Cultural Understanding Goes Down Better With French Fries, Chicken Nuggets

Thanks to our readers for tipping us off to last night's amazing episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. In the episode, Bourdain travels to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to meet with Danya Alhamrani, a fan who basically challenged him to visit her country and still think ill of it. What follows is a look at Saudi Arabia unlike anything we’re used to seeing on the news. Danya and Tony are both sarcastic yet respectful, which allows them to take a deeper look at the differences and similarities between Arab and Western culture... without getting preachy or boring. Case in point, the clip above, in which the two discuss the treatment of Saudi women over dinner in a fast-food restaurant. Both producers for the episode were women, and they have written an equally interesting blog post about what it was like to film while wearing an abbaya and observing Saudi customs. The entire episode is available on iTunes, and will be rerun next Monday night on the Travel Channel.

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@gspdark1: So you're saying that you have to be from an affluent, politically influential family to have a sense of humor, to be able to enjoy life and the company of those different than you, to be level-headed and a non-fanatic?

I understand that she may have it easier than most, but it's pretty awful to say that you must be living well to be a good, interesting, and worthwhile person. I think the whole point of this episode was to show that Saudi Arabia is not a nation of Islamic fundamentalists who spend all day plotting the downfall of Israel, America and all Western influences. It is a nation of people — people who, it seems, choose to be as religious as they are — who, like us, go to the mall, work, go to the beach, snorkel, have dinner with friends and family, and enjoy themselves. In many way they are the same as we are, despite the fact that their lives seem foreign and strange from the outside.

Yes, Saudi Arabia has a lot of problems. Political, religious, human rights problems. Their justice system women's rights (and, to a degree, human rights) are deplorable. But just because the country has yet to catch up to our standards of modernity — or continues to fight our standards of modernity — doesn't mean they are wholly bad people, living wholly bad lives, being wholly bad to the other people around them. And it's more than high time that our notions of Saudi Arabians, and their "backwards" lives, changed. If it doesn't, we are guilty of the same crimes of perception as any terrorist.