There is a notion among some expatriates living and working in the GCC that a sizeable portion of the nationals have more money than brains. Perhaps that is fuelled by the misconception that throughout the GCC, the citizenry live lavishly off the generosity of the state. The realisation that, contrary to such opinion, a majority of us have to toil long and hard for our daily sustenance somehow escapes the thought process of such expats.
One of the many personal incidents that support my contention took place very recently. Stopping at a newly opened supermarket recently to pick up some quick items, I could not help take in the decor of this establishment. This particular supermarket gave off a facade of palatial designs. Glossy Italian marble flooring surrounded by polished brass and sparkling crystal chandeliers.
Pillars leading to the second floor fabricated out of dark cherry wood with cut and bevelled mirrors along the entire side of the stairs. The staff there all dressed in maroon blazers with dark pleated trousers. The trolleys or grocery carts of space age design. The ambience inside gave one the feeling of being in a wedding hall or a five-star hotel and not a mundane grocery outlet. The owners would have been better off saving the money spent on all that glitz towards something else. Perhaps the notion of more money than brains could have been aptly applied in this case.
After making my selections and paying for my purchases, I made my way home.
The following day, I reached in the fridge for a container of cottage cheese, one of my purchases of the previous day. On opening the tight metal foil that sealed the goodies inside, I noticed some green mould on the surface of the cheese. It was upsetting. My plans for a light lunch of green salad and cottage cheese were to be abruptly terminated. I returned the container back to the fridge, making a mental note to myself to return it to the store at the first available convenient time.
Two days later, I took the container with me and made my way to that supermarket. After a few minutes of trying to locate the responsible person in charge, I managed to convey to him my displeasure with the purchase. He reached for the container and started examining it. The time and the scrutiny with which he kept examining the product was worthy of a Nasa scientist examining rock samples from Mars. After several silent moments and some shaking of the head, he turned his face up towards me and asked me what was it that I wanted? "Well, for starters, you should check the entire stock of this item in the cold section to see if this particular batch is defective. And if it so, then I would expect you to remove the whole lot. And as for me, I would like either a replacement, or my money back."
The task of disposing bad stock did not daunt him as much as my request for a refund. "But it is only nine riyals", was his patronising reply, tinged with a hint of sarcasm. I think it was his condescending demeanour that bugged me. "Nine riyals!" I echoed back with matching sarcasm. "And how do you suppose I came to possess nine riyals? By the government granting me charity? By sleeping through the day and drawing on my birthright or inheritance?"
I could feel the coursing of blood through my veins quickening. "But you are a Saudi, and you have troubled yourself and all of this for nine riyals?' he responded a little meekly this time, the sarcasm vanishing from his voice, a tremor of anxiety replacing it instead.
My fist curled momentarily, but reasoning was the order of the day. "You think all Saudis have no value for money? That we are oozing with cash and gold? That we are swimming with more money than brains? Or are we so dumb as to not know where our money goes? And is ‘principles' a word you are familiar with. Besides, where are you from?"
‘Egypt' was his hesitant reply, beads of perspiration beginning to form on his forehead. "Now I know in some parts of Egypt nine riyals can sustain a family of four over a handsome meal, and here you are deriding my decision to get my nine riyals back." I shot back. "Furthermore, I would rather gift it to someone more deserving rather than have it fill the coffers of this establishment."
His manner turning very apologetic. This gentleman then walked over to a check-out counter, withdrew nine riyals and handed them over to me. He literally begged me to dismiss the incident and continue as a patron of the establishment. Calmly and without acknowledging his pitiful pleas I took the money, and on my way out handed it to a little Afghan boy trying to sell me a stick of chewing gum.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.