I saw on the Religious Policeman’s blog an entry on the entertaining style in Saudi Muslim homes. From my own personal experience, a lot of his description is either hyperbole for entertainment value, or is the way he is familiar with things based on his own family’s way of doing things. There is plenty of variety in the Muslim world so that such descriptions, the prototypical men vs. women/slaves scenario, should not be seen as the standard. I am not Saudi, but I do come from a very traditional, conservative, Islamically observant family and this is how our family handles entertaining men and women at the same time in the same house. (Other times we entertain only men or only women–you know, girl’s night 😉 ) And while our way of entertaining may not be the standard either, it certainly is more common in my community, from what I have seen.
We have a house with just one living room, and a family room, unlike back home, where most houses have a women’s living room and a men’s living room. So, here in the States, while the regular living room is for the men only, our family room adjacent to the kitchen is our women’s living room–while guests are over, this area is designated as No Man’s Land! We set the tables in both rooms, either on the table, or for more conservative guests who we know like to eat on the floor, we spread a rug on top of the existing rug, lay out a lacy table-cover, and sit on the floor. No plastic tablecovers for either men or women, unless I guess its a super-casual occasion. Brothers set the table on the men’s side, sister and me handle our side, and of course go and fix up the men’s side, coz boys can never get everything just right. Or our standards are too high. Or we didn’t give them clear enough directions 🙄 You pick the excuse you like best 😉
We always seem to prepare three times the quantity of food, because in eastern cultures, skimping on food for guests is kind of like telling them they should not have accepted an invitation that was merely made for the sake of politeness! Whenever we see pictures in western entertainment mags with platters of hor’dourves neatly placed and spaced out, rather than piled way up high, we say to ourselves, How nice to be able to prepare 25 kebabs for 10 guests and be done, rather than 100 for 10 guests! 😀 Then, we try doing that–and succumb to our roots and cook enough for an army…in the east, and even for those from the east but living in the west, when it comes to food, less is certainly not more! This is true of jewellery and clothing as well, by the way.
Our guests arrive, daddy opens the door and leads the men into the living room and either directs the women thru to us in No Man’s Land, or the men that are with the women ask them to wait, and then us women go out to the front door to welcome our female guests…lead them to No Man’s Land, hugs, air kisses, they proceed to remove their abayas (long loose coat typically worn by more observant women) if they have them on, and some remove their hijabs as well! Chit chat for a little while with the women, then start filling our platters for the men and women–platters for the men’s dining table and women’s table are identical; serving the men on china and with silver means doing the same for the ladies. Tis more expensive, buying two sets of everything, but what is the bounties of Allah to be spent on anyway?
While everyone is eating and talking and laughing and eating and talking etc. you in the men’s side will definitely hear the women making a racket. Can’t be helped–women are sociable creatures, and our homes in the west, unless custom built, are not designed so that sound does not travel across small open floor-plans. Back home, they put proper SOLID doors on the rooms–here, our floor plan just has arches separating rooms, and for a more physical barrier we put up curtains and folding screens, thru which noise travels. Oh well, we don’t like entertaining men guests with our sultry voices and sexy laughter, but we certainly are not going to go mute thru lack of decent architecture. As if the men are listening to us anyway 😆 (Do men ever listen? Even when they are NOT supposed to?)
We send the platters to the men’s table via the brothers again–the boys come to the family room, and we pass them the food thru a curtain. So boys serve the boys, and the girls serve the girls. Make sure guests eat well, stuff them as much as possible. If there are a lot of leftovers (which there always seems to be!), mom frets and wonders what we did wrong, maybe it all tasted bad, etc. 😯 When dinner is finished, boys clear up the dishes, send them to us in the kitchen, and then tea, cookies, cakes are served. Boys pour the tea for the guests, so there is no way you could say there is an unequal division of labor in the entertaining of guests in conservative Muslim homes. Ok, girls make the tea, but two people can’t do the same task at the same time anyway–and the kitchen IS conquered territory–No Man’s Land!
Tea time lasts until the guests are ready to leave (or until we decide to kick them out 😉 ), men get up and go outside, us women start saying our good-byes. This takes a while, you understand. Sometimes the men have to call the women on their cell phones and tell them, come on now, khalas!!! 😆 Ok, not just sometimes.
One hour after the good-byes start, the guests are gone. Then the real entertaining begins, coz daddy tells us how loud we were, and we say, but thats because you men are not even talking to one another, if you made noise of your own, you would not have heard us. He tells us to be more quiet next time. We “assure” him that we will be quieter…and everyone does the mountains of dishes together…well, the girls do the dishes, while the boys clean up, sweep, vaccuum, that sort of thing. Boys can only do so much, you know. Limited in their capabilities. 😀
Well, that is how we entertain in our home–men clean house, buy tons of food, and serve the men, women cook the tons of food and serve the women. Don’t worry, Muslim women are not really enslaved–although that does make for a more dramatic story-line. Cinderella I am not! 😀