The Kindness of Saudi Strangers

I used to be a very nice person, back when I was a child. I am not saying that I am not a nice person anymore, but back then I was more focused on doing at least one good thing for somebody every day.

What made me decrease my amount of kindness and what in turn made me less naive is the fact that in western society it seemed to me as if acts of kindness are, a lot of times, not really appreciated but considered something like a bribe or just a way of making oneself popular. I had the feeling that nobody believed in kindness just for the hell of it.

Before I left Germany for Saudi Arabia, I believed that local people would be sceptical towards me because I am very obviously different from them and a lot of the local social norms and rules are unfamiliar to me for intercultural reasons.

My motto for my stay in this country is: Prove me wrong! I know that a lot of the negative things that I have read online are often times exaggerated but then I did not have any friends from Saudi Arabia, so where else was I able to turn for information? And so because I know that many of the negative things are not always true, I am always happy to see the one or the other myth about this place being busted, or just being proven wrong by experience in my pre- created, online shaped,  opinions.

And so it happened just recently again. Most of us believe that Arabs don’t like foreign people for whatever reason and I do agree that there may be the one or the other person to whom this applies but there are also locals here who are very friendly and respectful and before any of you start arguing that this applies to men only, I have been treated nicely by locals as well. And I am a woman.

Just this past thursday I was out for dinner at a restaurant. On my way to the garage, a Saudi man held the door open for me, waiting patiently until I reached the door and went through. I have no idea who he was but I was so pleasantly surprised, I even thanked him in Arabic and I don’t use that language very often because I have no idea what type of Arabic I am learning when I actually try to learn it. So I am generally limited to the “Good morning, hello, thank you” expressions.

My friend, who also happens to be a woman, had to drop by the airport because of a missing stamp. She was asked to wait for a little bit and when the responsible person came back, he brought her a piece of cake because someone was just celebrating something. Saudis giving out cake to westerners. How nice is that? Never heard of that anywhere else.

One of the things that touches me the most is when the local women are nice to me. Sometimes I get strange looks from them or they push me (whether intentionally or not, I can’t tell for sure) and I can understand why that might be, so I never took it too closely to the heart. But because of that side of treatment that I sometimes get, I appreciate them being nice even more.  Even if it is just because they are trying to sell something to me. Sometimes I can see the expression of their eyes change when they smile at me, those who are wearing niqab. To me, that is one of the most heart warming things to see ever. I can’t explain why. It just is. Those little wrinkles around the eyes when you smile.

Yesterday, I went to town to find a place where I could get my name engraved on a ring in Arabic. I eventually found a spot in a mall but as it sometimes happens, there were communication issues. One of the Saudi ladies that was standing in front of me, saw my helplessness and decided to translate for me. Just like that. Without me even asking.In the end, I did not get what I came for but at least I had a happy moment for the day.  This is the first place on earth where that ever happened to me, to be honest.

Whenever I go to shops that sell pastries, I almost always am offered arabic coffee and sweets or dates for free. Depending on what the shop is selling.

Some of the complaints that people have about here is that people always try to squeeze themselves in front of you when you are in a waiting line. That does happen to me quite a lot but just recently, as I was standing there, waiting for the shawarma counter to open after the Isha prayer, a Saudi woman let me order first. Just like that. I wanted to let her go first because I was not in a hurry but she said to me: “No, no you were here before me. You go first”. Before that she offered me a copy of the menu she had, so I could choose what I wanted to order.

So here is to Saudis being nice to foreigners. I guess I could say that a little bit of  my faith in humanity is restored for me now.

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