It is the late 1980s, and the latest episode of “Matlock” is about to start. The living room is all set, and the air is filled with anticipation. There it is, the all-familiar opening credits, and in front of the TV we see an eager family sitting together, a happy Saudi family. Not where you thought this story was going? Well, you might be surprised by just how accurate that image is for so many Saudi families.
The influence of US media on the rest of the world cannot be understated, but few felt it more than Saudi families who lived there. Many Saudis have left for work in the US, and their families, born or raised there, have grown up in a mixed culture.
While that specific combination may seem so contradictory, the result could be deemed quite surprising.
This group of “kind of Saudi, kind of American” have been born in the US, or at least have lived there from quite a young age. Their habits, mentality and manners have all been affected by the US. Yet, their Saudi parents have made sure they were raised in the traditional Saudi way. Saudis in the US went to great efforts to raise children who were attached to their Saudi roots, proud of their religion and culture, but would gladly take from the US culture what fitted them.
From this came an intriguing and harmonious cultural concoction. They are true Saudis in every sense of the word, devout Muslims, generous like Saudis, and very much in tune with their heritage. But they have grown to have the pragmatic nature of many Americans, the attention to detail, and the urge to express their opinions about what they do not agree with.
In the US, their Saudi heritage shines to distinguish them in their community. Back in Saudi Arabia, their American upbringing makes them the odd ones out. It is not that they do not belong either here nor there; it is that they can actually fit in both places.
Saudis in the US went to great efforts to raise children who were attached to their Saudi roots, proud of their religion and culture, but would gladly take what fitted them from US culture.
Personally, I saw a prime example of the influence of this mix of cultures in my 11- year-old son. A friend of mine, who is the Saudi Radio general manager, offered him the opportunity to host a show, and his first thought was, “Oh, it’s gonna look good on my CV.” An 11-year-old child thinking about how to improve his CV. I do not know about you, but that does not sound like most Saudi children I know.
A simple thing such as what my son said shows how much Saudis learn from the American mentality at work: Whether in the exceptional standards they have set in customer service and marketing, the concept of constructive criticism and how to separate work affairs from personal issues, or the powerful idea of the American dream. We have taken that dream home and have lived with the notion that anything can be possible with hard work.
Many people who study or work abroad forget about that foreign nation once their business is done. But for this group, when they return to Saudi Arabia, they feel a longing for America, the country where they were raised. Yet, when they visit the US, their hearts are filled with loyalty to their home country, Saudi Arabia.
This harmonious connection between the two peoples also translates on a political level. The relationship between the two countries goes back almost 100 years. Since 1930, Saudi Arabia and the US have sought to have a stronger relationship. More than 300 joint ventures make American companies the largest foreign investors in the Kingdom, and the trade relationship between the two countries is as thriving as ever, with many benefits for both parties.
With Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries have aimed to maintain and nurture that relationship, while the two peoples will be seeking to reap its benefits.
• Effat Alsaraj is a multimedia storyteller, a media advisor and an inventor.