How coming to Saudi Arabia helped me stop stereotyping people

“You know, Italians are very foul-mouthed people. They swear a lot!”
“How long you have been in Italy? in which city?”
“Nah, I haven’t been there. I am working with Italians on a project and they swear all the time.”

That’s a recent conversation I had with a friend. Italy has population of about 65 to 70 million, at most 600 to 700 Italians are working on that project with my friend and he may not know more than 60 to 70 of them directly. Of those, 10 or 15 may have been swearing in front of him and it was enough to label the whole population of Italy as bad-mouthed. I won’t blame my friend for being judgmental because generalization or stereotyping is how humans behave – or have been behaving lately.

On a narrower landscape, I have also witnessed this attitude even for people of other cities. If someone goes to Lahore from Karachi and gets mugged, he will publicize all the Lahories as muggers. Similarly, if someone goes to Peshawar and he gets overcharged rental house, he will label all Peshawaries as looters. However, my recent experience in Saudi Arabia has pushed me to avoid stereotyping and putting up blanket statements about any ethnicity, religion or country.

When I came to Saudi Arabia some years back, I had a picture in mind about how things are run here. It says that to open a door; they hire three people. One will decide whether to open the door or not; second one will do the paper work and ask the third one to do the honors. Third person will not open the door himself, rather, he will hire an expat (like me) to do this. This story seemed true as I passed through procedures of setting up a living here that include, but not limited to, opening up bank account, getting a landline phone, becoming a tenant, etc.

Wherever I went, I radiated my experience as an authority about people in Saudi Arabia, right from their rudeness to dismal workmanship. Last year, I was assigned on a project in Jizan City, which is at the Saudi-Yemen border and working there with Saudi people changed my opinion completely. I found Saudis very hardworking, humble and cooperative but the feature that overshadows all of that is their hospitality.

It happened multiple times that as we enter any restaurant, we get an invitation from somebody who is already taking his meal to join him. More important, that guy doesn’t need to be a wealthy person –once I even got an invitation from schoolboys who were having lunch at a roadside restaurant. From the looks, they didn’t look affluent at all, but who needs money if you have a big heart.

The point is, we generally meet some people from a different culture or society and based on our own experience with them, we paint a picture of the whole region with one color. I am lucky to have seen a totally opposite face of Saudi locals as compared to popular belief about them and that’s why if someone starts stereotyping in front of me, I stop them right away.

People are people. They are good, they are bad, they love and they cheat. All this has nothing to do with their nationality or region. It’s limitation of our own experience that pushes us to stereotype otherwise the reality is different. So don’t stereotype. Please.

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