Vox Pops: Weird questions Saudis face abroad

Saudis often react differently when people start asking them nonsensical questions about their country.

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Many Saudi tourists when traveling abroad often face a barrage of unrealistic questions and encounter strange opinions about the Gulf Arab kingdom from local people in the countries they visit.

Saudis often react differently when people start asking them nonsensical questions about their country.

Saudi Arabia is a country that intrigues many around the world, especially the West. Most foreigners who talk to Saudi tourists seek to satisfy their curiosity by asking strange and irrational questions.

Several Saudis told the Saudi Gazette about their experiences when faced with strange questions about the Kingdom. In such situations, Saudis either react passively or become aggressive.

Wealth and polygam?

Ahmed Nassar, a Saudi financial analyst in his late 20s, said, “Some people abroad view Saudis as uncivilized Arabs. They assume so many things regarding the Saudi lifestyle, wealth and polygamy. People ask whether I own an oil well, or whether I’m a prince. They also assume I must be a good Muslim as I am a Saudi, or a terrorist. They are totally brainwashed. I’ve also been asked how many bank accounts I have.”

Saudi playing video games?

Moath Saleh is a Saudi web developer in his 20s. He spoke of some of the “weird” questions that people abroad have asked him or while communicating to them over the Internet. “People most of the times ask why I do not have much money even though I am a Saudi. They ask whether I’m involved in the petroleum business and whether I have an oil well at home,” he said.

“I’ve also been asked why I, as a Saudi, play video games, why I’m not a terrorist, why I listen to music, why we have Internet in Saudi Arabia, whether we use camels for transport, and why we use vehicles when the Kingdom is largely desert,” he added.

Saudi women work?

Sarah, a Saudi female in her 20s who wished for her surname not to be published, said many people are surprised that she is studying abroad as a Saudi female. “They ask about women in the Kingdom, whether we are able to live normal lives and whether we get our human rights,” she said.

“Westerners and even Arabs ask questions that sometimes become annoying such as whether women in the Kingdom get their rights in spite of not being able to drive. They ask why women cannot drive, why I dress fashionably as a Saudi, why Saudi women go to work and stuff like that,” she said.

Some people abroad may get shocked when they learn that some Saudis are of mixed ethnic origins, especially those who live in the western region of the Kingdom.

Afnan Al-Kokandi, a Saudi female in her 20s who lived in the US for around seven years, said that most people were surprised when they came to know she was a Saudi of Uzbek origin.

“I do not get annoyed because I expect them to feel surprised and inquisitive. I did not choose my nationality and where I come from,” she said.

‘Got used to it’

Rayan Bawayan, a Saudi in his late 20s who studied abroad, said many people were shocked when he told them he was a Saudi and that his family originally came from Indonesia. “I’ve got used to the reactions,” he said.

Nassar explained that he does not get annoyed by people who ask questions regarding the Kingdom. However, he feels the reaction of some Saudis when facing questions is not correct. Some Saudis do not feel comfortable when foreigners ask such questions.

“It is very annoying that Saudi Arabia is a strategic Islamic country but not many people know about it,” said Saleh.

He explained that people are either afraid or angry when they discover that he is a Saudi. “This is because they have a wrong impression about Saudis. At first, I was open to people’s questions and used to welcome discussions, but not anymore,” he said.

“At the beginning, I used to try to answer people’s questions and would tell them about my country. However, as time passed I kept hearing the same questions time and again. I now respond in a tough way,” he said.

“I respond sarcastically. I respond by telling them to think about it, if my country was totally desert then how did I fly abroad. If people ask whether I own petrol, I usually answer yes and say I have a tap at home and sell oil when I’m short on cash. Sometimes, when speaking using social media, I tell them I’m seated on a camel with my laptop in front of me,” he said.

This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette on Oct. 9, 2015.