10 Things We Can Learn From Saudi Arabia
The best part of a multi-cultural society is the fact we can learn and incorporate ideas from all cultures.
Saudi Arabia is an elusive oil-rich nation hidden behind a veil that can bring everything to a stop based on the world’s dependence on oil. The countries of the Middle East get a bad rap on the topic of violence, (especially from a nation that has no shortage of gun violence and mass shooting almost daily.)
We hear what the world can learn from the U.S., but after living in Saudi Arabia, there are things this ancient Arabic culture can teach us. As Christopher Columbus found out, discovery goes both ways.
1. A turn lane only for U-Turns
Before you have to “Bust a U-ie” at the next light or see the dreaded “No U-turn” sign and then have to turn at the next light or the next, you’ll definitely think this is a better idea after sitting in rush hour traffic congestion waiting for the left light to turn.
Making a U-turn from the left lane at the intersection causes considerable disruption to the traffic flow and from a lane that really isn’t designed for U-turns. Saudi Arabia has a solution: a U-turn lane is available roughly a tenth of a mile before all major intersections, greatly alleviating gridlock and the aforementioned frustration. It definitely keeps things flowing. Amazing how much this lane is used.
2. Paying Students to Attend College.
In Saudi Arabia, there’s a line on the first day of class, just like in the U.S., however, these students are not in line for college loans, but to receive paychecks.
Saudi Arabia believes in educating its society so much so that they are putting their oil wealth to good use and paying for students to attend college. This extends to both universities within their borders and sending students abroad. Currently, 114,518 students (35,783 in the U.S.) are studying abroad, all paid for by the government to bring much-needed skills such as medical and engineering back to their homeland.
Many debtors in the U.S. with student loans will surely attest this is a great idea. And with a current U.S. student loan debt of 1.6 trillion, students are carrying a lifetime of debt to the point it’s affecting marriages, lifetime choices and the housing market.
Saudis believe your full-time job should be going to school, not going to school and working as a server on the side. No wonder college students are sleeping in the library, they are basically working the equivalent of two jobs. This benefits Saudi Arabian society overall by creating a more educated society, one that can provide the skills needed without the current over-dependence on foreign workers.
3. Mall of restaurants.
We have a mall of retail stores with food courts, why not skip the retail stores and go just for the restaurants? This seems to be a better idea as time goes on, particularly with millennials who are now doing most of their retail shopping from the convenience of online.
However, in every society, we’ve proven people are social creatures and like to go out. The convenience of a variety of restaurants in one location about a quarter of a mile long, front and back, is ideal, particularly for the family that can’t make up its mind on what to eat that night, they can decide along the way. Saudis apparently love our fast food, so much so that upon my arrival at the Red Sea the first thing I saw, shockingly, was a Krispy Kreme.
Apparently, cats think a food mall is a good idea too as there was no shortage of felines waiting for the leftovers from the end of the night.
With that said, retail malls have countered this wave of traffic flow by becoming indoor carnival-like playgrounds. Malls designate a sizable area to amusement parks, complete with roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and mid-ways. This is a needed necessity and welcome relief when temperatures easily surpass 120 degrees. Car dependence extends to these areas as children drive small cars to the delight of themselves and parents.
Be forewarned: single men are not allowed in malls on certain days and in certain areas or shops.
4. Disrespecting a female
One of the fastest ways to be sentenced to a public flogging and/or jail is to harass or disrespect a female.
Even though you hear how the role of women in Saudi Arabia is changing, such as being allowed to drive, one of the most serious offenses in Saudi Arabian culture has not changed. This includes catcalling or whistling, which are never allowed.
And with an extremely segregated society between males and females prevalent in Saudi Arabian lifestyle, the situation often doesn’t present itself. Male and female segregation is enforced at parks, banks (yes, they have separate male and female banks (they have to lift the veil for identification)) and restaurants (example: at McDonald’s, men and women eat in separate dining rooms with a wall between them. Families eat behind a veiled booth which allows the females to lift their veils).
It is considered extremely disrespectful and illegal to photograph a female or even the possibility of a female in a photo (such as taking a photo on the street or from a balcony).
It’s also considered disrespectful for unknown men to be in an enclosed area such as an elevator or room with a female. Separate facilities extend to colleges as well. The opposite sex is not allowed on a male or female school campus, so much so, there are never any bathrooms for the opposite sex.
5. Police traffic stops
This would be one of the most important points of this article, as we all hope for a reduction in traffic stop violence. In the U.S., in 2018, police killed over 100 people at traffic stops, while officers were shot 41 times, five fatally.
In Saudi Arabia, when a driver is pulled over, the driver immediately walks to the police car’s passenger side window or to the back of the driver’s vehicle as instructed. Hands are clearly visible. This greatly reduces the tension of the hidden “unknown” inside a car. The police officer greatly reduces the chances of an ambush and keeps everything for all to see.
6. The importance of a second language
Saudis learn English beginning in Kindergarten…and continue to learn English into their high school and college years. In fact, all of their courses such as Calculus and Physics are taught in a second language — English. Think about that from our point of view: Learning Calculus and Physics in Arabic? The only classes not taught in English are Arabic and Islam.
7. Who’s in the country?
And perhaps the most controversial aspect of Saudi Arabia which has been headlined in our recent national debates: Everyone who enters (and exits) the country must prove they have or had a right to be in the country usually through sponsorship from a business or citizen.
Someone or some company must sign you in and sign you out, which is not automatically an immediate act. There’s no walking in or out of the country without sponsorship. Granted with an endless amount of desert, it does happen, but you take a serious risk.
For first-time offenders, a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals ($2666) and deportation, for second-time offenders, a fine of 25,000 Saudi Riyals ($5670), a month in jail and deportation. After that fines and punishments increase more dramatically, 50,000 Riyals ($13,332), six months in jail and deportation.
8. The Health Benefits of Spices and Lentils
Farmer’s markets quickly emerge each weekend displaying a wide variety of spices, vegetables and the staple of the Arabian diet: lentils.
Lentils come in a rainbow of colors: green, brown, black, yellow, red and white. Each offers a nuance to which variety works best in what type of recipes. Brown and green are used primarily for soups and stews, red for daal or sauces, etc… Considered by many to be the healthiest food in the world, a 1/2 cup of lentils offers 32% of your daily fiber intake. Good for the heart, lentils are also high in polyphenols, protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and folic acid.
Emphasizing the importance of spices in the Arabian diet, supermarkets have spice bars, which takes the Saudi Arabian taste buds away from a heavy salt laden diet. In a desert culture with no water to waste, spices pack a powerful punch to your taste buds and offer health benefits in literally potent “ounces.” Tumeric, a widely used spice, 100 grams (the equivalent of 3.52 ounces) has 92% of our daily fiber. The same amount of cumin provides 369% of our daily iron.
Even desserts usually made with cinnamon, fruits and nuts have many redeeming qualities without the heavy dependence on empty calorie foods such as white flour and white sugar.
9. Saudi Architecture
Ever had an apartment with an interior bathroom? No windows. Without natural light you have a dingy area without ventilation. In Saudi Arabia, all internal bathrooms have windows.
Interior bathrooms have a window that opens into an area that is open from the roof down, similar to a skylight or small courtyard that allows bathrooms to have windows with natural lighting and air while eliminating mildews. This also allows for a greater range of floor plans and general lighting aesthetics in the apartment.
In Saudi Arabia, with privacy paramount, no outside bathroom window opens to the world. To maintain total privacy, no window visibly opens to another room or apartment with windows opening at an angle.
Additionally, bathrooms made completely of tile, act as a wet room without the need or wasted space for a shower stall. Hence, the need for an interior window so areas dry quickly.
10. Saudi Arabia has a vision for the future and it doesn’t involve oil.
Even the oil-rich economically dependent nation of Saudi Arabia realizes the need to get off oil revenues. As the largest exporter of petroleum in the world, “Saudi Arabia Vision 2030” is a plan that seems almost hypocritical as it focuses on diversification away from oil wealth and into renewable energy sources such as solar power.
Due to advances in new technology, energy efficient windows and electric cars, Saudi Arabia quickly sees the over-reliance on oil is waning. Even the king’s son, Mohammed bin Salman, admits on al-Arabiya TV that oil is a “dangerous” addiction. In the U.S. alone, petroleum consumption was lower in 2014 than in 1997, in spite of our economy growing by nearly 50 % over the same time frame. In 2019, there is an oil surplus as demand decreases.
The future? Not only is Saudi looking very high into the sky as it builds the tallest and first 1 kilometer building in the world in Jeddah, it is also focused on the economic drive to the future by creating “mega-cities.”
Currently, a $500 billion mega-city, called NEOM (meaning “new” “future”) is planned with 100 percent renewable energy. A futuristic city that will have more robots than humans, holograms that educate students, beaches that glow in the dark and medical facilities designed with a stronger human genome. If that’s not enough, also planned will be flying taxis, rain induced weather and a fake moon. Welcome to the future!
AND one tried and true standard that man can’t replicate and Saudi Arabia can learn from us: “Dogs are man’s best friend.”
Dogs are fairly scarce in Saudi Arabia. When seen, they oddly never make eye contact with a human because they are wild animals. And of course, I couldn’t resist adopting a dog, pregnant at that. The people, by their pointing and looks, were quite marveled at the way this dog and her puppies would follow me. Dogs are man’s best friend.