Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Culture in the Kingdom is very interesting indeed.

First, there is their whole philosophy on life, which can be summed up with their favorite phrase: Inshallah, or 'If Allah wills it/Allah willing'.

I'm taking the scenic route to this explanation so bear with me guys. Back in the day, when all other civilizations were picking up on this fad “agriculture”, the people who lived in what is now the Kingdom didn't want and couldn't use it. They were nomadic herders and liked their life. Plus, agriculture was more or less unfeasible in the middle of the desert.

While the rest of the world developed not only farming, but what inevitably comes with it – what we call the 'Protestant Work Ethic' (PWE) – the people of the Kingdom supported themselves with the fruits of their flock. This did not require them to toil in the fields all day but to sit around and talk while keeping one eye on their herd.

This has produced two lasting effects on the people of the Kingdom. The first is that they love to talk. Most of the girls we see in this program, are very fluent when speaking. However, since Arabic is a phonetic language and there is more of an emphasis on speaking in this culture than most, many of the girls cannot spell to save their lives. Reading and writing for these girls is a big chore. On the other hand, they will talk your ear off.

Not only that, but because greetings are so important in this culture, they will often take a circular approach to conversation. Greetings come first and are of the utmost importance. Then there are the inquiries about family, because that is very important as well. Then, after these discussion topics have been exhausted they may get to the point. Or they may talk some more. Toss up, really.

The other thing these pastoral beginnings have done is instilled in the people of the Kingdom with what we of the PWE might ignorantly call laziness. Let me be clear – they are not lazy. It's more of this Inshallah attitude.

Since, in the past, Allah has always taken care of them and their flock, they have no reason to suppose that it will not continue into the future. In some ways, working for a better future may be considered against Allah, because He has a plan and He is going to take care of it. If your endeavor fails, well, then it was never meant to be. If you succeed, it was because Allah deemed it so. There is nothing you can do to influence it either way, so why try? Why try to thwart the will of Allah?

Can't get to the meeting on time because your alarm clock didn't go off? Well, that was Allah's will. The unwashed fruit from the market gave you food poisoning? Clearly Allah wanted this suffering for you.

The Kingdom's Allah is quite the micro-manager

This Inshallah philosophy has really changed the face of the Kingdom over the years. It's the reason most often given to why the wealthy of the country build palaces instead of infrastructure. If Allah wanted a road to be there, well, there would be one.

Because of the heavy tradition of slavery here, the people of the Kingdom do not find it weird or unusual that almost the entire workforce is imported from abroad. 50 percent of the population of the Kingdom is foreign. 50 per. cent. Can you imagine? This includes positions like janitors and customer service representatives, as well as doctors and teachers. This is the case despite the astounding 20% unemployment amount Kingdomites.

In fact, there has been a movement in government to get more native Kingdomites to work in the jobs that are typically filled with foreigners. Much legislation has been passed on how Kingdomites are treated in the workplace and how much of a company's workforce must be made up of the native population.

But most jobs are considered either too demeaning or too technical for the Kingdomites, who largely graduate with degrees in Islamic Philosophy. Many Kingdomites are used to being served and therefore do not do well in service positions. Still, most companies are giving the laws due diligence. This has created people who make a career out of being trainees. They are hired to replace a foreign worker with the expectation that one day, Inshallah, they will learn the job. Their teachers have no initiative to teach their job away, and the Kingdomites don't really want to work anyway (Inshallah, remember?). So, they get paid to go to training programs, and to be trained while they never expect to actually take over the job.

Many companies are filling this quota by hiring Kingdomites and not requiring them to show up to work. Taking the loss of their salaries as the cost of doing business in the Kingdom.

These problems are compounded by the fact that it's illegal to fire a Kingdomite after they have been hired. So, no one feels the need to be actually good at their job. Since the entire government is made up of Kingdomites – many of them of royal blood – things in the bureaucracy can move at glacial speeds.

Work culture here seems to be as haphazard for everyone. As I described in my last post, the disorganization and circular attitude at the University is very in tune with this culture, and seen through this lens it seems almost logical.

I will get used to it eventually, Inshallah.

1 comment:

  1. Zowies! How do they ... get along with 20% of the population unemployed? Are they underemployed? How do they have money? I know the kingdom subsidizes stuff, but there's no way they just walk around all day, don't do nothing, and have money to buy food?