through the job   
- Loyalty                                   
- Good working conditions        
- Commitment                           
- Self development                      
- Fear of failure                           

Canadian Perspective:

Saudi Arabia is a welfare state, so money problems are not such an issue for most Saudis. The biggest motivating factor would probably be high status, which can also go together with high income. Give your colleagues challenging work and they may find that very rewarding, especially as there is so little else to entertain them. If the air conditioning ever breaks down you will no doubt lose your entire staff.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Books:

1- Human Rights in Islam and their Application in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-Dr. Suleiman Al-Hageel, ISBN, 9960- 9320- 5-2

2-Voices of Change, (a translated collection of Saudi women writers.),

3-The Unfurling, Nimah Nawwab, (poetry)

4-The Unattainable Lotus, Badia Kashgari, (poetry), ISBN,
 086 356 3627

5-The Belt, Ahmed Abu Dahman, (novel)
Saudi English newspaper such as Arab News and Saudi Gazette also entertain a variety of cultural topics.

Some of the recommended websites to visit are:
www.kacnd.org (the site of King Abdulaziz centre for national dialogue)
http://www.theunfurling.com/anthology _arabic.html

To further expand your cultural experience, it's recommended to visit the following historical and natural sites:
Ruins of Madayen Saleh, Asir mountainous region, Taif's summer resorts (Al-Shafa and Al-Hada), Al-Hassa and Qatif oases, the coral beaches of the Red Sea at Jeddah, Al-Jubail and Yanbu industrial ports and Abdul-Rahman Khalil Museum in Jeddah.

Canadian Perspective:

The Lonely Planet travel guide series actually has a (very thin) guide for Saudi Arabia, which may be helpful. If you wanted something more academic you could look at "Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States" by Gregory Gause. "Introduction to Islam" by David Waines is an excellent overview to the birth and development of Islam which will help you to understand the religious culture. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" published by Transworld Arabian Library is a beautiful coffee table book that should give you a good overview of Saudi history and development, however it may be very hard to find.  The problem with a lot of books on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia at this time is that the majority of them are overly influenced by US economic and political policy in the region. You may be overwhelmed by the number of books that deal with Saudi Arabia, Islam and terrorism, but keep in mind when reading them that they deal with issues that you will probably never experience in your daily life in Saudi Arabia. There are also a number of memoirs that are very entertaining although can be highly sensationalist. The "Princess" series by Jean Sasson was very popular among the ex-patriot community in Saudi Arabia when it was first published, and it is very entertaining but quite trashy. If you chose to read this series remember to absorb the information you glean with a large grain of salt. You can also try "Crossing Borders: An American Woman in the Middle East" by Judith Caesar, which seems very interesting.

For movies you can look at the classic "Lawrence of Arabia" or the recent George Clooney film "Syriana."  Neither of them are particularly informative but they are entertaining and they might give you a bit of a feel for the country. 

You can read Saudi Arabia's two English language newspapers, the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette, online at:   http://www.arabnews.com/
or   http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/sgazette/Data/2006/3/19/Section_0.xml .  The Arab world has been obsessed with Al Jazeera, and Saudi Arabia is no exception. The state run media is censored, so if you want good coverage of the Middle East from an Arab perspective check out the English language website for Al Jazeera at:   http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage . 

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

The local English TV and radio channels are recommended to learn more about Saudi culture. Participating in some of the cultural/social activities offered by embassies, departments of cultural affairs allow you to interact with Saudis who attend such activities. Participating in the most popular sport (soccer), going to café located in the old city of Jeddah (for example), visiting the old market (souq) in most of the local towns, can be a good source of a cultural learning experience. Editorial staff of local English newspaper and presidents or members of local literary clubs can be approached to help you find a "cultural interpreter".

Canadian Perspective:

Unfortunately, there is little to do for entertainment in Saudi Arabia. There are no cinemas or theatres, no clubs or bars (alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia), and very few restaurants. Most people entertain themselves with private parties, so make friends fast! If you are living on a private compound there may be social activities that you can join. If you are living on the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf you're in luck; the diving is world class and the beaches are beautiful. Saudis and foreigners tend to spend a lot of their time in the new shopping centres or the old markets; shopping can become something of a hobby. Be aware that music stores are often "men only" in an effort to curb the bad influence of Western music, the religious police will prevent women from entering the stores. Shopkeepers resent having their customers scared away, so they will often bend the rules and sell items to women at the shop doors.) 

 Usually the ex-patriot community makes great efforts to put together a wide variety of activities, from running clubs to theatre groups, so you can usually find something of interest. You will no doubt spend more time with other foreigners than with Saudis, although if it is possible, make sure to get to know your Saudi colleagues as they will provide an entrance to Saudi culture. 

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

Late King Abdulaziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al Saud (1901-1953) is the most important national hero. He's called the Founding Monarch of Saudi Arabia who re- unified the kingdom under the system of "Tawheed" (monotheism). He was a man of faith, determination, bravery and leadership. The story of his life of struggles and victory became a legend and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was named after his name.

King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (1964-1975) is another national hero. He was a man of prudence and political stature. He played a prominent role in the social, educational and infra-structural development of the country. He was a true advocate for education in particular. His reign saw a great deal of anti-Islamic pressure from outside the Muslim world. King Faisal challenged this, placing a particular emphasis on Islamic unity. The first full Islamic Summit Conference in modern time was held in 1969 in the aftermath of the Israeli attempt to burn the "Al-Aqsa Mosque" in 1969. This summit gave birth to the Islamic Conference Organization, which currently comprises of 46 member states and is based in Jeddah.

Canadian Perspective:

Generally, religious figures are looked upon with the most reverence, especially of course, the Prophet Mohammad.  Pictures of the Royal family are in every public building; however there is great, yet quiet, dissent against the government. It is possible that there are soccer stars that are beloved, but I don't know any of them.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

Saudi Arabia and Canada enjoy a lot of cooperation and exchange in the field of education and trade. In 1973 "The Saudi Canadian Joint Committee for Technical and Economic Cooperation" was established. There are no major shared historical events between the two countries.

Canadian Perspective:

Canada is thought of highly, if only as a more benevolent version of the United States. However, as there are generally very few Canadians living and working in Saudi Arabia you will no doubt be considered American, both by Saudis and by other ex-patriots.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

Canada is held in high esteem by Saudis. Although most Saudis view Canada as a highly developed and industrially advanced state, there is a distance of unfamiliarity characterized by lack of knowledge on the Saudi part. The largest cultural link comes through Saudi students who study in Canadian schools for their graduate and undergraduate degrees.

A notable stereotype that might be harmful to effective relations is the generalisation made by some locals about the West at large.Canada, being part of the Western world, is viewed by some as an extremely permissive society in which moral/ ethical codes are not strictly observed.

Canadian Perspective:

The stereotypes of Arabs in general are many and mostly involve religious extremism, issues surrounding gender disparity, and Saudi involvement in terrorism.  Stereotypes are built on aspects of truth so what you may see around you will no doubt in many ways confirm particular stereotypes. There is great gender inequality in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi women are not submissive and pampered, nor are they necessarily abused or unhappy. Many Saudi women are highly educated and worldly, and often they are the dominant partner in home life. This is also a generalization, but it is just an example. 

You will also feel the pressure of Islamic extremism in what is expected of your dress and behaviour in public and in private. Keep in mind that the government is in a tenuous relationship with the religious elements, and in order to keep them happy the government gives free reign to religious leaders over issues of public decency and social life. The religious tension that you may experience does not necessarily reflect how the general public feels. As for terrorism, it is more of a threat to the Kingdom than it is to Western governments, and preventing terrorism inside the Kingdom is a major priority. Read about Islam and Arab history, as well as personal accounts of people who have lived in Saudi Arabia, and this may prevent you from internalizing stereotypes when you are there.

Submit Your Comments

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Taif, Saudi Arabia. She is the fifth of ten children. She was raised in this mountainous town until the age of nineteen (19) in the western part of the country, ( Hijaz province). She moved to Jeddah to continue her studies. She graduated with a B.A. degree in English Literature from the University of King Abdul-Aziz. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter moved to Dhahran, the eastern province to work for 11 years as bilingual teacher. She immigrated to Canada to live with her husband in late 1999. She is currently living as a single woman in Ottawa, working on her creative writing as a poet, freelance columnist and translator. She is the author of five poetry books, one of which is in English.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Toronto, Ontario the eldest of 2 children. She was raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but also lived in Vancouver and Victoria, and attended High School in Cyprus. She is studying Peace and Conflict Studies and Middle East Studies at the University of Toronto. She first went to Saudi Arabia at the age of two and left when she was 19. She has also lived and worked for short periods of time in Egypt and Israel. She has been living in Canada for the last 8 years.

Submit Your Comments

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.