For those of you interested in the Saudi people and culture, Google Search Engine data is a great starting point.
By looking at what people in Saudi Arabia are searching for online, you can establish a good understanding of what’s important to the Saudi people and, from this, draw inferences about the culture and life in Saudi Arabia.
Understanding what people in Saudi Arabia are searching for is a great way for those travelling to the country to establish an insight into events that might affect their travel plans.
For example, if search data shows an online trend for the key word ‘Ramadan’ then you may want to check when Ramadan is likely to occur and change your plans if necessary. Ramadan is certainly not a time to be travelling to Saudi Arabia if you want to get business done. It’s also not a good time to travel there if you are not Muslim, as Ramadan denotes the holy month of fasting when business slows down and restaurants close during daylight hours.
Google search data is also a very useful way of collecting small talk topics.
Saudi Arabia is a culture in which relationships are very important. People like to get to know each other and will only pursue business relationships with people they trust. As such, establishing rapport through conversations and small talk is essential. By understanding what’s current, you can arm yourself with relevant topics – avoiding, of course, those which are potentially sensitive.
Let’s take a look at five of the top ten Google searches in Saudi Arabia for 2018 as an example and see what these searches can tell us about the people and their culture.
1. The national address
4. Jamal Kashoggi
6. Noor system
7. Iqama expiry
8. Weather in Jeddah
10. Kalam Asfar TV series
1. National Address
The most popular search in 2018 related to ‘The National Address’, which is a great place to start as this search term tells us a great deal about Saudi Arabia and its culture.
The National Address initiative has been a significant and important project; introducing a post code system and standardising addresses across over 4.5 million locations within the Kingdom. It might surprise you to know that, until recently, road names haven’t always been apparent, and houses haven’t necessarily been numbered. As such, prior to the introduction of the National Address, residents typically collected their post from the local post office.
So, what can the National Address initiative tell us about culture and life in Saudi Arabia?
Essentially, the need for a National Address system infers that the infrastructure of the country is still catching up with its rapid economic wealth. Although Saudi Arabia is now economically prosperous, until the discovery of oil in 1938, Saudi Arabia was a fairly harsh place to live. As one of the poorest countries in the world, electricity, cars and basic infrastructure were rare, life expectancy was low and food was limited. The pre-oil economy relied on revenue from pilgrims travelling from all over the world to visit sacred sites in Medina and Mecca and sales from basic agricultural products. The discovery of oil has brought rapid and monumental change to Saudi Arabia and the basic infrastructure has often struggled to keep up.
Pre and post oil, tribal groups have played an essential role in Saudi Arabian culture which also contributes to the historic lack of need for standardised addresses. People tend to know others through tribal associations and networks and, as such, the intended recipient of a letter delivered to a post office in a small town would be easily found through word of mouth and through someone knowing someone who knows someone else for example.
It’s unsurprising that Jadara appears as the second most searched for term. Jadara is an online recruitment portal which essentially allows job seekers to upload their details and to apply for vacancies advertised by government bodies.
Recruitment of Saudi Arabian nationals is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 which aims to diversify away from oil and increase revenues via more sustainable projects.
Not only is it essential to upskill and recruit from the local work force to achieve the vision, international investment and skills are also needed in the short term. However, the strict interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabian life presents a barrier to attracting international interest.
Islam governs all parts of life in Saudi Arabia and the behaviours, principles and beliefs which feed into Saudi Arabian culture are deeply rooted in the Islamic belief system. Take for example cinemas, which were closed down in the 1980s by religious hardliners who felt that cinemas were sinful. Cinemas have slowly started to reopen, live concerts have started to take place, there has been a lift on the female driving ban and females can now attend events such as soccer games. These changes certainly help make Saudi Arabia a more palatable relocation option for international expats.
The importance of Hulool is also fairly closely linked to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiatives.
Set up by a team of IT experts, Hulool offers national and international IT solutions and products. It’s very likely that the term was raised to third place through the extensive searches of both Saudi Arabian nationals and international applicants scoping potential IT opportunities.
4. Jamal Kashoggi
Unfortunately, Jamal Kashoggi, the Washington Post journalist who was openly critical of the Saudi Crown Prince appeared in the top five searches for all the wrong reasons.
The disturbingly grisly events of his death in the Istanbul consulate in 2018 caught the attention of media outlets across the world and destroyed much of the positive international PR work undertaken as part of Vision 2030. This is a profoundly complex and sensitive case and it would be unfounded to draw any kind of parallels with Saudi Arabian culture.
Noon is a Middle Eastern online retailer which caters for consumers across the Middle East – including Saudi Arabia.
Noon spiked in popularity in Saudi Arabian search terms when it announced that it was looking for young Saudis to help grow the business by fulfilling deliveries in hard to reach places and helping with demand during busy periods such as Ramadan.
Without a doubt, the National Address initiative has greatly accelerated the Noon business in Saudi Arabia. Like any other culture around the world, Saudi Arabians appreciate the ease of online shopping. Although Noon looks like any other online shopping platform, the role of Islam and other cultural influences are clear in the way in which the website is presented.
Fashion options include modest dress which adheres to Islamic requirements, the front page includes reference to ‘Ramadan Offers’ with a count down to the start of the holy month and departments sell items such as prayer mats and prayer clocks which play the Makkah call to prayer.
What Can we Glean About Saudi Culture?
When we look at the search data of countries outside Saudi Arabia, the top ten searches are typically influenced by celebrity culture, tv, sport or pop; all of which is absent in popular Saudi Arabian searches (although we see the Kalam Asfar TV series make an appearance at number 10).
So, if you’re travelling to Saudi Arabia then be aware that the topics greatly valued in many other countries are not so important in Saudi Arabia.
It’s will be of benefit therefore to acquaint yourself with an understanding of areas such as Vision 2030 so that you can talk about some of the exciting changes taking place in Saudi Arabia (keep away from discussions of segregation or female rights however), or, gain an understanding of some of the most important development initiatives, important religious events such as Ramadan and Eid, or, indeed the weather which makes an appearance as the eighth most searched term!
These high-level insights reinforce the wealth of online information and materials available to those working or travelling globally. If you’re travelling to Saudi Arabia, then consider Google search data as a compliment to any other preparations you might be making and take a look at what’s trending before you leave!
Do you work with Saudis or are you doing business in Saudi Arabia?
Then you will be interested in a our great Online Saudi Arabia Cultural Awareness Training Course which covers everything a foreigner needs to know about working with Saudis.
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