In the United States, people are viewed as patriotic if they wear red, white, and blue clothing. Or wear a small American flag on their lapel. Or wear a flag patterned fabric. This typically comes out for special occasions such as Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Flag Day, you get the idea.
Here in Saudi Arabia it is a little different. They have a national attire. An official outfit. And they wear it quite regularly. You’ve probably seen pictures of it. Have you ever seen any Middle Eastern royalty or official dignitary? They come in all shapes and sizes. You can even get designer attire.
Looks like a robe. But it is a white lightweight fabric that goes down to the ankles and has long sleeves. It also includes a head scarf, keffiyeh or ghutrah, and a cord wrapped twice around the top of the head, the agal.
Men wear these quite regularly. They are everywhere at work. They look quite comfortable. Some people wear them all the time, some people occasionally, and some never.
I have seen plenty of Saudi flags around, but not on clothing. This is their patriotic outfit. This is how they connect to their beliefs and to their country. They are closely tied together here.
Of course we have all heard of the attire women wear. It’s in the news quite regularly.
In public all women must be covered, this also includes wearing a scarf to cover your head. Foreign women are given more leeway on this issue. At beaches and some resorts they don’t have to wear an abaya, but for the most part they are everywhere. Conservative Muslim women will also wear a niqab.
After a couple weeks of being here, I went to a work dinner at one of the compounds. Typically, inside the expatriate compounds women are not required to wear the abaya. So for one of the first times, I not only saw women, remember I work in an all male environment, but I saw women wearing western clothes. I was surprised that it surprised me. Guess I had gotten used to seeing women covered up at the grocery store.