American couple ruin stereotypes about Saudis

Joseph McCarthy said they prepared for the trip months ahead and dedicated so much time to read up on the Saudi culture and traditions

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“He asked me to smile for the camera. I was jetlagged and really nervous because this was the first time I was arriving in the country. But the passport officer’s welcoming words made me feel relaxed. I knew then that my visit to the Kingdom would be different from what I have expected,” said Joan McCarthy to Okaz/Saudi Gazette about her first trip to Saudi Arabia.

Joseph McCarthy, Joan’s husband, said they prepared for the trip months ahead and dedicated so much time to read up on the Saudi culture and traditions and learn some Arabic phrases.

Born into Catholic families, Joan and Joseph have been married for 35 years. They raised their children to be Catholic and instilled in them virtuous values and even sent them to Catholic schools.

“Shortly after our son David enrolled in college, he decided to become a Muslim. I thought it was a phase and he would get out of it sooner or later. His decision to embrace Islam was sudden and it was shocking to us. But his father and I started to notice some positive change in his character. I keep telling my friends that Islam saved my son’s life,” Joan said.

“College life is full of endless temptations and young men and women can get sucked up in it. David was a musician and crazy about rock and roll parties. His mother and I were worried to death about peer pressure and influence. However, Islam has changed his life in a positive way and made him excel at college,” McCarthy said.

The couple came to the Kingdom to visit David, who got married to a young Saudi woman and moved here 10 years ago. They wanted to see their son and grandchildren.

Speaking about his marriage, David McCarthy said, “We got married in the United States. I wore a thobe and performed the Mezmar and Hejazi dances. My wife invited my parents to a pre-wedding event when the bride puts henna on her hands in preparation for the wedding.”

That was when the McCarthys got introduced to the real Saudi culture and they loved it. What they witnessed was exactly the opposite of what the right-wing channels used to claim about Saudi lifestyle.

During their visit, Joan and Joseph visited Durrat Al-Aroos where they spent four days in a big villa with their son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren. They got introduced to many young Saudi women who were invited to dinner. Joan was impressed to see young women donning hijab and putting on stylish and elegant clothes.

“Many think Saudi women wear hijab even when they are home, which is not true. They only don it when there are among strange men,” Joseph said.

“Even men wear modest clothes in public. I did not wear shorts to the dinner party because I did not want to come across as someone who does not respect other cultures. When I go out, I wear casual clothes while my wife loves to put on the abaya.”

The McCarthys visited Jeddah Historical Area and walked through its alleys and enjoyed watching people in action. They saw people stopping whatever they were doing on hearing the prayer call and walking toward the mosque. They felt this spirituality and liked the fact that religion is part of people’s daily lives. They went to the Red Sea Mall, had dinner at Al Baik Restaurant, walked on the Corniche and visited most other tourist attractions in Jeddah.

The couple visited the Eastern Province, specifically Al-Khobar and Dammam and got introduced to local dishes like Sayadiya, Saleeq, Kabsa etc.

“People were smiling at us all the time and many of them went out of their way to welcome us. Everywhere we went we felt safe and secure,” Joan said.

Joseph believes the Kingdom is a secure country and the government is exerting a lot of efforts to make people feel safe and secure. “Moreover, the crime rate is low,” he added.

The McCarthys enjoyed their first visit to the Kingdom and said would come again.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on November 18, 2016.