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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Riyadh

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No. However, I've given seminars/done consulting in 36 nations on 6 continents, including the Middle East.

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Need health insurance in Saudi Arabia? William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I taught in the English language. Most of the people I interacted with at the university knew English. So did most of the shopkeepers. But I also can understand a lot of the Arabic language...don't like to speak it, though.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I was a visiting professor at universities in Oman (1996-97) and United Arab Emirates (2004-2005) and heard from the western profs who taught there and in Saudi that Saudi was the worst place in the Middle East, if not the world. They were correct.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

I found out the first week I was on campus that the only reason I was hired was because the professor who hired me wanted my wife and I to bring in a sexy Filipina maid -- he couldn't, since he was going through a messy divorce. In other words, all this guy, who WAS a good friend of mine until then, wanted me to do was to be his pimp. My students took me to a beheading and crucifixion (without telling me where we were going.) During my last week there (June 2009), an Egyptian professor yelled at me during a final exam in front of 300 students, "F--k you, f--k America, you piece of shit," over and over at me, tried to beat me up, but was restrained. I asked university for protection. They refused. Next day, the Egyptian prof came to my office and beat me up. The university tried to cover it up by getting my wife and me out of the country within 4 days. I've written a 33,000 word book about my year there, and am now in the process of sending proposals out to publishers.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I knew what I was getting into before I left. I went there mainly because I owed the professor-administrator who hired me a lot of favors. (He, like me, is an American citizen, and I've known him for years...we've co-authored scholarly papers together.) BTW, I've written articles about culture shock before, so I know what it means. I was NEVER at the honeymoon stage, and I never adjusted to the ferocious anti-American attitude of almost all Arabs I knew in that miserable country.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Stress. Lots of it. But I know how to deal with stress, thank goodness.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Absolutely nothing. Saudi Arabia is the worst place I've ever been. Business Week annual survey says it's the 3rd worst place in the world to live (for expats).

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Everything.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Nothing humorous about the magic king-dumb.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Don't go to Saudi Arabia. "American Dad," the Fox cartoon show, did a show once about CIA agent Stan Smith and his family moving to Saudi. I videotaped it. One of the sequences was his wife dancing and singing, "Saudi Arabia is the worst place in the world." I haven't seen it in re-runs. Probably protests from the Saudi government made Fox not show repeats. I agree--it's the worst place in the world! And I've been to some bad places before--Bolivia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Papua New Guinea.

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Saudi Arabia Forum Saudi Arabia Forum
Join our Saudi Arabia forum to meet other people living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Help other expats and newcomers by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Riyadh.

Healthcare in Saudi ArabiaHealthcare in Saudi Arabia

Information about healthcare and hospitals in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaMoving to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Expats offer advice about everything you need to know before moving to Riyadh: what to bring (and what to leave behind), how to find housing and more.

Riyadh, Saudi ArabiaPros and Cons of Living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Take off your rose-colored glasses and learn what expats and digital nomads have to say about the pros and cons of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Expat Healthcare & Health Insurance Expat Report: Healthcare in Riyadh

An expat in Riyadh recommends returning to the US or Europe for medical treatment should the need arise. She found that medical care, even at the top hospital in Riyadh, was substandard.

Expat Report: Culture Shock in Riyadh

A woman from New Zealand accepted a job in a hospital in Riyadh. Although the hospital and job was English-speaking, she enrolled in Arabic classes at a university. She found the culture and treatment of women extremely challenge at times, but knew what she was getting into when she accepted the job.

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