In Saudi Arabia you can tell a lot about a woman by her relationship with her driver. Yes I call it a relationship. Because, unlike anywhere in the world, drivers are a necessity and not a luxury that is used on a whim. A driver here knows his employer’s (or charge, depending on how conservative the family is) every single habit. Is she punctual or late? How social she is and who calls her and whom does she call. And depending on the size of the car, he probably even knows the smell of her morning breath. Her moods, shopping habits and favorite drink are common knowledge to not only her own driver but also to the neighbors’ drivers. Just as an example of how suffocatingly close a driver is, when my husband cannot reach me on my cell phone, he contacts the driver because wherever I am, the driver will of course be there too.
With someone that close, a relationship has to evolve. For some of my friends, it is a nurturing relationship. Just as long ago when people had horses and at stops the first thing they would do is make sure that the horse is put in a stable and provided with nourishment, these friends first make sure that the driver is let in to wait in the little cramped host’s driver room. Some even go as far as to prepare at home before going out tea in a thermos and some snacks for the driver to enjoy while he waits. When I ask them why go to all that trouble? They tell me that they cannot afford another runaway so they’re trying to make the job as pleasurable and easy as possible.
Others have a more master- slave relationship. They scream at their drivers. I’ve personally witnessed a woman hit her driver when he made a wrong turn. And if you try to comment they’ll say he should thank God that I’m willing to give him a job. Ironically, these women always end up with the loyal drivers who stick around for years. The driver that I witnessed being hit stayed with that employer for over 14 years.
And then there are the delusional, who try to ignore the presence of another human being in the car as much as they can. They gab on their phones and get in and out of the car just barely informing the driver of the destination. When they get there, they leave the car with no instructions as though the driver is just another auto part that will be there with the rest of the car when they finish their errand or visit.
No matter what type of relationship it is, the bottom line is pure unadulterated frustration. Why do we have to put up with this? Why do we have to fork out salaries and accommodations? Why do we have to figure out if we should let the driver wait outside or cruise around Riyadh on our gas money every time we reach a destination?