The overwhelming majority of Saudi Arabians are Arabs, descended from the indigenous tribes and still today maintaining tribal affiliation. Along the Arabian Gulf coast, there are some Iranians.
The number of expatriate workers is large with the bulk coming from Egypt, Pakistan, India and the Philippines. The economy is almost totally dependent upon foreign labour, though efforts are beginning to be made to lessen this dependence.
Arabic is a Semitic language. It is spoken and understood in various forms by millions of people throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is one of the official languages of the United Nations.
Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran, is used only in writing and rarely in speech. A standardized modern Arabic is used for newspapers, television and conversation with local variations.
Arabic is written in a flowing cursive style from right to left. The alphabet consists of 28 letters, all consonants. Vowels are expressed either by positioned points or by inserting letters in positions where they would normally not occur. The letters take different shapes depending on their place in words. The appearance and guttural sounds make it seem a complex language; however, basic conversational Arabic is not difficult to learn.
The religion and customs of Saudi Arabia dictate conservative dress for both men and women.
Foreigners are given some leeway in the matter of dress, but they are expected to follow local customs, particularly in public places. As a general rule, foreign men should wear long trousers and shirts that cover the upper torso. Foreign women should wear
loose fitting skirts with hemlines well below the knee. Sleeves should be at least elbow length and the neckline modest.
The best fashion guideline is "conceal rather than reveal". Teenagers are also required to dress modestly in public places. Jeans should not be tight fitting and low necks and tank tops are not recommended. Shorts and bathing suits should not be worn in public.
Whatever their job or social status, Saudi men wear the traditional dress called a thobe. Wearing the thobe expresses equality and is also perfectly suited to the hot Saudi climate. During warm and hot weather, white thobes are worn by Saudi men and boys. During the cool weather, wool thobes in dark colours are not uncommon. At special times, men often wear a bisht or mishlah over the thobe. These are long white, brown or black cloaks trimmed in gold.
A man's headdress consists of three things: the tagia, a small white cap that keeps the ghutra from slipping off the head; the gutra itself, which is a large square of cloth; and the iqal, a doubled black cord that holds the ghutra in place. Some men may
choose not to wear the iqal.
The ghutra is usually made of cotton and traditionally Saudis wear either a white one or a red and white checked one. The ghutra is worn folded into a triangle and centred on the head.
When a Saudi woman appears in public, she normally wears a voluminous black cloak called an ibayah, a scarf covering her hair and a full-face veil. There are varying opinions regarding the wearing of the abayah and the veil; however, Saudi women cover themselves in public and in the presence of men who are not close relatives.
Women's fashions do not stop with the ibayah though if you are a male, that is all you are likely to see. Beneath the black cloak, Saudi women enjoy fashionable clothing and take great pride in their appearance. They enjoy bright colours and lavish material.
Non-Muslim women living in Saudi Arabia often wear the ibayah as a sign of respect for local customs.
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