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The cultural setting of Saudi Arabia is Arab and Islam, and is deeply religious, conservative, traditional, and family oriented. Many attitudes and traditions are centuries-old, derived from Arab civilization. However its culture has also been affected by rapid change, as the country was transformed from an impoverished nomadic country into a rich commodity producer in just a few years in the 1970s.
The Wahhabi Islamic movement, which arose in the eighteenth century and is sometimes described as austerely puritanical, now predominates in the country. Following the principle of "enjoining good and forbidding wrong", there are many limitations on behaviour and dress are strictly enforced both legally and socially, often more so then in other Muslim countries. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited, for example, and there is no theatre or public exhibition of films.
Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Five times each day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques scattered throughout the country. Because Friday is the holiest day for Muslims, the weekend is Friday-Saturday. In accordance with Wahhabi doctrine, only two religious holidays, ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, were publicly recognized, until 2006 when a non-religious holiday, the 23 September national holiday (which commemorates the unification of the kingdom) was reintroduced in 2006. 
Observers have described Saudi Arabian society as deeply religious and deeply conservative. Saudi Arabia is the "only modern Muslim state to have been created by jihad, the only one to claim the Quran as its constitution", and the only Arab-Muslim country "to have escaped European imperialism." Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens be Muslims. Neither Saudi citizens nor guest workers have the right of freedom of religion.
The official and dominant form of Islam in the kingdom, and "the predominant feature of Saudi culture" is the austerely puritanical form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Wahhabism arose in the central region of Najd, the eighteenth century. Proponents call the movement "Salafism", and believe that its teachings purify the practice of Islam of innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of Muhammad and his companions.
The many limitations on behaviour and dress are strictly enforced both legally and socially. Saudi is one of the few countries that have "religious police" (also known as Haia or Mutaween), who patrol the streets "enjoining good and forbidding wrong" by enforcing dress codes, strict separation of men and women, attendance at prayer (salat) five times each day, the ban on alcohol, and other aspects of Sharia (Islamic law) or behavior it believes to be commanded by Islam. Cinema theatres were shut down in 1980, for example. (In the privacy of the home behavior can be far looser, and reports from the Daily Mail and WikiLeaks indicate that the ruling Saudi Royal family applies a different moral code to itself, indulging in parties, drugs and sex.)
The kingdom uses not the international Gregorian calendar, but the Islamic calendar, with the start of each lunar month determined not ahead of time by astronomical calculation, but only after the crescent moon is sighted by the proper religious authorities.) Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Businesses are closed three or four times a day during business hours for 30 to 45 minutes while employees and customers sent off to pray;)
In accordance with Wahhabi doctrine, for many years only two religious holidays were publicly recognized, ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. (ʿĪd al-Fiṭr is "the biggest" holiday a three day period of "feasting, gift-giving and general letting go".) In 2006, the 23 September national holiday (which commemorates the unification of the kingdom) was reintroduced over the objections of religious clerics. 
Approximately half of the broadcast airtime of Saudi state television is devoted to religious issues. 90% of books published in the kingdom are on religious subjects, and most of the doctorates awarded by its universities are in Islamic studies.  In the state school system, about half of the material taught is religious. In contrast, assigned readings over twelve years of primary and secondary schooling devoted to covering the history, literature, and cultures of the non-Muslim world comes to a total of about 40 pages. 
"Fierce religious resistance" had to be overcome to permit such innovations as paper money (in 1951), female education (1964), and television (1965) and the abolition of slavery (1962). There were a number of terrorist attacks targeting foreigners between 2001 and 2004, but these have been brought under control.
Public support for the traditional political/religious structure of the kingdom is so strong that one researcher interviewing Saudis found virtually no support for reforms to secularize the state. Even the small minority of Westernized and liberal Saudis expressed "a desire for the kingdom to remain a Muslim society ruled by an overtly Muslim state."
Because of religious restrictions, Saudi culture lacks any diversity of religious expression, buildings, annual festivals and public events seen in many other countries where religious freedom is permitted.
The festivals (such as ʿĀshūrāʾ) and communal public worship of Shia Muslims who make up an estimated 15% to 25% of the kingdom's population are suppressed. Celebration of other (non-Wahhabi) Islamic holidays, such as the Muhammad's birthday and the Day of Ashura (an important holiday for Shīʿites), are tolerated only when celebrated locally and on a small scale. Shia also face systematic discrimination in employment, education, the justice system according to Human Rights Watch.
No churches, temples or other non-Muslim houses of worship permitted in the country (although there are nearly a million Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists among the foreign workers). Foreign workers are not allowed to celebrate Christmas or Easter, and reportedly private prayer services are forbidden in practice.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims and conversion by Muslims to another religion is illegal, and in legal compensation court cases (Diyya) non-Muslim are awarded less than Muslims. Atheists are legally designated as terrorists. Saudis or foreign residents who call "into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based" may be subject to as much as 20 years in prison.
The original inhabitants of the area that is now Saudi were desert nomads known as Bedouin. They remain a significant minority of the indigenous Saudi population, though many who call themselves Bedou no longer engage in "traditional tribal activities of herding sheep and riding camels." According to authors Harvey Tripp and Peter North, Bedouin make up most of the judiciary, religious leaders and National Guard (which protects the throne) of the country. Bedouin culture is "actively" preserved by the government.
Greetings in Saudi Arabia have been called "formal and proscribed" and lengthy. Saudis (men) tend "to take their time and converse for a bit when meeting". Inquiries "about health and family" are customary, but never about a man's wife, as this "is considered disrespectful." Saudi men are known for the physical affection they express towards total strangers (i.e. Saudi male strangers), thought by some to be a continuation of the desert tradition of offering strangers hospitality to ensure their survival.
The religion and customs of Saudi Arabia dictate not only conservative dress for men and women, but a uniformity of dress unique to most of the Middle East. Traditionally, the different regions of Saudi have had different dress, but since the re-establishment of Saudi rule these have been reserved for festive occasions, and "altered if not entirely displaced" by the dress of the homeland of their rulers (i.e. Najd). 
All women are required to wear a long black cloak that covers all but the hands and face called an abaya in public. (Modest dress is compulsory for women in Islam but the color black for women and white for men is apparently based on tradition not religious scripture.) Saudi women also normally wear a full face veil, such as a niqāb. Women's clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques. Foreign women are not required to cover their hair in Saudi but must wear an abaya.
In recent years it is common to wear Western dress underneath the abaya. (Foreign women in Saudi Arabia are "encouraged" by the religious police to wear an abaya, or at least cover their hair according to the New York Times. Authors Harvey Tripp and Peter North encourage women to wear an abaya in "more conservative" areas of the kingdom, i.e. in the interior.)
Saudi men and boys, whatever their job or social status, wear the traditional dress called a thobe or thawb, which has been called the "Wahhabi national dress". During warm and hot weather, Saudi men and boys wear white thobes. During the cool weather, wool thobes in dark colors 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 gutra from slipping off the head; the gutra itself, which is a large square of cloth; and the igal, a doubled black cord that holds the gutra in place. Not wearing an igal is considered a sign of piety. The gutra is usually made of cotton and traditionally is either all white or a red and white checked. The gutra is worn folded into a triangle and centred on the head.
Among young men, since around 2000, Western dress, particularly T-shirts and jeans have become quite common leisure wear, particularly in the Eastern Province. Traditional footwear has been leather sandals but most footwear is now imported.
Employment does not play the same part in native Saudi society as in some others. Economists "estimate only 30-40 percent" of working-age Saudis "hold jobs or actively seek work," and most employed Saudis have less-than-demanding jobs with the government.  As of 2008, 90% of those employed in the private sector were foreigners, and several decades long efforts to replace significant numbers of them with Saudis have been less than successful.
One explanation for this culture of leisure is the climate of the peninsula. The ancestors of most Saudis were nomadic herders who did not develop the habits (so-called "work ethic"), skills, infrastructure, etc. of agricultural societies "that lead ultimately to present-day industrialisation". As a consequence, "Saudis have rarely worked in the sense that other nationalities have worked. No product-based commercial economy existed until oil" was discovered.
Traditionally social life in the kingdom has revolved around the home and family. Saudis regularly visit family members, particularly those of an older generation. For women, most of whom have domestic servants and no job, it is routine (in fact the only outside activity) to pay visits to each other during the day, though the ban on women driving can make transportation a problem.
For men, traditional hours involve a nap in late afternoon, (after work if they are employed), and then socializing that begins after maghrib (roughly between 5 and 6:30 pm) and can last until well after midnight. Men gather in groups (known as shillas or majmu'as) of close friends of similar age, background, and occupation. Men typically relax, gossip, and joke while smoking shisha and playing balot (a card game), and have a meal around midnight before returning home. The groups may meet in diwaniyyas in each other's homes or a residence rented for the occasion. 
Being part of a closed, family-oriented society, Saudis tend to prefer to do business with, socialize with, and communicate with family members rather than outsiders, be they foreigners, or Saudis from other clans.  Extended families tend to live in family compounds in cities whenever possible and stay in contact by cellphone when not.  It is customary for elder family member to use their influence (wasta) for the benefit of family members, particularly for employment and advancement in the large Saudi government bureaucracy where most Saudis work.
Traditionally, in Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf countries), families arrange marriages with the tribe or family's considerations in mind, rather than Western/modern ideas of romantic love and self-identity. Sons and daughters have been encouraged to "marry cousins or other relatives in order to increase and strengthen" the extended family or tribe, "or occasionally to marry into another tribe in order to heal rifts". At least in the 1990s, most marriages in Saudi were "consanguineous"—i.e. between close relatives—sometimes a second cousin but usually a first cousin. and marriage between cousins in Saudi is among the highest rate in the world. Unfortunately the practice has been cited as a factor in higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, (which affects about 32% of adult Saudis), hypertension, (which affects 33%), thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness. As a consequence, Islamic clerics have "gingerly" counseled young men to ‘choose a wife carefully with an eye to health.’
Traditionally men having more than one wife (polygyny) was "fairly common", but marriage has become increasingly monogamous as income has declined and western ideas of mutual compatibility between husband and wife have taken hold.
Although a Muslim woman is forbidden to marry a non-Muslim man, the reverse is permitted, although non-Muslim women are often strongly encouraged to convert to Islam. There have been many cases of foreign women marrying Arabs and discovering they are unable to endure the restrictions of local culture, deciding to divorce and finding that the Saudi father has custody in his home country.
Saudi Arabia allows the traditional practice of "triple talaq" divorce, where a man can divorce his wife simply by saying ‘I divorce you’ (ṭalāq) three times. He can rescind the divorce if this was done in the heat of the moment, but only if the wife agrees (and only on three occasions). The husband must maintain a divorced wife and any children from the marriage if the wife is unable to support herself, although she may have trouble receiving timely payments. Children generally remain with their mother until about five or six, after which boys return to their father to begin their formal education. The husband can claim custody of any sons when they reach the age of ten. Girls more often remain with their mother. A female divorcee usually returns to her family, and few remarry. Despite the liberality of divorce laws, divorce is not commonplace outside of the royal family where it is "endemic".)
Divorce for women who have been abandoned by their husbands in Saudi Arabia has been criticized for being slow. Divorce initiated by a wife (khula) is unusual in the kingdom even if a husband has been unfaithful, abused or deserted his wife, or engaged in criminal activity. For female initiated divorce in Saudi, a wife must go to a court for the case to be heard. The divorce wife is typically required to financially compensate their husbands for the mahr and any marriage gifts, no matter how long they were married. She may also have to surrender custody rights to their children.
Saudi is one of ten countries where homosexuality is punishable by death (the punishment of stoning to death may be applied to married men who've engaging in sodomy or any non-Muslim married or unmarried who commits sodomy with a Muslim), although the sentence is more likely to be a public flogging and a long confinement in prison.
However, according to several outside observers, more common than punishment of gay sex is a refusal to acknowledge its existence in the kingdom.
While "the self-consciously `gay` (or LGBT subculture") of the West was/is not tolerated, homosexuality itself is "almost as ubiquitous in Saudi Arabia as the wearing of long white robes," as gay men reportedly "cruise and party undeterred".
Public displays of enthusiastic affection between men—such as the holding of hands and even the "exchange of light kisses"—are "considered normal", while non-marital heterosexuality is made very difficult by strictly enforced segregation of genders. The same issues affect lesbian relationships.
Observers have noted the importance of custom and tradition in Saudi society. Folk beliefs such as "which foot to step first into the bathroom with, or urinating on the wheel of a new car to ward off the evil eye," hold an important place. 
Older brothers—even if older by only a few days—should have their hand kissed by younger brothers, sit above them on formal occasions, enter a room before them.
Women who go on even short trips of a few days are expected to visit senior relatives and even close neighbors to bid them goodbye, and upon returning, make another round of visits to the same individuals to pay her respects and dispense small gifts.  Saudis may "require four to six months" to check their plans with extended family before finalizing them,  (and as a consequence travel by women is limited).
One observer has noted that "through their love of language, Saudis are swayed more by words rather than ideas and more by ideas than facts." While vigorous public arguments ("shouting matches") may be commonplace, it "is most unusual to see a Saudi strike another Saudi." This emphasis on rhetoric is reflected in foreign affairs where, for example, the government "regularly condemns the State of Israel in the most vehement and bloodcurdling terms but rarely takes action."
Many outsiders are struck by the superficial resemblance of Saudi cities (at least those on the coast such as Jeddah) -- with their superhighways, shopping malls and fast food—to those of post-World War II western cities and suburbs.
As late as 1970, most Saudis lived a subsistence life in the rural provinces, but the kingdom has urbanized rapidly in the last half of the 20th century. As of 2012 about 80% of Saudis live in urban metropolitan areas—specifically Riyadh, Jeddah, or Dammam.
Saudi houses and housing compounds are often noted for the high walls (3 or 4 metres high) surrounding them, explained as useful in keeping out sandstorms and/or reflective of the families' self-contained outlook on the world.
Like many people throughout the world, many Saudis derive "much pleasure and pride" in their homes. Saudis enjoy decorating rooms of their homes in "all the colours of the spectrum" and display objets d'art of many different styles together. "Clashes of colour and culture are the norm, not the exception," with the value of an artefact, "rather than consistency of style" being the major criterion of display. Foreigners may be also be struck by the lack of finishing touches in construction ("Electrical switches may protrude from the wall supported only by their wiring") or maintenance ("Piles of masonry are likely to lie scattered beside and on the streets of expensive suburbs").
While women are forbidden to drive motor vehicles and consequently limited in mobility, they traditionally have often had considerable informal power in the home. According to journalist Judith Miller, "some Saudi women were veritable tyrants in their own homes. They decided where their children would go to school, when and whom they would marry, whether their husbands would accept new jobs, with whom the family socialized, and where the family would live and spend vacations. They promoted their friends' husbands, sons and relatives to key jobs." David Long, a former American diplomat who had taught in the kingdom, has described Saudi men as `the world's most henpecked`.
Outside the house, a number of Saudi women have risen to the top of some professions or otherwise achieved prominence; for example, Dr. Ghada Al-Mutairi heads a medical research center in California and Dr. Salwa Al-Hazzaa is head of the ophthalmology department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh and was the late King Fahad's personal ophthalmologist. However employment for women is limited, and much time is spent by urban middle and upper class women in socializing with the extended family and close friends. Writing in National Geographic Marrianne Alireza noted: 'For city women like us the only activity besides living communally within the extended family was leaving our quarters to visit other women in their quarters.' 
As of 2014, child marriage is still legal but no longer common, with the average age at first marriage among Saudi females being 25 years old. Female literacy (81%) is lower than that of males, but the percentage of university graduates who are women (60%) is higher.
While the status of women in the kingdom is "a very noble and lofty one", according to leading Islamic scholars, it does not include equal rights with men. Foreign sources have complained of discrimination being a "significant problem" and there being an absence of laws criminalizing violence against women. The World Economic Forum 2010 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 129th out of 134 countries for gender parity.
Under Saudi law, every adult female must have a male relative as her "guardian", whose permission she is required to have in order to travel, study, or work. The guardian is legally entitled to make a number of critical decisions on a woman's behalf.
In the courts, the testimony of one man equals that of two women in family and inheritance law. Men are permitted up to four wives, but women are permitted no more than one husband. Men need no legal justification to unilaterally divorce their wives (talaq), while a woman can only obtain a divorce with the consent of her husband or judicially if her husband has harmed her. In practice, it is very difficult for a Saudi woman to obtain a judicial divorce. With regard to the law of inheritance, the Quran specifies that fixed portions of the deceased's estate must be left to the "Qu'ranic heirs" and generally, female heirs receive half the portion of male heirs.
According to a leading Saudi feminist and journalist, Wajeha al-Huwaider, "Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the 'pampered' ones among them, because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone."
Obesity is a problem among middle and upper class Saudis, who have domestic servants to do traditional work and have limited ability to leave their house. As of April 2014, Saudi authorities in the education ministry have been asked by the Shoura Council to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls with the proviso that any sports conform to Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the official SPA news agency.
In the public sphere restaurants have specially designated family sections women are required to use. They are also required to wear an abaya and at the very least cover their hair. Women are forbidden to drive (though an exception is usually made in rural areas). (These restrictions are usually enforced by the "religious police", known as the mutaween.) Women have been promised the vote in 2015 municipal elections.
Like many Middle Eastern Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia has a high population growth rate and high percentage of it population under 30 years of age, and change to Saudi culture is foreseen as this generation becomes older. Factors—such as exposure to youth lifestyles of the outside world, lack of access to quality education and employment opportunity, change in child rearing practices and attitudes towards the ruling royal family—indicate their lives and level of satisfaction will be different than the generation before them.
In recent decades, child rearing in Saudi Arabia has increasingly been handled by hired servants. Since foreign labour is cheap and common, even families of modest means usually have servants. In richer families, each child may have their own individual servant. 
However, unlike parents, servants can be fired/sacked and are often neither Muslims nor Arabs. Consequently, according to at least one observer (John R. Bradley), they both "lack the authority ... to discipline those in their care", and the ability and knowledge to "pass down by example the core Islamic values and traditions that have always formed the bedrock of Saudi society."  
Unlike their parents, who grew up during the oil boom of the 1970s and saw their standard of living rise from poverty to affluence, Saudis born "in the 1980s and 1990s have no memory of the impoverished Arabia prior to the oil boom and thus express almost no sense of appreciation." 
Saudi youth are exposed to youth lifestyles of the outside world via the internet, in their country cinemas, dating, concerts are banned. Public fields for soccer are scarce. Even shopping malls do not allow young men unless they are accompanied by a female relative. Insofar as young people have a tendency to "resent authority, reject rules, and seek to exert their independence," youth rebellion is more problematic because the number of "restrictions and conventions against which youth can rebel" is far larger than in most societies. The average age of the king and crown prince is 74, while 50-60% of Saudis are under twenty, creating a significant generation gap between rulers and ruled.
In a 2011 survey, 31% of Saudi youth agreed with the statement `traditional values are outdated and ... I am keen to embrace modern values and beliefs`—the highest percentage in the ten Arab countries surveyed. The number who had confidence about the direction of their country dropped from 98% (in 2010) to 62%. While in most societies these numbers might seem unremarkable, in Saudi Arabia any rebellion stands out against "the unquestioning acceptance ... of previous generations".
Instead, they have experienced a kingdom of poor schools, overcrowded universities, and declining job opportunities.. Moreover, their royal rulers' profligate and often non-Islamic lifestyles are increasingly transparent to Saudis and stand in sharp contrast both to Al Saud religious pretensions and to their own declining living standards." 
Nearly two-thirds of university graduates earn degrees in Islamic subjects, where job prospects are in the public sector, dependent on government revenues. However, funding for public sector may decline not expand in coming years. At least some experts expect the kingdom's expenditures to "exceed its oil revenues as soon as 2014."
Unemployment among 20 to 24-year-olds is 39% - 45% for women and 30.3% for men—compared to an official unemployment rate of 10%.
Since the 1960s there has been a significant number of guest workers/foreign expatriates allowed into Saudi on work visas, and these now make up around 20-30% of the population of the country. Guest workers range in occupation from high skilled workers (employed to jobs Saudis cannot do), to manual service workers (doing jobs Saudi "will not do"). A number of sources describe a "pecking order" among workers established by factors such as the importance of your employer, and country of origin (one source has workers from Gulf oil producing countries at the top, another places Americans there, all agree that poor Third Country Nationals from places like Bangladesh, Yemen and Philippines are at the bottom).
With a large number of unemployed Saudis, a growing population and need for government spending but stagnating oil revenues with which to pay foreign workers, the large number of expats has come to be seen as "an enormous problem" that "distorts" the Saudi economy and "keeps young people out of the labour market."
In October 2011 the Saudi Labour Ministry put a "ceiling" on the number of guest workers at 20% of the Saudi population, requiring a reduction of foreign population by up to three million over several years. In March 2013, a campaign was initiated to "get rid of its illegal foreign workers, control the legal ones", and lower native-born Saudi unemployment. Approximately one million Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis left between the campaign's beginning and the deadline (November 4, 2013), with authorities planning to expel another one million illegal foreigners in 2014. Ethiopians were a particular target of the campaign, with thousands expelled. Various Human Rights entities have criticised Saudi Arabia's handling of the issue. Prior to this workers were sometimes not hired or expelled as a way of registering Saudi disapproval of the workers' country. Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 during the Gulf War (Yemen had supported Saddam Hussein against Saudi), and cut the number of Bangladeshis allowed to enter Saudi in 2013 after the Bangladeshi government cracked down on the Islamist Jamaat-e Islami party there.
The Saudi–Yemen barrier was constructed by Saudi Arabia against an influx of illegal immigrants and against the smuggling of drugs and weapons. A 2004 law passed by Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers, entitles Muslim expatriates of all nationalities (except Palestinian) who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship with priority being given to holders of degrees in various scientific fields. (The estimated 240,000 Palestinians living in Saudi Arabia are excluded, because of Arab League agreement instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship of another Arab state.)
Treatment of foreign workers is also an issue. According to Human Rights Watch, as of 2014, there was a "worrying trend" of expatriate domestic workers filing "complaints of exploitation and abuse" only to face counter-allegations by their employers of "theft, witchcraft or adultery." 41 expat workers from just one country, Indonesia faced "possible death sentences" in Saudi Arabia on charges "ranging from black magic to stealing, adultery and murder". In 2014 Saudi men were banned from marrying women from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar and Chad. Foreign workers are from Western countries are now a small minority, numbering only approximately 100,000. most of whom live in compounds or gated communities.
The Arabian Peninsula has a long tradition of slavery and abolition of that practice came relatively recently in Saudi (1962). Consequently slavery has existed within in the lifetime of many present day Saudis, and according to at least some observers "a semblance of the slave owner mentality sometimes lingers on" among some Saudi. Ethnically, Saudis have a range of skin color "from very light to very dark and features from Caucasian to African", a testimony to ethnicity of the slaves that intermarried over the centuries with natives of the region.
Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries in the Arabian Peninsula, and has been heavily influenced by Turkish, Persian, and African food. Animals are slaughtered in accordance with halal Islamic dietary laws, which consider pork impure (najis) and alcohol forbidden (haram). As a general rule, Saudis and other Muslims consider impure pork to be disgusting, but forbidden alcohol a temptation. Consequently, dietary laws regarding the former are more strictly observed than those regarding the latter.
According to some observers (Harvey Tripp and Peter North), though the kingdom is a "prohibition state", "discreet consumption" of alcohol by foreigners and even by Saudis is tolerated by authorities. Both home brewed ("sidiqui") and black market imports are consumed.
A dish consisting of a stuffed lamb, known as khūzī, is the traditional national dish. Kebabs are popular, as is shāwarmā, a marinated grilled meat dish of lamb, mutton, or chicken, sometimes wrapped in flat bread. As in other Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula, machbūs (kabsa), a rice dish with fish or shrimp, is popular. Flat, unleavened bread is a staple of virtually every meal, as are dates and fresh fruit. Coffee, served in the Turkish or Arabic style, is the traditional beverage.
The appearance of modern supermarkets and commercial restaurants starting in the 1970s has changed Saudi culinary habits. International cuisine, particularly fast food, has become popular in all Saudi urban areas (i.e. in 80% of the country). While traditionally Saudis ate sitting on the floor using the right hand or flat bread to take food from a roasted lamb, goat or camel carcass, the practice of eating while sitting on a chair at a table has become more standard practice, if not the use of knives and forks.
Coffee is often served "with great ceremony", and it is customary to drink two or three cups to indicate your approval of the coffee. Cups are refilled unless a gesture—shaking your cup—is made to indicate you've had enough. It is considered good manners for a guest to eating heartily, and burping appreciatively "verges on being considered good form".
Educated Saudis are well informed of issues of the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the world at large, but freedom of the press and public expression of opinion are not recognized by the government. The "Basic Law" of the kingdom states that the media’s role is to educate and inspire national unity, and are prohibited from acts that lead "to disorder and division". News stories, public speeches and other acts of personal expression cannot conflict with traditional Islamic values, or dissent from government policy, insult government officials, especially the royal family, and cannot delve too deeply into certain sensitive and taboo subject matters that might embarrass the government or spread dissent, i.e. the role of women in Saudi society, the treatment of Shiite Muslims, damage caused by natural disasters, or social problems such as the AIDS-HIV pandemic and human trafficking.
Most of newspapers are privately owned but are subsidized and regulated by the government in Saudi Arabia. As of 2013, BBC news reports that criticism of the government and royal family and the questioning of Islamic tenets "are not generally tolerated. Self-censorship is pervasive."  As of 2014, Freedom House rates the kingdom's press and internet "Not Free".
Labor unions and political parties are prohibited in the kingdom, although a few underground political parties do exist, and the government has created a national Consultative Council, and given permission for certain "societies" to exist. Informal public discussion of public policy is not actively encouraged, although it is not expressly illegal per se, unless it is deemed to be promoting immorality, dissent or disloyalty. and limited non-partisan municipal elections were held in 2005. Yet, the Consultative Council is an appointed body with limited powers, and the legal societies have little ability to influence government policy.
Association football (Soccer) is the national sport in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, some Saudi players have become skilled enough to play in Europe. The Saudi Arabian national football team is governed by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SFF). The national team competed in the FIFA World Cup four times, and the AFC Asian Cup 12 times.
While spectator sport is popular, participant sport is less so, possibly because of the heat of climate most of the year, and the difficulty of playing football and other sports in traditional clothing. "Injuries are commonplace amongst those who trip over the hems of their thobes while attempting to knock a ball around."
Camel racing is a uniquely Arabian sport practiced in the kingdom (and the UAE) that still has some mass popularity. There are camel racetracks in "most of the kingdom's major centres", and "races for prize money" on many weekends throughout the winter months. Like racehorses, camels with breeding pedigree may be very valuable.
In 2012 Saudi Arabia included women in its Olympic team for the first time. Two female athletes—a runner and judoka—participated. The inclusion followed international criticism for years of exclusion, but was controversial in the kingdom, "prompted some to abuse the morals" of the athletes on social media.
As of April 2014, Saudi authorities in the education ministry have been asked by the Shoura Council to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls with the proviso that any sports conform to Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the official SPA news agency.
From the 18th century onward, Wahhabi fundamentalism discouraged artistic development inconsistent with its teaching. In addition, Sunni Islamic prohibition of creating representations of people have limited the visual arts, which tend to be dominated by geometric, floral, and abstract designs and by calligraphy. With the advent of oil-wealth in the 20th century came exposure to outside influences, such as Western housing styles, furnishings, and clothes.
The ten day long Jenadriyah National Festival celebrates the founding of the kingdom and showcases Saudi culture and heritage, traditional crafts such as pottery and woodcutting, folk dance and traditional songs.
Music and dance have always been part of Saudi life. Bedouin poetry, known as nabaṭī, is still very popular. Traditional music is generally associated with poetry and is sung collectively. Instruments include the rabābah, an instrument not unlike a three-string fiddle, and various types of percussion instruments, such as the ṭabl (drum) and the ṭār (tambourine). Al-sihba folk music, has its origins in al-Andalus. In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the mizmar dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung. Of the native dances, the most popular is a martial line dance known as the Al Ardha, which includes lines of men, frequently armed with swords or rifles, dancing to the beat of drums and tambourines (or as one non-Saudi described it: "barefooted males clad in their normal street clothes of thobe and gutra jumping up and down mostly in one spot while wielding swords").
Some Saudi novelists have had their books published in Aden, Yemen, because of censorship in Saudi Arabia. Despite signs of increasing openness, Saudi novelists and artists in film, theatre, and the visual arts used to face greater restrictions on their freedom of expression than in the West, things are starting to change nowadays and a lot of contemporary novelists and artists are being well known in Saudi Arabia and internationally. Contemporary Saudi novelists and artists include:
Bedouin poetry is a cultural tradition in Saudi Arabia. Sandra Mackey, author of The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom, said "the role that formal poetry, prose, and oratory play in Saudi culture is totally alien to Western culture." Mackey explained that the Bedouin poet was the origin of Saudi society's traditionally strong attachment to the concept of language. She said that poetry "can arise in the most curious of situations" due to the role of poetry in Saudi culture.
During the 1970s, cinemas were numerous in the Kingdom although they were seen as contrary to tribal norms. All cinemas and theaters were closed in 1980 as a political response to the Islamic revival and the increase in Islamist activism, most particularly the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. As of 2014, with the exception of one IMAX theater in Khobar there are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis watch films via satellite, DVD, or video.
"... for decades the sheikhs successfully resisted attempts to add September 23 to the short list of official holidays. But with the accession of [King] Abdullah, the battlefield changed. If the king wanted a holiday, the king could grant it, and whatever the clerics might mutter, the people approved. Since 2006 the night of September 23 has become an occasion for national mayhem in Saudi Arabia, the streets blocked with green-flag-waving cars, many of them sprayed with green foam for the night.
Almost half of Saudi state television's airtime is devoted to religious issues, as is about half the material taught in state schools" (source: By the estimate of an elementary schoolteacher in Riyadh, Islamic studies make up 30 percent of the actual curriculum. But another 20 percent creeps into textbooks on history, science, Arabic, and so forth. In contrast, by one unofficial count the entire syllabus for twelve years of Saudi schooling contains a total of just thirty-eight pages covering the history, literature, and cultures of the non-Muslim world.)
Nine out of ten titles published in the kingdom are on religious subjects, and most of the doctorates its universities awards are in Islamic studies.
[U.S.] State Department guidelines note, for example, that the religious police can "pressure women to wear" the full-length black covering known as an abaya, "and to cover their heads."
Labor force participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15-64) in Saudi Arabia was 18.60 as of 2011. Its highest value over the past 21 years was 19.10 in 2006, while its lowest value was 15.20 in 1991.
In Saudi Arabia, the rate of consanguineous marriage (to a close relative, a second cousin or closer, usually a first cousin) is very high, at 57.7% nationally (El-Hamzi et al. 1995); and other studies indicate it is 51.2% in Riyadh (Al Hussain and Al Bunyan 1997) and 52% in Damman (al-Abdulkareem and Ballal 1998).
... that everyone in Saudi Arabia (including the religious police) seems to be in agreement that boys going with boys is an inevitable consequence of keeping girls pure until they are married, and in that sense a worthwhile trade-off ... the trick seems to be not to mention the subject, not to acknowledge its existence ...
Egypt, where there is no law against same-sex acts and yet people are prosecuted and persecuted; ... Saudi Arabia, where in theory the death penalty applies but gay men cruise and party undeterred.
`It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here,` he had said. `If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions. But if I have a date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.` ...This legal and public condemnation notwithstanding, the kingdom leaves considerable space for homosexual behavior. As long as gays and lesbians maintain a public front of obeisance to Wahhabist norms, they are left to do what they want in private.
'you are mad if you have an affair with a man. With a woman it is safe. No one can question why you spend an evening at home together.'
To an outsider, the ability to hold manifestly inconsistent views to cover the picture of a woman but ogle real women sunbathing .... may seem like outright hypocrisy. But Saudi's thinking patterns revolve around a series of rituals, obsessions, and categories that are self-contained. On the one hand devoutly religious and strictly so; on the other, prone to folk beliefs akin to magic and superstition, including which foot to step first into the bathroom with, or urinating on the wheel of a new car to ward off the evil eye. Their behavior does not reach the self-conscious level of hypocrisy, of believing one thing and doing another, for it is a set of dissonant beliefs that they do not even recognize coexist at the same time.
[conservative Prince Abdul Aziz bin Sattam] recounts how a cousin a few days older than he encouraged Prince Abdul Aziz to enter the room first. Abdul Aziz's father, witnessing this break with tradition, quickly corrected the younger men. `I am only fifteen days older than my brother Ahmed, and I enter in front of him,` Prince Sattam told his son. In other words stick with tradition. Abdul Aziz says his father Prince Sattam, governor of Riyadh since 2011, kissed the hand of his older half-brother, Prince Salman, who preceded him in that post, each times the two met during the 40 years Prince Sattam served as Prince Salman's deputy governor. Similarly, at formal occasions, Prince Sattam understand that his nephew, Prince Saud al Faisal, the kingdom's foreign minister, sits above him because Saud is older. Tradition means predictability, and predictability means that everyone royal or otherwise knows his or her place in society.
"Something as simple as a wife accompanying her husband on a brief trip abroad is laden with rules and norms that trap her into largely self-induced inaction. A young Saudi mother, ... describes with dismay how tradition prevented her mother from accompanying her father on a short trip ... If a Saudi woman is traveling, Ranan explains, she is expected to visit senior relatives and even close neighbors to bid them goodbye. Upon her return, she is obliged to make another round of visits to the same individuals to pay her respects and dispense small gifts. To simply pack her bag and fly off for a few days with her husband would break society's conventions and thus disrupt social harmony, exposing her to negative gossip and bringing shame upon her family. So confronted with that heavy load of tradition, the wife simply stayed home. (p.63)
[the daughter, Rana, however, was much to up to date for that] she recounts flying to neighboring Dubai with her two children for a four-day holiday after `only` two weeks of planning with her extended family. `It was as satisfying as if I had gone to the moon, to travel with so little planning,` she ways, explaining that normally Saudis require four to six months to check their plans with extended family before finalizing them.
Jeddah ... at first glance, nothing more inspiring than a bland Chicago suburb: so Westernized and modern with its flashing neon lights, it massive shopping malls.
On the surface, the culture of Western consumerism seems alive and well in Saudi Arabia as in most places. People strive to build enormous houses for themselves and their extended families. Young Saudi men drive souped-up cars, patronise fast food outlets and wear designer jeans. Shopping malls offer a global selection of merchandise and trade long into the night. But at a deeper level, Saudi Arabia and the West are poles apart ...
Most Saudis only two generations ago eked out a subsistence living in rural provinces, but ... urbanization over the past 40 years [so now] .... fully 80% of Saudis now live in one of the country's three major urban centers -- Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.
*Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate (%) 2008-2012*, male 99
Youth (15-24 years) literacy rate (%) 2008-2012*, female 97
the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle-related obesity has been escalating among Saudi females
Saudi children tend to be indulged with not too much discipline within the home. Foreign labour is cheap. Even moderately wealthy families may have a Indonesian or Filipina housemaid. In richer families, each child may have their own allocated servant. (p.87)
Their numbers mushroomed during the oil-boom years, and their influence has led to a distancing of parents and children, since the servants were expected to act as surrogate parents. Most of the domestic servants were non-Muslims and non-Arabs, meaning the results have been doubly negative: They lack the authority -- and presumably ... the inclination -- to discipline those in their care, while being unable to pass down by example the core Islamic values and traditions that have always formed the bedrock of Saudi society. (p.92)
Saudi teenagers ... are increasingly not being handed down core Islamic values to begin with during their formative years by their appointed role models." (p.94-5)
... declining oil for export and rising domestic spending to maintain political stability means the kingdom's expenditures will exceed its oil revenues as soon as 2014, say experts at Jadwa Investment, a large financial institution in Riyadh. `By 2030, foreign assets will be drawn down to minimal levels and debt will be rising rapidly,` these experts predict, unless the kingdom takes decisive steps to reverse the trend of domestic consumption and spending, which are outpacing oil production for export.
Since 2009 Bangladesh has been sending to Saudi Arabia an average of only 14,500 people... That decline, ... will be worth about $200m a year in remittances alone. ... Bangladesh appears somehow to have fallen out of favour as a source of labour with the Saudis. ... Saudi Arabia silently disapproves of the imminent hangings of the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the religious party that serves as a standard-bearer for its strand of Islam in Bangladesh.
In addition to home brew, a full range of spirits are available in the kingdom to all and sundry through an extensive black market. ... Black market booze is a highly profitable business for the whole supply chain from the importer to the final distributor. The operation to flout the government's laws, a multi-million dollar import business that has been running for decades, could hardly be conducted without the knowledge of the consent and involvement of the highest authorities in the Department of Customs.
Article 39 Media ... shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation and strengthen unity. It is prohibited to commit acts leading to disorder and division, ...
In 2012 Saudi Arabia included women in its Olympic team for the first time, a move that won support from many of its citizens but also prompted some to abuse the morals of the two female athletes, a runner and judoka, on social media.