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Worldwide Onelers: The Arabs April 3, 2010

Posted by Onely in Everyday Happenings, Food for Thought.
Tags: , ,

Is the Onely mindset inborn or acquired? My Arabic language teacher and another professor giving a lecture on Arab culture each separately made this statement about life in the Middle East:

It’s considered weird and inappropriate to spend time alone. If you’re in a household, don’t shut yourself up in your room unless you’re studying.

The two professors did not know each other, and their classes had nothing to do with each other. Yet they both took pains to point out this cultural phenomena, and they both used the same example of not holing up in one’s room. I began to think that being Onely in the Arab world might be a very different experience and mission than being Onely in Northern Virginia–aleast, if you’re a Oneler who needs private time to recharge.   I’m a Gregarious Introvert, which means that although I enjoy being with people, I get my best recharging done when I am alone lying on the carpet, staring at the ceiling and singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” while the cats walk on my stomach.

If I were an Arab version of myself, would I still need to decompress by sitting alone in my room? Or would I be accustomed to spending my downtime in the living room with my extended family and friends, only retreating to my private quarters to sleep?

Copious readers, is it easier to be Onely in some parts of the world than in other parts?


Photo credit: Sam and Ian


1. Contented Single - April 4, 2010

Very interesting. I have often thought about this after living in several countries and travelling to many more where the single household is a rarity.

I guess I am similar to you, a gregarious introvert, happy and comfortable around people, but very, very happy and comfortable alone.

I think it is easier to be single (and an introvert) in some countries than others, for example there would be in many countries still a strong expectation to marry and an economic necessity for many women. When I travelled around Central and South America, the locals could not comprehend that I was single at 28!

There are other countries where it may not be an economic imperative anymore, but where being with one’s fellow human being all the time is the norm. Eg, in Australia, most go directly home and stay home after work. Visitors here often find this a dull aspect to Australia and I can understand that. Certain parts of Sydney are dead after 7pm. However, in the mediterranean countries, you see everyone head out for an evening stroll and fill the bars and cafes.

I taught English to overseas students for many years in Sydney, and I always noticed how certain nationalities would leave school alone or in maybe twos, whereas, the South Americans always stayed back in a huge group to socialise. When I discussed this with them, they said they couldn’t bear to be alone, and for them, the more the merrier.

So, I believe, it’s mainly cultural.

2. Alan - April 4, 2010

I agree that it’s probably largely cultural.

I don’t know if the discomfort with being alone in the Middle East would necessarily translate into a difficult life for the Onely. It does seem to indicate a bias towards extroversion, but it need not mean a bias towards marriage.

3. Therese - April 5, 2010

Speaking of the Arab world – thought you guys might enjoy this: Apparently, singlehood causes terrorism …


4. Perspective - April 29, 2010

Well, it’s cultural but in many parts of the world it’s also socio-economic. Where I’m from (South Africa) the majority of the population certainly cannot afford to have their own rooms – in many instances they’ll have one room for the whole family to share.

5. Sheila - May 9, 2010

Yup, I’m Iranian-American, and time alone is much harder to come by in collectivist cultures like the Persian one. Same goes with my Lebanese, Indian friends, et al. I definitely think I would be more accustomed to decompressing in the company of others if I had grown up in Iran, or even if I were surrounded by extended family when I was growing up here. Thanks to individualism and a market economy, America became prosperous enough that the family could shrink to a “nuclear” level, making individual priorities and time alone the norm.

To put things in perspective, though, any culture that produces art has to allow for some time alone…

Onely - May 12, 2010

OOh that’s a really interesting point. . . is solitude necessary for art and if so, how much? Let’s think about this one. . . thanks Sheila!

6. Candy - May 24, 2010

I am a Chinese ethnic working in Saudi Arabia for the past 10 years, has Always been Single. I would like to point out one aspect to all readers about Arabs mentality of discouraging Single and encourages marriage is often superficial an inconsistent and sway by the general mind set. Eg in Saudi it is illegal to hitch a ride in a car driven by a single man even thought he is a colleague or in a house with a man, one will be arrested, despite totally being innocent, and female is usually at the worst receiving end.

I often find myself being stared at by Arabs, Saudis and expats if I am talking to a male colleague/friend who I happened to bumped into in a supermarket. Stared at as if I were committing some vulgar sexual act in a public place. Two colleagues of mine were arrested five years back for just doing this.

I often get a hard time from my Arab colleagues that I should find a man and get married etc and yet some simple act as greeting a male friend in a supermarket/public place . So there is a severe inconsistency in what they belief in ie one should get married but when a female is to interact with a male she is immediately branded as a slut……

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