Saudi Arabia

The Prophet's Mosque at sunrise in Medina, Saudi Arabia

YES Students

All students from Saudi Arabia are Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program scholarship winners. Click here to learn more about the YES Program.

Country Information

Since the discovery of oil in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia has become a much richer nation. This wealth has helped modernize the country and make the lives of Saudis more comfortable. In December 2005, King Abdallah completed the process by appointing the remaining members of the advisory municipal councils. The king instituted an Inter-Faith Dialogue initiative in 2008 to encourage religious tolerance on a global level; in February 2009, he reshuffled the cabinet, which led to more moderates holding ministerial and judicial positions, and appointed the first female to the cabinet.

Lifestyle and Family

It is common for multiple generations to live together and when sons form their own families they often move to a home adjacent to their parents. In many families now foreign nannies raise the family’s children.>/p>

Men have more rights than do women. Women are not allowed to drive; cannot travel abroad without the permission or presence of a male guardian (mahram); are dependent on fathers, brothers, or husbands to conduct almost all their private and public business; and have to wear a veil and remain out of public view. However, women can own property in their own names and invest their own money in business deals. Women's status is high in the family, especially in the roles of mothers and sisters. Significant numbers of women have had high levels of success in academia, literary production, business, and other fields, yet their achievements go publicly unremarked and they are barred from most aspects of public life. Women are allowed to work, but only in environments where they will not interact with unrelated men, such as schools, social work or market specific sales. Currently only 7% of the work force is women.

Most social interaction takes place in groups that are gender- and age-specific. Social visiting within such contexts is very common and occurs on both an everyday basis and for special events. A guest, upon arrival, should greet individually the host and all others present by shaking hands or, if well-known to each other and of similar age, by kissing on the cheeks three or more times. The individual being greeted should stand. The guest must be offered refreshments of coffee and tea. An invitation to lunch or dinner should also be offered by the host. An animated and relatively long exchange of greetings is expected between host and guest and between the guest and others present, as each individual inquires about the other's health and wishes him/her God's protection. The offering of refreshments and the exchange of greetings is extended to office and shop settings (at least among people of the same gender); failure to observe them is very rude. Meanwhile, gender segregation is maintained in public places such as airports or banks, where separate lines for men and women are usual.

Teen Life and Sports

Heavy restrictions are placed on both male and female teens in Saudi Arabia. Though 13 is official age one can work, most do not until 18. The official driving age is 25. School is also segregated by sex, with girls unable to enter into traditional Islamic education. Dating does not exist and teens can spend time with peers of the same age and sex.

Dress

Teenagers are required to dress modestly in public places. Jeans are not tight fitting and low necks and tank tops are not recommended. Shorts and bathing suits should not be worn in public. Saudi men and boys wear the traditional dress called a thobe. Wearing the thobe expresses equality and is also perfectly suited to the hot Saudi climate.

Diet

The traditional staple foods are dates; goat, camel, and cow's milk; ghee, cheese, and other milk products; bread and other foods from wheat, millet, and barley; squash, eggplant, okra, pumpkin, beans, leeks, onions, and a few other vegetables; mint, coriander, parsley, and cumin; and occasionally mutton, goat, or camel meat and, on the coasts, fish. Meals today are eaten later, and the foods are more copious and elaborate, and include a broader range of ingredients. Light roasted Arabic coffee without sugar but spiced with cardamom remains the national beverage; tea is also popular.

Foods that are taboo are those forbidden by Islam, notably pork and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Restaurants were uncommon and considered somewhat improper in the past, but a wide spectrum now serves Middle Eastern, north African, Italian, Indian and Pakistani, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and other cuisines in addition to American and Middle Eastern fast food. During special occasions, women and men eat separate meals in separate areas.

Language and Religion

Arabic is the primary language spoken in Saudi Arabia followed by English. Islam is the only practiced religion in Saudi Arabia.

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