(Gulf) Cultural Shock

U.S. servicemen could find themselves in a “heap of trouble” with their Arab hosts if they are not familiar with local customs. Many things we take for granted in our society are taboo in Saudi Arabia. Here are some of the guidelines they must observe:

  • Do not carry anything that could be considered by the Saudis as pornographic. Not even a photo of a female in a bathing suit;
  • Do not ask a Saudi about female members of his family;
  • Do not embrace or even shake hands with the opposite sex in public or in a Saudi's home;
  • Women should not travel alone. They should avoid speaking to Saudi men except shopkeepers or salesmen they must deal with;
  • Men should avoid speaking with or staring at Saudi women;
  • Be courteous. Arabs in general value honor and dignified behavior;
  • Do not use foul language or gestures, even if joking.
  • Keep cameras out of sight and do not take pictures of government buildings, mosques or Saudis at prayer. Get permission of any Saudi before you take his photo;
  • Do not carry or consume alcohol;
  • Do not eat or carry any pork or pork byproducts;
  • Use only your right hand to eat food with Saudis. Do not offer anything with the left hand. It is, according to local custom, used to clean oneself.
  • Sit in such way that the soles of your feet do not face anyone;
  • Do not take even the simplest historical artifact as a memento. Such is illegal and offensive.

General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional panel recently of how Saudi custom agents scan all packages sent to American troops.

Anything considered offensive is obliterated with magic markers, such as pin-up pictures, scantily dressed women in advertisements, etc. They confiscate alcohol, pork and its byproducts, pornographic matter, and any religious items they consider contrary to the Islamic faith - even Bibles.

News reports about desert heat and other difficult conditions in Saudi Arabia sparked a desire by several American companies to do something special for morale of our troops there. Various offers were made, but some had to be denied due to transportation problems.

One that was accepted, however, was from Whitman's Chocolates of Philadelphia. In keeping with their tradition since WWII, the company sent 100,000 individual packages of their famous candy. Inside each was a note from home. The gifts were shipped in refrigerated transports along with other perishables.

Because of this home front support, the Defense Logistics Agency has established a GIFT HOTLINE to advise donors about acceptability and shipment to the Persian Gulf before they start collecting items. Interested persons or organizations should call this hotline number: 703-274-3561.

Comedians Jay Leno and Steve Martin were the first to schedule USO entertainment visits to troops in the Mid-East. Martin and his wife, actress Victoria Tennant, will not perform but will visit personally in impromptu sessions at Dharan and at remote outposts. Leno has arranged two Thanksgiving shows and other performers will be announced as their tours are committed. Bob Hope, who holds the all-time record for troop entertaining since WWII, may do a Christmas show.

With the restrictions of local cultural and religious differences, the USO will be specially sensitive in booking the type of entertainment that will not offend the host country.

In trying to find crews to man ships for transporting troops to the Mid-East, DOD called upon several seamen's unions for assistance.

Chief engineers and radio operators were in short supply so union representatives began calling its members to recruit those willing to return to sea.

One man in particular, after some hesitation, said he wouldn't mind as long as it didn't affect his insurance policy or pension check. Curious about the response, the caller inquired, “How old are you?”

“Eighty-one,” the old salt replied.