Recently, a group of us (about thirty) were invited to be guests of a Saudi family at their private beach house. Some of our hosts have been successful businessmen who live a comfortable and affluent lifestyle (not uncommon for Saudis) with multiple homes, nice cars, and for this family, even a private yacht.
While Saudis are very private and reserved in public, they have a giving nature once (or if) you manage to bridge the cultural divide and gain their respect and trust. They are complex and dynamic: suspicious of strangers and segregated by family or single sections when in public, but warm and inviting and relaxed in dress and manner in their private compounds.
By nature, Saudis are hospitable people. Coming from a Bedouin society where they heavily relied on the charity of others in the harsh desert landscape, they view it as a kind of guardianship and obligation to be good hosts to visitors. I’ve read that Islam offers a certain protection to anyone on Muslim land, and Saudi Arabia is the “cradle of Islam.”
It was my first opportunity to really experience Saudi hospitality, and I have to say, I hope I have many more opportunities!
The family began the day by taking us on their yacht and touring the coast of the Persian Gulf. We saw many private beach houses and resorts, which provide Saudis the privacy to be in the water as they wish without worrying about the Muttawa (religious police). They served us a lunch of sandwiches and snacks, and encouraged us to comfortably relax inside the cabin or outside on the three different decks wherever we wanted.
View from the beach and our yacht for the day.
These boys were relatives of our host who “escorted” and entertained us with a jet ski show during the course of our boating trip.
This was the fishing boat that they shared with us as well for the fishermen in the group.
Letting the wind catch my hair.
After a couple hours, we headed back to the beach house. Saudi Arabia is composed of private compounds that take the shape of either private houses or private neighborhoods. Behind the high walls, Saudis have the freedom to dress as they like and women can even drive cars. This family’s beach house is similar to a vacation home, they come here once or twice a month to relax and play in the water. The compound is similar to that of a country club, with a nice spa and health club, pool, recreation rooms, restaurants, etc. The Saudis who own houses there drive Ferrari/Maserati/McLaren. They are certainly drinking from the oil wells – so to speak.
Beach and beach house.
Tubing – I relived my “younger” years.
Once at the beach house, we were free to use their rooms to change into our bathing suits and then head out to the sand and water. They brought water “toys” for us to play with: jet skis and a recreational boat for tubing.
After a long day in the sun, they served us the biggest display of Middle Eastern food: lamb, fish, chicken, rice, potatoes, vegetables, sauces, appetizers, cakes. Unfortunately, I still do not know the names of the different dishes, but I hope to enjoy such a feast again sometime to learn.
My favorite part of the day, was when a couple of the women of the family joined us. One was the sister-in-law to our host and the other was his daughter. They did not choose to unrobe, but their faces were at least exposed. Both were welcoming and sociable, cheerful to talk with us about their lives. I got to speak with the daughter who is 15 and still in school. She was very friendly and even offered to take a few of us around on the club car to tour the compound. That was actually a funny experience. After we all piled in, she drove us past all the facilities explaining each one while at the same time telling us that driving the club car was her favorite thing to do. I tell you, we circled the compound at least five times. I kept waving at the same guard over and over laughing to myself as we sped along as fast as that little golf cart would go.
When we finally arrived back at the beach house, everyone was already piling in the car to leave for home. I hope one day women are able to drive themselves around town in Saudi Arabia, it would be a huge step for them.
But what a day! There seems to be nothing like Saudi hospitality. This family not only offered up their water toys and opened up their home to us, they also gave us their time, which was truly special. It is not a common occurrence to share in that part of their culture since many of the time my interactions with them are limited to run-ins while shopping and they are not as friendly. As I said before, Saudis are quite suspicious of people unless they are close friends and it takes a while to build that trust.
They don’t call it Sunset Beach for just any reason.