This country has been a bit of an enigma since we moved here in September. On one hand we've seen a few of the Western misconceptions of Saudi Arabia confirmed, and on the other they've been totally blown away.
For example: It's a well known fact that homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia. People are jailed for even hinting they might be gay, and those out of the closet are put to death. Because of this, I expected to see nothing but uber-macho men, doing their best to look as straight as possible. Flexed muscles, sports talk, and enlarged personal space bubbles (you thought I was going to say something else, didn't you? Dirty). What I was met with was quite the opposite: men with fingers entwined giggling as they crossed a busy street. Men kissing each other on the cheeks as a greeting--in the Emirates, they even touch noses and air kiss!! Men walking arm-in-arm, or pinkie-in-pinkie as they window shopped at the mall together. Men flipping their shmogs and gutras as if they were Fabio with long locks of hair. Men more preoccupied with their looks and fashion than I am!!
SOO many body language signs and behaviors that in the West would indicate you bat for the other team. But here it's totally normal!
On the flip side, I expected girls to be typical girls. At home, girls are squealing masses of hugging, hair-twirling, hand-holding hormones. I think some girls in the West have figured out that the eroticism of the hint of lesbianism excites their teenage counterparts, so they play it up to the max.
"What?! We're just friends! Friends ALWAYS hug when they've not seen each other for one. whole. class. period!"
Here the girls are just as squeally as at home (if not more), but they do. not. touch. I rarely see my students hug each other, and even when one of them is upset by something, all she gets is a platonic arm around the shoulder and concerned look. When girls at home would be embracing and cuddling up during a school assembly, my students are giving each other the socially required amount of personal space you'd give a distant acquaintance.
Another example: I grew up in the American South. Land of the Evangelicals and Fox News. In the South, if you want to buy a box of condoms, you have to go to the pharmacy and ask the nice man or woman behind the counter for the product you desire. The pharmacist will then unlock a glass case which is located next to the anti-depressants and flu shots. That is, unless the glass case is in FRONT of the counter. Then he has to leave his post and it's a big production.
tee hee, that'll show those fornicating teenagers. They'll be too embarrassed to have to clarify which condom size they need to even THINK about buying condoms or having sex! If you're already married, you have nothing to be embarrassed of. Just be sure to flash that wedding band when the pharmacist rings up the box of Magnums and he won't judge.
Coming from a land where sex is so shameful to a land where I thought sex is equally shameful, I never expected to be greeted with a giant condom and lube aisle in the grocery store! There are even brands of condoms I didn't even know existed! Every size, every shape. Even the ones designed for her pleasure! And the lube! Oh wow! There are so many varieties of personal lubricant, even a sex therapist would blush. Last night, while driving home, I even saw one of those big, energy wasting LED billboards advertising Astroglide!
Another example: The grocery store will sell condoms like a champ, but tampons?! Don't even think about it! There are aisles and aisles of feminine napkins (I've always hated that term. It makes me think of dinner linens being stuffed down one's panties and that makes me gag), but try to find one of those sinful, virginity-stealing cotton bullets and you're plumb out of luck!
I knew the importance of virginity to this society so it doesn't surprise me that girls are expected to endure the disgusting-ness that is the sanitary pad (because we all know that the hymen is the ONLY thing that makes a girl a virgin). But once they're married, shouldn't the ladies enjoy the freedom of the Tampax?! Ladies, you have no idea what you're missing!!
Yet another example (and yes, this one has to do with sexuality too): I've already discussed the fact that I expected human sexuality to be totally taboo and repressed...but then I went to the mall! In each mall there is a sock store. Leggings, tights, and the modesty they provide are all the rage in Saudi right now, so I think the sock stores are thriving. In one particular sock store, kind of toward the back, there were some stockings that can only be described as naughty. These fishnet thigh highs are the type of thing I'd expect to see at a Spencer's or Fredrick's of Hollywood back home. Not out in the open in conservative Saudi Arabia!
At one particular mall, there are role-play outfits in the window display. Does your husband like the naughty nurse? They have two choices! Prefer the dominatrix look? You're in luck! There was a cop, a construction worker, and French maid outfit too! (Don't be fooled into thinking this was a Halloween store, either. As an Islamic country, Saudi Arabia only celebrates Muslim holidays)
I was scandalized! This was in a shopping center in Saudi Arabia! There were families strolling by! The last thing I expected to find here was outfits solely created for sexual role playing!
It just goes to show you, Americans think they know, but they don't! Saudi Arabia truly is a land of mysteries and surprises!