We arrived at her house in a suburb of Dammam, and we were immediately greeted with the smell of burned incense and yummy food. I later found out that we had entered through the formal entrance. The entrance that men use when her family is entertaining mixed company. Her mother had decorated the house and the parlor was so Saudi, and so wonderful!
I don't know if it's because timber is hard to come by or if it's just the cheaper building material, but houses in Saudi are made almost completely out of concrete. Even the crown molding is concrete, but in our secretary's house, the molding had been painted to look like wood, and it was totally believable! There were big lounging sofas and comfy chairs and the whole room just felt so warm and rich.
What I didn't realize was while we were enjoying Arabic coffee and dates, her mom was putting lunch on the table. A door was opened and a beautifully set table was in front of us! We had a Saudi dish that sounded like it as called "MacGrueber," but of course it wasn't. Now that I'm trying to remember the correct Arabic pronunciation of the word, all I can remember is "MacGrueber." Anyway, the word means "upside down" in Arabic because to make the dish, you layer rice, eggplant, potatoes, and chicken and when everything is ready, you turn the pot upside down and there you go!
It was so great! We had a fantastic meal together learning about each other's cultures. Our secretary is such a dynamic woman and she was a fantastic host. We had a wonderful meal, got to meet some of her family, and she even packed a doggie bag for the Mister because he was jealous to be missing out on the authentic Saudi goodness!
A few things I learned about Saudi culture:
- While enjoying Arabic coffee with guests, the hostess is to fill the cups from right to left.
- If a guest finishes her coffee and wants more, she shakes the empty cup to indicate the hostess should refill. This is not considered to be rude, contrary to the custom in the US when a restaurant patron shakes the ice in his empty glass and mutters his frustration about the service under his breath.
- There is no welcome wagon in Saudi. If a new family moves in to a neighborhood, the neighbors do not introduce themselves with covered dishes and helpful hints on where to get your groceries. Instead, the patriarch of the family meets other heads-of-households at the nearby mosque and then invites families over for a meal at his house. When I asked what would happen if I just knocked on the door of our Saudi neighbors to introduce ourselves, our secretary told us that I would be suspected of being a thief or some sort of crazy woman.