Ronal Abboud is originally from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In addition to living in Saudi Arabia he spent three years in the United Kingdom as a teenager, and he has been living in the United States for five years (R. Abboud, personal communication, September 18, 2017). He is 26 years old, and is currently attending university in the United States. We live near one another, and in the past, we worked in the same retail store over a Christmas season. He currently lives with his older sister, his brother in law and their three-year-old daughter.

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Major differences
The major differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia include the importance of Islamic religious beliefs, which guide everyday aspects of life in Saudi Arabia, and the more secular life of Saudis who live abroad. Differences between America and Saudi Arabia include language, food, approach to modesty in clothing, type of government and the closeness and size of families. Gender relations are also very different, as it is very protective of women, according to Ronal. Ronal understands that it can make Americans very uncomfortable to treat men and women differently. In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive, and they are rarely seen without a male family member or spouse to escort them.

Cultural dimensions
Cultural dimensions can encompass many frameworks. One is Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, and anther is differences in the implementation of a multinational icon, such as McDonald’s, the restaurant. I asked Ronal about his impression of how Saudi Arabia would rate on various cultural dimensions. His answers reflected the same responses in the Hofstede analysis of cultures: such as power distance (high), masculinity (medium high), uncertainty avoidance (high), indulgence (moderate) and individualism (low) (Hofstede Centre, n.d.). He seemed very happy to answer questions about McDonald’s in Saudi Arabia, and he agreed that it helped to show the differences between the cultures. In Saudi Arabia, there are curtains that close so that each family can have privacy while eating. This is important as it would be difficult for women to eat while their faces were covered, which is often the case. The menu items include many things not on the American menu, such as grilled kofta, which is a common food in Saudi Arabia. The classic items such as the Big Mac and fries are the same, although he notes that there are no bacon additions to burgers in Saudi Arabia, as pork is prohibited for religious reasons.

Handling cultural differences requires not offending the other person, and it does not necessarily require that one adopt the culture of the other person. For example, while Saudi Arabian persons are by their nature very modest, and women are likely to wear a full abaya (a long black cloak) when out in public, foreign women are not required to do so. In order to not offend the Saudi Arabians, it is preferred that everyone dress conservatively, especially during holy periods such as Ramadan.

When doing business there are some interesting facets to dealing with Saudi Arabians, due to their being Muslim. This includes not charging or paying interest. This is something that might easily be overlooked in contract negotiations if a person was unaware.

It is important not to make assumptions, and to check every detail to ensure that there is a common understanding. The level of understanding and exposure to your culture of the other person is also an important factor, as someone who has been resident in your country for a decade will have different expectations than a Saudi Arabian in their own country.

  • Hofstede Centre (n.d.). Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from: