Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Saudi Husband of the Western Wife in Saudi--A Great Silence


One of the main themes of the Saudi blogosphere is the Western, often American, wife of a Saudi and the challenges for her of living there, no matter what the stage of the marriage and whether there are children or not. The pattern is often that of a male Saudi student abroad who meets and charms a female Western student; they develop a relationship, which is then challenged by the end of his studies and the planned return home. Often at this point, as at all major transition periods, a number of highly divergent alternatives are contemplated--hopefully by both together, but sometimes each independently of the other.


Where the relationship breaks down, there is often a great deal of hurt for both, although at least superficially the man seems to move on faster than the woman--getting a job, and marrying a partner acceptable to the family, while the Western woman is still recovering from her shock and pain. She remains for a considerable time perplexed and hurt that what seems increasingly, in retrospect, like a perfect relationship is aborted because of family, Saudi law, finances, and marriage permission refusals--or worse, a new or newly discovered betrothed. Sometimes a third element of the couple dyad is involved--a child, or an interrupted pregnancy.


Where the relationship moves forward, there are the challenges of family approvals, marriage permission approvals, and visas (Iqamas) to sort out. There are further challenges of work and educational opportunities in Saudi for Western women, and general lifestyle considerations. Even where the family is and remains supportive, so much family, so close emotionally and physically, and so influential, is a major hurdle psychologically and socially. Where to live can be a dilemma; and whether to  live geographically, emotionally, and physically in close relationship to the “in-laws”, can be another foreign concept to women expecting independent living arrangements and independent decision-making about the major and minor issues of their couple. Certainly most don’t expect that brothers, sisters, and cousins-in-law, that is, generational peers, will have so much influence on their life decisions and happiness. Also aunts, uncles, and grandparents may weigh in, in addition to parents.


Transportation becomes a major issue: women are not allowed to drive, but public transportation is poor as well; hiring a driver is not a financial option for all. Driving and walking conditions are both hazardous, in part due to road conditions, in part due to overzealous “admirers”. Being driven and wanting to be driven becomes a source of tension in a relationship where previously it was a non-issue. Transportation directly affects opportunities for study, work, and socialization, ultimately impacting on mental health and feelings of isolation, being devalued, and low self-esteem.


The abaya, the long cloak, which is socially enforced, and predominantly in black, is a source of stress, distress and complaint. Somehow Western women never seem to be able to find one that fits, is safe to wear, has a proper hem, is a proper weight and breathability for the weather, and isn’t loathed as “the black bag”, although the black is not required--or at least one sometimes gets this impression from reading posts in the Saudi blogosphere. Similarly, a headscarf, socially enforced in some places, even for Western non-Muslims, is much resented. Some husbands are more demanding about the degree of cover for their Western wives than others; and, more importantly, than their wives would be if left to choose what would be the minimum to keep them safe from the Muttawa.


Underpinning all is the need for a mahrem’s approval to do anything: study, work, go out, travel abroad, receive medical care; and the imbalance of power created by the presence of a lot of family for one, and none for the other, and by family law around child custody, divorce, widowhood, and inheritance. The Saudi husband might use these as leverage to impose his will, or as a background threat, one that even he may live under from family and society: make the Western wife conform--by all means necessary--or else suffer ostracism and shame.

Perhaps that is why it sometimes seems as if the Western wives of Saudi men are stuck in a perpetual recycling of 1970’s American feminism: the binary opposition of men and women’s interests, the insistence on the right to adult decision-making, the triumph in small clothing victories like going headscarf-less or abaya-less, or not in black. In fact, it may be the feminism that suits conditions for them in Saudi best.

 
Not "Ladies", Women!                Friedan's landmark book

Cesar Chavez (United Farm Workers) and Gloria Steinem (Ms Magazine), leftist social activists

Then there is the much dreaded “Saudi husband’s cultural reversion”. On returning to his home culture, a seemingly Westernized Saudi man will suddenly revert to cultural type, as if he had never been abroad--patriarchal, authoritarian, unhelpful, always out with the guys, obedient to mother first, family second, and considering the Western wife dead last. No amount of sacrifice seems sufficient to appease this demanding, imperious god of house and home. Depression, rebellion, and resignation make no impact on his silent austere demeanor. At some point he will either succumb to family pressure and callously divorce this difficult person his wife has become, or take a 2nd wife, formally or less formally, inside the country or out, as part of his right, or his mid-life crisis, or just because he can.

Yet, on the other hand, many insist that, despite all, “my Saudi” is different, trying his best, worth the suffering, the man loved above all others, who will eventually accommodate the wife. Sometimes “my Saudi” isn’t the problem, but the rest of the Saudis, and Saudi culture, laws, society, as well as the family--all of it or some members. Sometimes “my Saudi” is the only perfect man on earth, but happens to come from a lamentably backward place, which one must learn to observe in a bemused way, while seeking solace from fellow sufferers of life in the Kingdom--a place where wealth doesn’t buy happiness, but certainly helps it along, where inexplicable juxtapositions occur, where nothing makes sense except in a magic realism sort of way--rather vintage colonialism, come to think of it.


What is ultimately most striking is that this portrait is entirely drawn by the Western wives themselves. In the discussion of marriage to a Westerner and living in Saudi, the Saudi husbands are absent from the blogosphere, at least in posting and commenting directly. With the exception of the occasional comment from Nzingha’s husband Mr Man, on her blog Nzingha’s Soapbox, defending himself about some action or inaction that has the commentators all riled up, or M’s post here as a Saudi husband of a Western wife, Ellen, who might eventually live in Saudi, these Saudi men don’t speak up for themselves. They don’t say that they are being misinterpreted, or are justified, or are as challenged by the culture as their wives are, or feel caught between wife and family, or between their own bi-cultural formation, or between their own desires and duties to others; or that they are happy as clams, and the crabs can leave, without their crabettes.


Part of this is understandable due to the fact that the Saudi husbands are working to maintain their wives and children. Some of it may be explained by the greater tendency of women and Westerners to share this type of information with others, whether using a blogonym or not. Some of it may be genetically coded on the Y chromosome, as cross-culturally men are less likely than women to share these types of feelings and thoughts on an ongoing basis, rather than when in extremis; and some of it may reflect different Arab-Western cultural values about privacy.

Based on discussions with men, whether personal or professional, and with other Arab Muslim men as well as Saudis, it seems to me that it would be important for the benefit of all if these men were more willing to share their perspective, and give voice to their side of the story. To break the current deafening silence, I would like to share some related themes and examples, in the hopes that others will comment on their experiences or give their thoughts. Who knows, maybe some Saudi husband of a Western woman, home from work, and surfing the net, will drop in and comment.


In general, the type of difficulties I hear from men, whether successful professional men in therapy, or friends, includes a desire to do well by everyone in their lives; and a feeling that they are faced with a losing proposition, or at best a Sisyphean task. Like Sisyphus--the figure of Greek mythology condemned to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll down again, and have to start over--sometimes men feel that their life is one of sacrifice to their role as provider, and of role stress as the man between mother and wife, or family of origin (parents and siblings) and their wife and children.


“Don’t make me choose!” exploded one Asian-American (Catholic) man in therapy, dropping his MBA executive façade in an imaginary dialogue with his mother, who was in reality plaguing him from half way around the world about the social inferiority of his wife: right ethnicity and religion, wrong social class, and wrong lifestyle choice as a stay at home wife and mother, rather than a supermom specialist physician-mother like herself. It mattered little to mother that the husband and wife were very happy with the choices they had made together.

For someone who could handle international financial transactions worth mega-bucks while in a permanent state of high flying executive jet lag, he seemed to have a great deal of difficulty with a woman on email and the phone. Ah, but the woman was MOTHER, and he was trying to do the near impossible: keep mother and wife, who are direct opposites of each other, both happy with him, and even harder, with each other. On the other hand, an internal medicine subspecialist superwoman mother from a traditional culture and armed with modern communication technologies is a formidable force!



His fear about being forced to choose was that he would be choosing his wife, and he didn’t want to hurt or lose his mother. After that one outburst, he put himself back together, and took a promotion to Singapore, marginally farther away from his mother in the US than Hong Kong was, but too far for us to continue his therapy, so I referred him to a colleague there. Since he was happy with his wife, I am hoping he figured out a way to handle his mother--short of blocking her communications.

In Canada, a man from a Middle Eastern country asked if I could see him and his new wife in therapy as she seemed depressed, and the marriage was in trouble within the first 6 months. For a number of reasons, I offered just to talk to him as a friend, and refer them to therapy if need be. He had lived in England with his family since age 15, then Canada since about aged 20, so his English was excellent, and he was well-acculturated. He was now 30ish and had recently had an arranged marriage with a woman from his home country. Although the arrangements were made beforehand, they met and married during his 1 month vacation there.


She was a doctor in their home country, and hoping to qualify in Canada. Ah, but she spoke no English or French. To qualify she had to do so in one of those 2 languages, ie French or English in Quebec, and English in the rest of Canada. So he was encouraging her to study English, and I encouraged him to have her volunteer at an ethnic medical centre where the language spoken was the one she had done her medical training in. He also wanted her to go to university for graduate studies, but again language was a problem, until she mastered English or French sufficiently.

He was extremely worried about her and the marriage, while recognizing she needed more time to adjust. He knew that her career, which was good in her own country, was important to her, and the process for licensing here would be long and difficult. Also, like many Middle Eastern and South Asian female general practitioners, in her home country she restricted herself to an obstetrics and gynecology practice--very hard to do in Canada without years of further training, as well as for insurance reasons.

Within the confines of a non-professional assessment it seemed to me that they had a number of challenges: a cultural mismatch even though they had the same culture of origin; language challenges for her impacting mainly on career; an unfortunate difference in professional standing as he had a low level management position whereas she was a professional--at least in her own country; she had given up the career she was enjoying to start over at the bottom, or at less than the bottom since she had to retrain; and, she had moved to a new country, culture, and climate. Those are in addition to not knowing each other overly well beforehand, and the usual first year marriage adjustment (AKA, WHAT HAVE I DONE!!!???).

Both of these men came from traditional cultures. Both were trying their best to be a good husband, and while not exactly succeeding brilliantly at it, their hearts and minds were in the right place, and generally things were on track. Still, they were both partly raised in the West, and were not living in their home country.


Of the Moroccan men I know who studied in France, most returned to Morocco and married a Moroccan (one disastrously the first time, with a 1-year-old son at the time of the divorce), and some stayed abroad. One married a French woman on the understanding that he couldn’t possibly live outside Morocco, so that to marry would be to live there permanently. They had a civil marriage in France and immediately moved to Morocco on graduation. She initially had an extremely difficult time, but then so did he.

She would plan for their month long vacations in France to address anything of importance so he would be culturally more like the man she met and married, and less like his Moroccan self, including less influenced by his family. She spent the full 2-month summer vacation, from the French school in Morocco that she worked at, in France, and couldn’t wait to leave North Africa. She saw no value in tourism within Morocco, even for short excursions. She was amazed at how much his family had to say about their daily lives, even though they lived apart.


Having a daughter changed things somewhat, in that she felt more stuck than ever--she married Islamically to make sure she was recognized legally as the girl’s mother, and registered with the French Embassy, just in case. However, she felt her safety valve had closed. She could no longer envisage just leaving and walking out on her marriage and her life there. Suddenly someone else was more important, someone she couldn’t part with, and someone her powerful in-laws would fight to keep in Morocco.

Meanwhile, he was suffering in his own way. Although he went along with his family invitations and demands, he was unhappy, and drinking to excess. He could also be verbally quite belligerent, which is one of the reasons his wife didn’t want to set him off while they were in Morocco. He felt responsible to make sure she was well looked upon by the family, which meant he had to Moroccanize her enough, without alienating her or in fact losing the woman he loved and married. He had a great deal of difficulty setting boundaries with his parents.

Eventually they did well, partly because she relaxed her attitudes about some things to make her life easier. She hired a grandmotherly Moroccan woman with excellent French language and cultural skills (having been a live-in nanny to French families in Morocco) to be her day helper, French style. She let the woman dress her daughter, so she avoided hemline fights with her in-laws. She never stopped working, and found a middle-aged German woman married to a Moroccan, also a career woman, with whom she formed a friendship and a business partnership. This eventually led her to a successful career path. She also did smaller things, like park her car anywhere in the city instead of stressing herself, and have her brother-in-law fix the tickets for her. In short, she learned to take advantage of the opportunities she had.

His life was easier the happier she was, and the longer he stayed and readjusted to living in Morocco. He also had to learn to live there for the first time as an executive, the husband of a Frenchwoman, a father, and no longer a child in his parents’ home. Fatherhood gave him new responsibilities, but also new status, and new motivation to assert himself with his family and his workplace.


Another Moroccan I studied with in France went to the US, and married an American who had never lived anywhere but two South Western states and one North Eastern one. They got on well, but she had a great deal of difficulty when his family visited. Partly it was because she was well intended but culturally unaware, including about how American her own behaviour was. This did not sit well with her parents-in-law but they were more forgiving than her sister-in-law, who had a special bond with her brother; and, although married herself and living in Europe, was very difficult with someone she felt needed to be put in her place pre-emptively.

That marriage ended, partly because of the initial strains on their marriage--her family opposed and tried to block it, and on their student incomes they had to hire a marriage and immigration lawyer; and, partly over when to have children. He married another American, a well-travelled army brat, and moved with her to Morocco to set up a business together. As they are self-employed, some of the challenges of integrating are obviated. They also live in a city which is a weekend jaunt rather than a day trip away from his family.


As for “my Saudis” they all seem happy fathers and husbands of Saudis. Their time in Canada is spent studying medicine, and so far I have only been asked practical type questions like how to survive the winter, and about bilingual education for children. Their wives either work and put the children in daycare, or stay home. The working ones expect not to work in Saudi, which I expect will be more of an adjustment for them than they think it will be. Hopefully I am wrong on that; and on how much more challenging it is going to be for their children in straight English language programs to catch up on academic Arabic, than they think it will be.

I have given one impression of the discourse in the Saudi blogosphere about the Saudi husbands of Western wives, which is necessarily simplified, but intending no offense to either the husbands or the wives. Rather it was my intention to open up the discussion to include the Saudi husbands' voices, or, if not their voices, at least to postulate on their perspectives, by outlining some common patterns and giving some analogous examples.

I do look forward to the comments and thoughts of all on this topic, and if there are Saudi men in this situation I hope you will break your silence and comment here on your perspective in your own voices. If anyone would like to go further, and do a post on their personal story I would be happy to help you with it. Confidentiality is guaranteed and you would have final say on all text and pics. If you are interested, please contact me at chiaraazlinquestion AT yahoo.com


Meanwhile to all:
How accurate is this portrait of themes discussed in the Saudi blogosphere?
How true is the portrait to the reality?
If you are a married man, or in a stable relationship, how caught have you felt between wife and mother, conjugal family and family of origin?
If you are bi-cultural or in a bi-cultural relationship how comfortable or uncomfortable does this feel when living in your home country?
How easy is it for your family to accept?
How easy is it for you/Saudi men to comment on Western women in Saudi blogs?
What type of reception do you/they get? Why?
If you are a Western woman in Saudi, how accurate are blogs you read on this marital theme to reality?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

31 comments:

ellen557 said...

I honestly think that we all tend to go the easy route of just concentrating on the bad experiences of the woman and how difficult she might find relocating. But what about the man? Why is he ignored? My husband has lived here for almost three years now - away from his home, family and friends. He has done all of this to stay with me and yet so many people just say "Oh it's nothing compared to what you will do". But even when we get to KSA - he's going to be the one who will bear my frustrations and have to listen to my complaints. He will be the one trying to make my adjusting as easy as possible and more than likely, he will be the one trying to get the money together each year for a trip home for me.
I just don't get it. I realise (I really do) that many Saudi men out there are just not getting it but seriously. If a woman is saying "My Saudi is different", she's probably right and that fact should be respected.

Susanne said...

Enjoyed this. You seem to have gotten the same impression that I have re: the Saudi men/Western wife experience. I'm glad there are exceptions - I believe Ellen's husband is such and I also think of Murtadha whom I know is not married yet, but I think he is an exceptional guy.

I hope some Saudi husbands will start blogs or comment on them and share their points of view. I think most of them are decent guys, but as you stated about the Asian man, they are just pulled in two different directions. And we all know how frustrating that can be! No one wants to make his mother unhappy, but if you want a loving marriage, you can't afford to alienate your spouse!

As I read this, I thought about Jesus' words about leaving mother and father and cleaving to your wife. I know He was Middle Eastern so I got to thinking just now of how His words would have been perceived in this culture. While I *greatly* admire how the Middle Easterners take care of their older people and I believe we Westerners can learn a lot from that, I DO wonder about the problem of forever taking orders from mom, so to speak. Do you think Jesus was possibly addressing THIS situation knowing how it stresses the marriage when Mom is forever directing her son even when he has started his own family? I believe there comes a time when - as the birds do - you have to throw the children from the nest and they have to spread their wings and fly independently. If you are a good parent this is your goal - to raise children who will be independent and raise their own children to be good, God-fearing people.

Or is my interpretation way off screaming individualistic westerner in a way Jesus likely never ever meant?

Just something that came to mind as I read this post. I enjoyed it.

And I *really* loved that crab picture! Too funny! :-D

qusay said...

U've raised a very good point Chiara, the "man" or male is always absent in most of these situations.

I've read an article many years ago about the complaints of the so called dead beat dads that cannot afford alimony (it was an american magazine talking about american men) and how the whole system is biased, yes some are dead beats, but most, who are/were going through hard times get no breaks or remorse or anything like support financially or emotionally.

The world is not so black and white anywhere in the world.

Add to that the "machismo" and u have a nice mix of things.

Here is a stereotype that I have witnessed. An Arab man was married to an American woman who converted to Islam, they had a problem, and went to the local mosque in American for marriage counselling... u know what she was complaining about? that the relationship in bed was not numerous enough per week, though the number was high relative to the normal average, she expected more because he was an Arab... u know since "they" can marry up to four...

Sandy said...

I would agree that one party has to make an adjustment when one country is picked over another. That said- it is MUCH harder for a woman going to Saudi. And I'll say right now, thank God, "My Saudi is different". But even my Saudi can't change the rules for me. He can, and does ease them. My legal status here stinks, the laws against women stink, the educational system stinks, job opportunities for women stink, inheritance and child custody laws stink- and he cannot change that.

He can not change that every time I go out, I have to take my driver with me. Now thank God I have one- but it should be a choice, not the only way. He cannot change what I have to wear- and when you don't like it 20 years doesn't always make it easier.

I sometimes feel torn. My personal situation is really pretty good- some similarly situated friends say why complain? Just be glad. But I can't ignore that it is unjust, and I feel we are the ones to speak out. Just because we've made good (because our husbands LET us) doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out for those less fortunate. This country is a massive human rights violater.

Chiara said...

Ellen-Thanks for your comment. I think you captured very important points in this phenomenon. It is easier to focus on those instances where there is negativity, and psychology studies have shown that all have selective memory for negative experiences over positives, and some are more skewed that way than others. The good news is that cognitive therapy addresses that directly.

Some blogs are overt about the fact that they have started as blogotherapy or journal therapy by blog as a Western woman was moving to Saudi, and so do naturally have a shock and awe quality about them. They are no less enlightening for that, and probably more so, but need to be understood in context.

Hopefully "my Saudi" is different and uniquely in a relationship with the person identifying them as such. I always find it odd when people say things like "It must be hard to be married to a Moroccan/ Saudi/ whatever." I haven't had the occasion yet to respond "No harder than being married to "A" Canadian. Which "A" Canadian would one be married to? Don Cherry, blustering, pro-violence hockey announcer with "creative" use of grammar? Paul Bernardo, infamous sado-masochistic serial rapist-murderer? Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bible Belt Canadian far right conservative? Nobel Prize winning scientist John Polanyi? There are approximately 16.5 Canadians with a Y chromosome, about the same number as Moroccans. Which one are we talking about?"

Also all marriages have their challenges and cross-cultural ones have a head start in being able to identify some of these, and being forced to deal with them early and directly, which builds communication skills for when the going really gets tough: when you really dislike each other and have multiple challenges at once, a point that can and usually does happen in any marriage.

You also capture well the challenges both in Saudi and abroad for the Saudi husband of a Western wife. Now be a good wife, and tell M his commenting presence would be most appreciated, even if you have to do the secretarial duties. See, some patterns are universal! LOL :) :P

Chiara said...

Ellen and All--that would be 16.5 MILLION Canadian men, and about the same number of Moroccan men. If it were really 16.5 Canadian men or Moroccan men, we would all change change our ideas about polygyny right quick! LOL :)

Chiara said...

Susanne--thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you like the crab picture. "She" was just too perfect to resist, and we know how I like a beach scene!

I am glad my description of the Saudi husband-Western wife in Saudi as portrayed in the blogosphere resonates with yours. It is very important for the Western women to express their experiences, and feelings, even in private from their husbands--after all not all our ventings need to be shared between spouses, as once something is "out there" it is hard to take back the hurt. However, it would be nice, and important for a total picture to hear the Saudi man's side of this.

Your suggestion about analogous blogs by Saudi men would be a good one to see happen. For now I am hoping some will at least comment here. I do know that those who have had the courage to respond on some other blogs have felt maligned-because they were. I hope they will recognize that such attitudes wouldn't be allowed to predominate here--however, it is another argument for men to blog and comment more from their own perspective.

Interesting comment about the Christian wedding ceremony, based on Jesus' teaching. That is exactly what one of my psychotherapy supervisors said about marital relations. She said that Jesus' words about leaving mother and father and cleaving to your wife are re-stated as part of the Christian (Protestant?) wedding ceremony as a notice to the couple, and more importantly to put the family and friends on notice to back off, especially once they have had the opportunity to "speak now or forever hold your peace".

My own experience of traditional cultures including Arab Muslim ones is that they also move toward more independent adult relationships with parents and establishing their own households even if there is greater interconnectedness, and more contact than there might be in some Western cultures. I have seen women from those cultures make sure that MIL doesn't live with them, spend too much time with them, or become the decision-maker in their couple, and they have the cultural knowledge and cred to do it with more finesse and effectiveness than a Western wife can usually pull off.

So, I think you are on track, especially as Jesus said this in the context of a traditional Semitic culture! Some Christians who are interested in the historical Jesus as well would argue that as a typical Jewish man, or incarnation of one, he was most likely a husband and father, and had in-laws too, before fulfilling his destiny as the Son of God.

Chiara said...

Qusay--I am glad you shared your thoughts on this and the examples you did.

While at first the "Men's Movement" may seem like an unnecessary development, it has been a valuable corrective to some of the more narrowly anti-male feminist views, and unfairness to men in divorce and custody settlements which favour the mother in almost all Western situations. I even had a patient who technically kidnapped her children from Italy back to Canada, and the Italian courts still awarded her full custody with the proviso she sent/brought the kids to Italy to visit their father for 5 weeks every summer--and she didn't have a particularly good lawyer, who got out-argued on the wife abuse countersuit (only hit her once and knocked her out cold, but still, only once so no abuse). Most dead beat dads have been laid off from work, are having trouble making ends meet, are faced with what seem like incessant demands, and are prevented from their visitation rights by angry hurt mothers--and they pay for the ones who REALLY REALLY should use multiple birth control methods at all times.

Machismo does set up obstacles for men to seek and receive care and compassion when they most need it, and suggests that being more authoritarian, rigid, and silent is the only way to go which just exacerbates the problem for the man and his wife. Or advocates taking other lovers/ wives--really a new strain on an existing marriage.

Your mosque counselling story really got me. I had a whole other set of paradigms in the "..." before the revelation of the stereotype. That is a rather stunning one, although it is common to ascribe hypersexuality to the Other, which is why African American men and women are supposedly so much better at IT than white men and women, who also can't jump. Actually that Arab stereotype is common, now that I think about it, but I've never heard it attached to Islam or polygyny before, only to the superior sexual proclivities of non-whites.

My paradigms involve how hard it is for cross-cultural couples to trust they are getting culturally unbiased marital therapy whether they are or not. Much to say about that, hmmm I'm feeling a post coming on. In short (ha!), there IS bias and that does reinforce a legitimate concern that piles on the cultural stigma against speaking to strangers about family problems, against psychotherapy in general, greater male than female reluctance about "talking therapies" and some legitimate concerns that a female therapist especially will favour the woman's side, even though a good marital therapist treats the relationshhip not the individuals and steers straight down the middle.

Thanks again!

Chiara said...

Sandy--great to see your comment, and you too raise a number of important points. There are adaptations for the individuals in the couple and for the relationship in itself depending on what country they live in. I also read an academic article on cross-cultural marriages that pointed out that you can be going along fine until one of your countries declares war on the other, or on a related country, or one mistaken for yours (Libya, Lebanon, Liberia, Lesotho, are all the same to some), or one whose citizens you look like.

I believe that all societies are patriarchal, it is a question of degree, and certainly degrees matter, especially when you are being boiled alive, or feel that way. Men moving from the East to the West do give up some privilege, or being automatically perceived as privileged, and may suffer the slings and arrows of outraged feminazis. However, countries which are highly restrictive or have a very narrow definition of socially acceptable behaviour of women are definitely much harder, because the corollary doesn't exist for men.

You are absolutely right that both members of the couple have to live within the social and legal norms of the country, which can be a strain on both, but is more often restrictive on the wife, and is obviously so in Saudi. Yet, what is stressful to the wife is stressful to the husband, or will be when the wife is miserable, dysthymic (mild chronic depression that just seems to become part of one's personality but responds to treatment), or incapacitated by depression or anxiety, her family is nagging him, his children are choosing up sides, his own family are offering their solutions, etc.

It is very important both for the wives and the husbands to find supports from others, including others in a similar situation who can know more what it feels like from that particular position in the society.

I do think that all the perspectives are valid, from the well off with the truly different Saudi to the struggling with the truly different husband in the sense that he is a particularly bad specimen of a human being wrapped in the flag of whatever country. Even those who seemingly have it good have their struggles, and in finding their own solutions can help others.

Hmmmmm so many Chiara said... words and palm trees... I sincerely hope there will be more comments or repeat comments from readers!

Nzingha said...

Mr. Man is a work a holic which is why his voice is absent from my blog. He can leave a comment as he reads every single entry and we even talk about many of the things I write before it is posted or after.

I'm wondering if the Saudi men are no more different than the overall blog culture in that women are the ones to write more personal blogs and men more less personal. Hence saudi men not blogging like the wives should be expected and normal considering the trend of blogging men overall.

NidalM said...

Well, I think it has to do more with men being more closed off than women in general. You may have hit the mark with the Y chromosome reference.

Studies have shown that women, sometimes by FAR, outnumber men on social networks. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/social_networks_women_outnumber_men.php

As qusay pointed out. Saudi husbands may be further deterred from sharing online due to the (perceived) fear that they may just not be received well by the community. Admittedly the stereotype of a Saudi husband is someone who seeks to marry 4 wives and treat them like cattle. I think as barriers are brought down (by the first few brave ones), we'll start to see more and more on the blogosphere.

Shafiq said...

About Saudi men not opening up and commenting in the mentioned blogs is unsurprising - the idea of opening up your life to a whole load of strangers you've never met, who will then go on to analyse it to bits, would fill any man with horror. It just will never happen. I may put a couple of familial anecdotes in my blog and my comments but I always make sure there's a distance - a line that's very rarely, if ever, crossed.

As for bi-cultural marriages, I have very little experience of that, but I do have some friends who are the kids of such marriages - but instead of the woman living with the husband in the Middle Eastern country, the man settled here (in these cases, Britain). The outcome? None of them know Arabic and they know very little about Arabic culture other than the little they pick up when going back 'home' for a holiday. They are, for all extents and purposes, British.

As for mothers, many despise the idea of their son getting married to someone outside their culture/religion ... When my brother came up with the possibility of marrying a Moroccan girl (just in random conversation), my mum was aghast - "How is she going to learn to cook [insert name of Indian food dish here]? You know I'm not going to be the kind of patient mother-in-law who teaches the daughter-in-law how too cook all [insert Gujarati word for 'our kind'] food." My grandparents, who were also there at the time, were surprisingly a lot more liberal.

Abu Abdullah said...

Nice Article again, you never cease to impress me :)

How accurate is this portrait of themes discussed in the Saudi blogosphere?
Yes true

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How true is the portrait to the reality?
Pretty much yes.

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If you are a married man, or in a stable relationship, how caught have you felt between wife and mother, conjugal family and family of origin?

What you mentioned here about in-laws interfering and micro managing the couple is not only an Arab/ North African problem but also extends to the Indian Sub continent as well. And eventually this coupled with other issues led to the break of my earlier marriage.

Indian in-laws are much worse than the traditional Arab in laws.

In Indian Culture (irrespective of the religion one follows either Hindu or Muslim) there is too much of a mother-in-law/ sister-in-law and other in-laws domination. The new bride in the family is often treated as a slave traditionally, some examples of abuse are she has to wash her MIL's, FIL's, Brother In Laws, and every body's dirty clothes, cook food for the whole family. If the man wants to take his wife outside for a romantic evening, approvals must be sought by the MIL, and MIL has the right to deny it!!!

And in the Indian Context a Daughter in Laws respect she gets is directly proportional to the amount of dowry she brings home!!!

And it is expected by the man to be a mute spectator to the abuse his wife faces by his families, if he stands up for his wife, he is considered to be a bad son or the bad apple in the family!!!

However the problem also lies with the man too, he is often a chicken and does not know the difference between following Family Traditions and being a slave to the family. That’s where the problem lies with the Saudi and Indian men, they confuse both together.

For Example: When I had my baby girl, I was asked to give her my grandmother’s name as the middle name, and that is a family tradition followed for ages and by my cousins, etc.

But I was also told that I must speak only in Urdu to my baby, not use Pampers but only cloth nappies!!!, I must not expose my baby to my non-Muslim in-laws, etc... And that is micro-management which I wouldn’t budge to.

------

If you are bi-cultural or in a bi-cultural relationship how comfortable or uncomfortable does this feel when living in your home country?

My wife though wants to live in some other city in India other than my home town, I wouldn't agree to that. The traditional Indian Daughter-in-laws themselves find it hard to cope with the dreaded Indian MIL and I don't think my wife can stand even a remote chance of making it up in India.

And over the phone and emails it self I can feel the heat of my family's attempts to dominate over my wife so I would never consider living with my wife in India.

But having said that, I do at times miss my family, I miss my roots and the good things I had back at home. And at times I feel guilty of leaving my family back and not looking after them (other than financial support). But it’s a bitter pill to swallow and it’s more difficult after having a baby.

I want my children to know their roots well, but I cannot let my child be raised in India neither I can't allow my children to forget their roots, now that’s a dilemma which I face.

------

(... contd)

Abu Abdullah said...

(... contd)

How easy is it for your family to accept?

It wasn’t easy and there is only a truce now in my side of the family but not actual reconciliation.

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How easy is it for you/Saudi men to comment on Western women in Saudi blogs? What type of reception do you/they get? Why?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Non-western men from the Indian Sub continent/ middle east often try to be candid and polite while commenting on western women’s blog. They try their utmost to be politically correct as well.

But I have seen more arrogance and crudeness from the Western women in their blogs (not including you and a few others :))

Typically western women when they comment or run a Blog aren’t politically correct, which is fine. But they expect men to be politically correct and toe their line of thought. They simply don’t agree to disagree.

Most of the blogs run by the western women wives are by those who have limited knowledge of Saudi, because they just arrived, or live on compounds, or go out little, yet claim knowledge they don't have. These blogs have some of the following characteristics:

1. Are usually run the mafia way, if a commentator doesn’t toe the line of the blog owner, he/she is flamed by a bunch of cronies who have pledged allegiance to the blog owner.
2. Are downright racist to non-westerners.
3. They are pseudo feminists.
4. Would like to see Islam and middle-east from the prism of secularism/ or their religious affiliation (though there are exceptions). Saudi Arabia is not a secular country it is a country which claims to be defined by Islam
5. They lack focus on issues and are poor moderators by the fact that they allow commentators to go off topic and allow flaming.
6. Some bloggers while living in Saudi do not bash Saudi or make racist posts but are rather candid and appreciative of Saudi Arabia, but once they step foot outside the country they go about Saudi Bashing

murtadha said...

Chaira, I love you discussion on every topic. You blog should be a library of good resources and information.

There are many people in Saudi society who don't speak up and I think I can interpret that for many reasons( failure to understand the new media, fear of misunderstanding, etc)
I have been asked about whether or not it is fair to judge our society based on the view of only Saudi bloggers or Saudi who has the chance to communicate with other world, giving the fact there are many Saudi who can't afford to buy a computer or pay the internet bills, there are many Saudi who don't know how to speak English at all and so on.
so I would say that is a very complicated issue giving the fact that Saudi are different among themselves. For example, you can hear about many Saudi women in the internet who complains about their life and not having the right to drive and so on, but there are some Saudi women who are against the permission for women to drive and these views are hardly presented on the Internet because of the reasons I talked about it.
I think even though I disagree with many things in my society but in the same time, I feel the obligation of presenting all the views when i discuss any topic. I think everyone's voice should be heard regardless if he/she can't afford to have the internet or that he/she doesn't speak English and that is what I am planning to do in my blog, presenting all other point of view fairly to the readers.


as for the issue of marriage in Saudi Arabia. I think there are many great example of successful marriage stories in Saudi. Many of my friends are great husbands and I am just fascinated by how they treat their wives with so much love and respect. One of my Saudi friend would never make any movie without the permission of his wife :)
but the question: why don't these people speak up? why don't they talk about how they are different than the image that is presented on the public.
The answer is long. but I can't say some of the reasons based on interaction with many Saudi.

In saudi society, the issue of privacy is treated seriously. Many people feel that speaking about his/her marriage life is something shouldn't be exposed to public. For example, for some people, it is hard for him to talk about how much he love his wife in the Internet, you know, he feels that that thing should be only between him and his wife, like why should I tell the public about it.

There are a lot to say here, and I don't have to complete my thoughts but maybe later, I can come back to add more.

Thank you Charia again for your amazing discussion and understanding
and Thans for Susanne for her kind words about me:)

Mina (another daughter of the Book) said...

In reflection to the Western woman - Saudi man relationship posts. I speak from my own personal experience here and maybe this is a fact in other similar situations as well. Let me explain.
I met my Moroccan fiance in Casablanca as a hardworking guy who didn't have much time for anything else. Work was his no.1 occupation and priority it seemed. As a young boy he was going to a French Primary school and had later on also worked and lived abroad. A very open individual who had his religion in high regards as well, but wasn't much on practicing it. But when me and him started getting more serious, when I was introduced to his nuclear family, one part of him started to become stronger - he stopped smoking, he started praying more, religion and spirituality were starting to become more important. In his perspective, being with me, his future wife, made him realize the future responsibilities and hand in hand with that - he started to strive to become a better man. And meaning to become a better person with the Arabs (I suppose), means to take your religion more seriously and live more by it's standards. I have seen this phenomena with one of his friends as well. When he started being serious with a woman and a marriage coming up in the near future, he starting on working on being a better man aka being a better Muslim. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Taking all of this in consideration, maybe this is one more of the many reasons why the western women see their Muslim husband changed when they reunite with his family in the country of origin or after marriage. The women see the change, ''the conservative side'' coming out etc. But from the man's perspective - maybe he's just trying to be a better man, a better person, to prove himself responsible for the marriage and to his family. I'm saying, this is one of the many aspects, one of many possible ways how you can look at it as for what happened after.

The key here is to keep on talking, understanding and accepting eachother like we are. Not trying to change eachother ''for the better'', just work on yourself. I support my fiance in him wanting to be a better man and though there have been some quarels and discussions, I'm with him on that and see and embrace the change for the better.

Chiara said...

Nzingha--thank you for commenting and giving Mr Man's perspective as well. It is always a pleasant surprise to discover Mr Man has commented on your post or that he is present in one of your stories. I do think that work demands limit the voices of Saudi men, but that other factors are probably at play as well, even something so simple as not wanting to spend off time posting or commenting, even though some obviously do. I also agree that this is part of a broader gender pattern. Even the personal blogs of men are personal in a different way than those of women, much as personal discourses are genderized in the real world.

NidalM--yes I do think that genetics is powerful, although social context matters, and the x and y chromosome traits hold across different media.

As both Qusay and yourself have pointed out there is an issue as well of reception by the community.
This post was inspired in part by back to back posts on another blog, and moreso by a Saudi man's comment. It was very sensitively and articulately written, but based on experience elsewhere I assumed there would be blowback. On that particular blog I expected it to be not as bad as what I have read on another. Indeed there was the usual offended and passive aggressive "you are a man, you have nothing to say on this topic" with the implication, in this case, that being a Saudi man was an extra exclusion criterion. I seemed to be the only one who felt he had made a valuable and appropriate contribution to the discussion.

Fortunately, the tone set by the blog moderator and the moderating is such that the thread didn't devolve into grandiose psychological gang banging which I have seen elsewhere. Ironically, sometimes the blog owner claims to want the voices of Saudi men, but they eventually tire of the constrictions and leave as commentators. Sometimes I find the good ones else where, and some I am still looking for.

Shafiq--thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It certainly is a risk to share personal information, as one never knows who will deliberately misinterpret it and how, and nasty comments designed to be hurtful can be even if they are blogospheric only.

Regarding bi-cultural marriages and children, I do think it is a challenge to preserve both cultures but usually worthwhile, and better for the children to have a sense of a whole identity for themselves. Not all want a dual identification but that should be something they decide for themselves later.

Your family conversation made me laugh, in part because of the way you wrote it and in part because your mother was so honest, as to her priorities and limits. Grandparents are often more liberal because they have a different perspective with age, and don't feel so directly personally involved in the decisions. At least in traditional Arab culture choosing her DIL is one of the major powers a woman acquires as she ages.

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah-thank you for sharing so thoughtfully your ideas and experiences on this topic. It does seem as if there are common paradigms within traditional family structures even though their overt manifestations may look different. The power of the MIL is one, and as Western women often underestimate the power of the SILs and other women in the family. The women are sometimes the ones who are the least receptive, as it is their role to transmit and maintain traditions and they have invested their lives in that, only to see some Westerner intrude on their reality. I would love to believe that you are exaggerating the DIL as family slave but I know from South Asian immigrants to Canada that it is a common pattern, and one that DILs expect even if they don't like it.

The role of the man in how his wife is treated by his family seems paramount in all cultures. It is for him to make clear that his wife is to be respected, and when he fails to do so she is left unprotected. This is especially true of a wife who doesn't share the language and culture of her inlaws and is highly dependent on them while living in their home, whether it be for vacation on permanently. The geographical solution is often the best one that will preserve the relationships long term. As you say, the person with the knowledge of the culture and the family has to protect the one who might be naive about it. Certainly while one does owe respect to one's parents, blind obedience is not required and usually harmful to all. I do hope that over time your family moves beyond the truce stage to a more comfortable acceptance.

As far as the blogosphere goes, yes you have described quite pointedly some of the phenomena observed between Western women blog owners and non-Western men commentators. Fortunately not all are unwelcoming or allow their commentators to free a hand in the personal attack area, although yes there definitely some. Nice rundown of the more negative phenomena.

Chiara said...

Murtadha--thank you for your kind words and for sharing your interesting thoughts on this topic. You raise some excellent points about the impact Saudi culture itself on this "y chromosome" phenomenon. It is true that it is important not to forget the diversity within and among Saudis such that more than one view is held by women themselves, even if one gets the sense of a certain homogeneity from the English language blogs. That may in fact be an artefact of who choses to blog in English. Using a blog to present multiple perspectives in a post, and to genuinely encourage them among commentators is admirable, and probably necessary as a starting point for broader dialogue in Saudi itself.

I have no doubt that there are wonderful, loving Saudi men, which is part of my frustration with their portrayal AND silencing in the blogosphere. It seems that when they do have the courage and the language skills to carefully contribute they are still in some places made to feel unwelcome.

Ah yes the privacy issue! This is understood differently by Western and Arab cultures, Arab and Saudi, and men and women. Thank you for giving such a clear example.

Mina-welcome to my blog and thank you for your insightful comment. You have given an excellent explanation for the phenomenon of reverse acculturation of Saudi men, and one of the best, in my opinion. I certainly have found from personal and professional experience that for many traditional men there is a paradigme shift that goes along with deeper commitment. This isn't always as nefarious as the Western women sometimes experience it to be. It is better to find out the why, try to understand, and come to a mutual agreement about how to live one's life as a couple. I do think that this is one of the areas in which one can be terrorized by stereotypes one didn't think one believed, and by all the dire warnings on both sides not to marry across cultures because the Arab man will turn into a repressive brute and the Western woman will neglect her role as wife and mother.

More about the stereotypes coming up in about a 1/2 hour!

Thank you again for commenting, and I look forward to your comments on older and newer posts.

Maha Noor Elahi said...

Chiara,
this is an absolutely amazing post!
Surely in my translation plan...

I will come back later to comment...can't wait until the semester finishes to be back again to comment and share with you my thoughts...

thank you so much!

Chiara said...

Maha--Thank you! I am looking forward to your further comments here and on other posts!

Medina said...

This is an interesting post Chiara. It is in details and very informative. I just would like to add to the issues that you mentioned in your post the Saudi male character and the circumstances that could affect his marriage with a western lady. Let us put the Saudi male character before and after marriage in focus to understand why some marriages are successful. We have to acknowledge that the Saudis who marry western wives are also taking an adventure. They do not know a lot about the culture of their wives and how much they can adjust to the Saudi culture and the Saudi lifestyles after marriage. They just fall in love with them and then they decide to get marry without even thinking about the consequences and the challenges that could face them regarding law and social traditions. So, Love is the only thing that bond them together. I think the more the Saudi is independent from his family and social traditions the more successful is his marriage. The more adjustment of his wife to the Saudi culture, the more successful is the marriage. I think that the western lady who marry a Saudi guy should understand that she may lose some of her freedom if she relocates to the Saudi country and she should be psychologically ready for this. And she should understand that there are social traditions and religious restrictions that her husband can not do anything about it even if he does not agree with these traditions and restrictions. In case that the western lady adjust to the Saudi culture, I think she will have a good caring husband and a happy marriage life.

Chiara said...

Medina--thank you very much for your comment which was insightful and well expressed as usual.

I agree the both parties are on an adventure, as is the case of all marriages, and one doesn't know at the beginning what further adventures will be in store, only that one has judged that this is the person with whom to take those adventures.

You are right that love is a starting point, but the way to a successful marriage, both the cross-cultural ones and the ones who think they are in a uni-cultural one (debatable whether any 2 people ever really come from a single culture), is for each to meet in the middle by understanding the other's background, limitations (of what they do and do not control), expectations, and the impact of where they choose to live on each of them individually and the couple together as well as their children eventually.

I like to think of this somewhat like the weather and the climate. I control neither today's weather (cold and drizzly) nor the Canadian climate, even if I don't like most of it; nor does any one control the emotional and social weather on any given day in their country, nor the general climate of the culture, society and laws. The only thing that can be controlled is that each partner acclimate to the other, help the other with adjustments, and make it clear to family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and service people that the spouse is to be respected, mostly by treating them respectfully in public as well as in private.

Thanks again for your comment. I do hope you find time to comment more often on posts that interest you!

Anonymous said...

I think westernized women are very very caustic and rebellious to their husbands in the US. They constantly complain, have unrealistic expectations, think they can openly disrespect their husbands, drink alcohol, negate their household duties. So when a westernized woman comes to Saudi Arabia, that has traditional family values she needs to adjust. Unlike the US, the men in Saudi Arabia don't put up with the wife trying control or give them mouth. The US already has the highest divorce rate in the world and it shows how they have no stability or structure within their families. Bring a western woman to saudi arabia and she will complain 24/7 about everything, it will be a disaster because she is already brainwashed by feminist westernized values, which are at odds end with traditional values. To saudi men in the US, don't ever marry a western woman because she will drain the living out of you. I myself married a good arab woman from najj district and I could not be any happier.

Anonymous said...

"Unlike the US, the men in Saudi Arabia don't put up with the wife trying control or give them mouth. The US already has the highest divorce rate in the world and it shows how they have no stability or structure within their families."

My husband and I are partners. Since each decision affects both of us we decide most things together. It's not about control, it's about respecting each others feelings and the resulting impact of these decisions.

As for divorce, from what I gather, divorce is not an acceptable choice for a woman.

http://saudistepfordwife.blogspot.com/2007/10/i-am-chattel.html

Saudi Stepford Wife makes some great points as to why divorce is close to impossible for women like her.

Chiara said...

Anonymous Saudi Man--Welcome! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this post. I do agree with you to the point that the cultural norms for Western couples in pubic and for Eastern ones are quite different, partly in keeping with general cultural norms about public vs private, and public displays of affection, but also specifically in the attitude of the wife toward the husband. Generally, even though fighting with or denigrating one's spouse in public is frowned upon, a Western wife is more likely to take a dissenting opinion in a discussion, or even to make light-hearted complaints or jokes. In my experience these are not considered appropriate in Eastern cultures, including Arab ones. This is something a couple needs to find an understanding about, including the impact on the spouse, and on their perception as a couple in which ever culture they are in.

I do think divorce rates can be a false indicator of conjugal harmony, as it mainly indicates the availability of divorce as an option, and a viable one, where one partner wouldn't be crippled by the divorce. It does colour how couples handle marital conflict though, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

I am happy for you that your own marriage is working out well. Thank you again for commenting. Please comment on older and newer posts as well. You could invent a name and put it in the Name identification, as the URL is optional for those who wish to share their blog address.

My apologies for such a delay in responding to your comment.

Anonymous Western Woman--Welcome! Thank you for your comment and the link. Indeed, the price of divorce in Saudi is high--usually the woman loses her children, which is enough to keep most in a bad marriage, but also the financial penalties can be severe. The idea of shared decision making is common and accepted in the West. In the East it is more likely to occur in private even among more Westernized couples, and often the woman lets the man think he came up with the idea, and he lets her think that he believes he did. At least in my experience. Ultimately what seems most important at a personal level is that both members of the couple agree on how they decide major issues. The broader familial, social, and legal perspectives on the relationship are a powerful force but one that can be negotiated in private at least.

Thanks again for your comment, and as above, please comment as well on older and newer posts, as a name or Anonymous if you prefer.

sakina08 said...

Hopefully more Saudi men will join the discussion, but as others have said, there are viable reasons as to why there aren't many thus far: English being a second language makes communicating in it more difficult, time-consuming, and uncomfortable. Further, Saudis are well known for being good verbal communicators but not so stellar in reading and writing by comparison. Compounding the issue further are social considerations, as others have touched on. Those from collective cultures are reticent to share their personal lives, opinions, or speak out against the status quo in fear of the backlash if they were identified. And of course, as the research has shown, women are more drawn to sharing and commiserating, while men tend to approach life through competition and 'fixing' problems.

@Susanne: indeed the Bible does stress the importance of a married couple joining together as one unit, but the importance of parents is so crucial that it is the 5th of the 10 commandments.

@ anonymous 1: while there are a good deal of Western women such as the ones you described, there are also many who grew up in more conservative, moral and traditional households (me being one of them). This only further emphasizes the Islamic stipulation that a wife be Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, and that she be pious. Women such as these don't frequent bars, clubs, or participate in the wild night life, and therefore go unnoticed and undetected. But we are most certainly here. :)

And as someone else noted, there seems to be a lot of negativity pouring from women currently or previously involved with Saudi men. While they are often using their blogs as simply a platform to vent, they also need to realize that they may be misleading others and contributing to all the rest of ignorance and disinformation about Saudis and Islam. Further, misguided venting will lead to nothing more than further frustration and unending problems, as ignorance will never bring light or resolution.

American married to a Saudi Student said...

I have no one to talk to about my current situation. Thank God I stumbled across this blog while looking up advice. I am an american 22 year old women married to a 23 year old Saudi Student in the US. We got married almost 3 years ago and have a little girl who is almost 3. I converted to ISlam, after he introduced it to me. I truely believe in my faith as a muslim, this is not a question. When I met my husband he had almost no Arab culture. His speech was great, He hung out with Americans and Saudis, dressed like Americans and did all the things we do. Once we were married I started falling into his ideal woman to please him, cooking and cleaning. I didnt know ISlamically what was right. I thought it was my duty and he never told me otherwise. Once we had a child I started having too much on my plate! I dont know what to do! I feel like I made himj believe that I would become like his mother or any Saudi women. We visited his family for the first time this year and I loved it there! I guess I loved it as a vacation because when I think about it I get scared. I saw the way his family was towards his father. The power of the man figure. I saw the way his father would stay in another city, away from the family about every other week for days or weeks on business. Im thinking about divorce. Im too scared that it will turn out this way. Hes weak when hes there. He will never stand up for what he thinks is right when it comes to his parents. Even if it involves his own child. For example, His father held my daughter in the front seat of the car at the stering wheel while driving on the crazy Saudi streets. He tried to ask his dad for her and he kept saying no! He kept being persistent. he didnt stop until I started crying in the back seat in fear of my daughters safety. I fear going back but my husbands visa end in a year!! I have to go !! what do I do!?!?

Chiara said...

American Married to a Saudi Student-Welcome to the blog, and thank you for leaving a comment with your own concerns.

I am glad you had the opportunity to visit Saudi before moving there, as I believe that is a great idea before moving to another country, and some seem not to have or to take the opportunity to do so.

You have had a glimpse of some of the issues you and your family will face. Settling there would be different both in positive and negative ways. You will have more opportunity to set your life up, but you will be there without the option of just counting the days until you go "home".

A few general thoughts come to mind. Much depends on your husband's family, how conservative they are, how familiar with foreigners, and by extension the same for his extended family, and his clan, or tribe as the case may be. A related issue is where you will be living, eg what town, city, region, and how conservative it is, how big an expat community there is and what access you will have to it.

Other considerations are your own plans and desires for work outside the home, what options there would be in your own field, how adaptable you are, and how familiar with life in an Arab/Muslim/Saudi context where generally family is much closer and there are many more people involved in what you might think are personal decisions.

The transitions will be as hard, or harder for your husband, as he will be trying to re-integrate himself, re-negotiate relationships with family as a married man, and find a compromise for himself between his life outside and inside Saudi, while helping you adapt and defending you to family.

Another main consideration is how married you are. Most importantly is your marriage recognized by the Saudi government? That will have a major impact on your ability to have a long term visa with your husband as your sponsor and mahrem, and to live together legally in Saudi. Usually students lose their scholarship if they marry a foreigner legally before completing their scholarship, and also their student visa, so many have a religious marriage only. Whether your marriage is religious only, or legal in the US, it is not legal in Saudi unless the Saudi government officially legalizes it.

As far as your marriage has evolved so far, you seem to be struggling with some common issues of balancing 2 different concepts of marriage and family life, as well as the usual work/life balance challenges. His father doesn't seem to be offering the best example of your idea of a good marriage and hopefully your husband agrees with that.

Your description of driving in the car is in a way a microcosm of certain issues that may have to be faced over and over again: traditional family structure, father drives no matter how old son is, father's word goes, child safety rules in cars in other countries are very different than in North America, son has trouble prevailing against father, and you have little assertive power.

I hope others will jump in, and that you will share more so that we can give you more concrete suggestions.

If you wish to do a post on your situation to get the most responses including from men and women who have been in your situation let me know, and if you wish to contact me by email in general please do so.

For the idea of personal story post check the relevant page link under the banner and the side bar category Personal Stories for ideas and examples.

You can contact me at chezchiara2 AT yahoo DOT com.

I do hope you will continue to comment here, and to share more of your story as you find comfortable and that might help others to respond to you as well.

Thanks again for your comment!

Anonymous said...

I am married to a saudi and adapted easily to his country.

Nevertheless the reason is that I met him in his homeland- so there were little surprises. I had moved there right after university, so I had sort of established my career there.

We married out of love, but we knew each other very well- for years, so it was a conscious decision to be together and have a family.

Chiara said...

Anonymous--thank you very much for your comment, and welcome to the blog. I think you raised some key issues that facilitate adaptation: having one's own independent reason for being in the country, familiarity with the culture, and having one's own career or outside interests so that one doesn't feel caught in a vortex of marital and inlaw life only.

I hope you will comment further on your experiences, and participate on older and newer posts of interest to you.

Thank you again!

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