Believe it or not this is an actual question I get asked every once in a while.
Expat nurses often ask me about some strange habits they witnessed Saudis having or odd stuff they saw patients doing. I guess being married to a Saudi gives me more insight into some things but don’t get me wrong, I’m no Saudipedia. But I do like to correct some common misconceptions whenever I can. Especially when people just interpret something completely upside down.
Many of the questions I get asked are related to Islam. For example: why do Saudi men constantly fiddle with the prayer beads? why do Saudi men chew on sticks? or why do Saudi women splash water all over the bathroom floors? Others are more cultural such as why do some female patients keep their whole head covered with a cloth while the doc examines her “down under”? Why do Saudis throw all the trash on the hospital floors? or why do Saudis cluck their tongues all the time?
I don’t have an answer to everything, although I wish I knew about the trash throwing habit.
Back to the question about the spitting on people which is one of the most common cultural oddities that nurses can face in their work. First of all, I want to point out that although it does look and sound like the person is in fact spitting on the patient, he is by no means *spitting*. What is happening is actually praying. The person is reciting Quran and kind of “blowing” the words onto the patient. If anyone knows how to explain this better, feel free to leave a comment.
Muslims believe that reading the Quran on the sick person has healing abilities. In other words the belief is that the actual words of the Quran when recited have healing properties, hence the blowing of the words toward the patient. Nurses will often witness this behavior with patients. I’ve known many nurses that have been ‘disgusted’ in their own words by the practice, but they never cared to find out what was going on, just assumed and labeled it as something ‘barbaric’ in their minds which is sadly very common to see here.
Well thankfully some of these confused nurses do want to find out and when they do they are so surprised. While others just like to remain ignorant and poke fun at the Saudis saying, they like to spit on people, so “animalistic”!
Admittedly, I’ve witnessed some pretty enthusiastic styles. Saliva has definitely been seen flying around, especially with Bedouin patients. But in the end, this practice is only a sincere attempt to help cure the patients!
For some other strange habits of Bedouin patients check this post: http://blueabaya.com/2010/06/bedouins-as-patients.html
Read about Saudi women who never remove their veils here: http://blueabaya.com/2011/06/eternal-veil.html