Before my sister went to Saudi Arabia, she researched and prepared for weeks. And then she got there and realized that most of what she read and saw in North American media was a lie or an exaggeration. So much of what goes on in reporting is ridiculous hype, and eventually people lose trust and don’t take anything they read seriously.
My sister wasn’t even asked to cover her head while she was there. And the very stylish abaya came in very useful because stupid Air France (truly the worst airline in the world) lost her suitcase and she had nothing but a pair of pijamas bought at an H&M in Riyadh to wear under the abaya. It’s ok to wear makeup, men do offer handshakes to women, there were women smoking outside the conference center, it’s ok to take photos and videos, and it’s also ok to walk around with a man who is not your husband.
Saudis are trying hard to change and be relevant in a changing world. It’s not an instantaneous thing. There’s still a lot of stuff that Westerners don’t get but it’s not going to help if we keep looking at Saudis as crazy savages running around with the goal of slaughtering everybody in sight.
Saudi Arabia is a very rich country that has a unique power to mess with the oil prices and hence sabotage the world economy. It’s best to welcome their attempts to change and get better, even if those attempts are slow and uneven, than to bark at them for not being exactly like the West (like the Canadian foreign minister did recently.)
The world is complicated. Other cultures are extremely complicated and hard to understand. People blab a lot about diversity without even trying to understand what it really means. I’m not saying, let’s forget everything and celebrate the Saudis. I’m saying, let’s notice a positive trend if it exists and not sabotage it needlessly.
My sister’s talk in Riyadh was sold out and there was a long line of people hoping to get in even after it sold out.