Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
“Every society in the world has its own distinctive lifestyle, and Saudi Arabian society is no exception.” This was the first statement I made in answering someone from the West who asked me about how things are done in Saudi Arabia. I continued: “I am not going to dwell on the numerous good characteristics Saudi citizens possess, such as personal generosity in every regard, warmth and friendliness, sense of humor, straight talking, dignity, courteousness, and graciousness. I will rather sketch out a synoptic view of some unpleasant aspects of our lifestyle, hoping to raise the awareness of my own people to our failings.”
At this point, I would like to emphasize that although there may be several negative features of our lifestyle, procrastination, whining, and refusing to accept responsibility are the most noticeable.
Generalization is the first social phenomenon that Saudi society is known for. The people of Saudi Arabia love to make general statements on every matter, which makes it a common tendency in our society to create and perpetuate stereotypes of people or situations. For instance, when you attempt to solicit an opinion concerning an issue, you will hear statements that express a sense of totality indicating that all people involved “do this” or “believe that.” This practice of stereotypical generalizations often leads to the development of an unfair or inaccurate judgment toward the involved onlookers.
Another apparent attribute that you will observe is a distinct tendency to complain and whine. Everywhere you go, be it an educational institution, government office, private establishment or company, or even a social gathering among friends or family members, the overwhelming tone is that nothing is going in the right direction.
Once you introduce an issue for discussion, you can immediately expect to hear unfavorable statements regarding it. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is little in this country that Saudi citizens are pleased with. This makes one strongly believe that Saudi citizens confine themselves to complaining and have a high level of frustration regarding a wide range of living conditions.
This results in the absence of satisfaction toward the prosperity and welfare of their country and probably seriously damages their allegiance to it.
The tendency to place blame on others is another aspect of the Saudi lifestyle. Instead of admitting their wrongdoings and mistakes, the majority of people here like to hold others responsible for what happens.
Among people of different classes and different places, others will be blamed for what went wrong. I rarely encounter people who have the courage to point to themselves and confess that they take full responsibility for what went wrong. To my surprise, and based on personal observation, this can even be seen with little children who assign culpability either to their younger siblings or their friends.
The consequence of such an unfavorable attitude can be seen in the “kick-the-dog effect” where individuals blame their immediate subordinates, and this spreads down to even the lowest rung on the ladder.
A further observation about the Saudi lifestyle is a lack of seriousness.
It is sad to say that a large number of Saudis do not take things seriously. In academia, for example, where I work, when I give my students an assignment, they usually do it just to fulfill the requirements of the course without showing any signs of seriousness.
This has a highly negative effect on the quality of their work. This can also be applied to every aspect of our lives. The most common phrase expressing this attitude is: “Oh man, don’t bother; no one really cares.”
“People of the last minute” is the best phrase I can use to describe another aspect of the Saudi lifestyle. People here can be characterized as procrastinators, as they are very prone to postpone or put off doing what they are supposed to do until the very last minute. The majority of people tend not to take advantage of the time they are given in advance of a deadline; instead, they wait until the designated period is about to end and then rush to do the assigned task. Delaying what requires immediate attention may result in stress on a personal level and in performing the required task inadequately or, more precisely, without achieving the required outcome.
I would like to conclude by repeating my opening statement, that these seemingly negative aspects of the Saudi character do not mean that we are not people of good character. I mean, on the contrary, to highlight and portray some of the negative unique patterns of Saudi life so that we can work to overcome them to the best of our abilities.
The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.