Food for Thought
Tariq A. Al-Maeena, firstname.lastname@example.org
My niece was recently very excited. She was making her first trip to a city in another part of this country. A frequent traveler to Europe, Asia and the Americas, this was her first trip domestically, and she was looking forward to see what this great country was all about.
Two days into her trip, I received my first call. “Uncle T...Guess what! My mom and I went to an Italian restaurant, and a sign on the door plainly stated that ‘Unaccompanied females without a male guardian are not allowed on the premises’. Can you believe that? My mom and I ended up going back to our hotel and ordering room service”. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she was somewhat agitated.
I tried to mollify her by explaining that this was not the law, otherwise restaurants here in Jeddah and other parts of the country would be posting out such signs. It was probably reflecting the beliefs of the restaurant owner, and I suppose he has the right to deny service to whomever he chose.
I got another call the next day. “Uncle T. You wouldn’t believe it. We tried a Chinese restaurant today, and we made it past the entrance door.”
“Good for you girl. See, there’s hope for you after all,” was my immediate response.
“No, wait Uncle T. After we were seated, we were told that the restaurant served buffet service only. That sounded good to us, as we were keen to look at all the little delicacies on display and sample them, as we liked. However, as we approached the buffet table, a large sign was posted there stating that ‘unaccompanied females without a male guardian cannot approach the buffet table’.
“Now how were we supposed to get any food? When we complained to the waiter, he replied that he would gladly bring food to our table if we told him what we wanted from the buffet. But how could we tell him of our choices if we don’t see for ourselves what we wanted? This is bizarre.”
Her agitation was more obvious this time around.
“Now, now, my dear niece. Look into the brighter side of things. Maybe the owner of this establishment is a health freak and does not want women to help themselves off the buffet tables by overloading their plates. With obesity on the rise, maybe this is his way of showing concern and curbing their caloric intake.
“Or maybe he is just concerned about your safety. As you tread over toward the buffet all covered up, maybe you would trip and fall, thus injuring yourself. He could be saving you from such calamities. Or at least concerned that you do not embarrass yourself by sprawling all over the restaurant floor. Just think how traumatic that would be.
“Or he could be trying to preserve your modesty by not making you the object of unwanted attention as you trek over to the buffet. As a young woman, you should understand what I am trying to get at.”
“Uncle T... enough! You’re just trying to make light of the matter. This is very disturbing.”
“On the contrary, my dear niece, we have a government that sets the standard laws for the Kingdom. And it affords us certain rights. But you also have to understand that different areas in this vast country have their own cultures and traditions. Just because something is normal and acceptable in your city or province does not necessarily make it so in the city or region you are currently visiting.”
“How such people choose to live and what traditions they adhere to is their business and we should respect that. Let them set up their own rules. For their own communities. Whether we agree with their views or not is immaterial, so long as they don’t try to shove it down all our throats and across the land by shrouding such views in a myriad of spiritual edicts.”