A dialogue in Seherli Tandir restaurant, this evening

There are three tables, all close enough to chat, and at them there was TC, a Saudi family with a husband, two kids and a woman in full burkha, and a woman from a fine New York City neighborhood, perhaps 65 years old.  Suddenly, the NYC woman paused from her chat with me:

NYC woman, to Saudi table: (With a strong NYC accent) So where are you all from?

Saudi Man: Saudi Arabia.

NYC woman: Is that your wife in there?

Saudi Man: Yes.

NYC woman: Is she driving yet?

Saudi Man: No

NYC woman: Why not?

Saudi Man: She does not need to.

NYC woman: I was just wondering, because they made such a big deal out of it on TV.  And I was thinking maybe they aren’t all driving yet.

Saudi Man: She does not need to.

NYC woman: But why not?

Saudi Man: Madam, you live in New York City.  Are you driving yet?

Comments

Mr. Saudi Husband,

The woman, in a feminist country like the United States, says she herself does not need to drive.

Whereas you and your wife come from a country where it made the news now that women are allowed to drive, and which has a virtual apartheid regime by sex, and you say that she does not need to drive.

Not disagreeing with your basic points which are correct, but the fact that the question was not asked in Arabic just might have made a difference that the wife did not answer it.

Have you considered that there may be reasons that she does not know a language other than Arabic? I can imagine her husband would say in addition to not needing to know how to drive, she also does not need to know English.

And this is Tyler in classic full-Straussian mode, interpretations are limitless.

'Have you considered that there may be reasons that she does not know a language other than Arabic?'

Of course. Have you considered how common it is for one spouse to speak a foreign language that the other doesn't? One need look no further than Prof. Cowen's wife for an example.

Or a Japanese couple I know, who transferred from Japan as the husband is an employee of a German based car parts company in this region. He speaks English, she doesn't. I'm pretty sure that the reason is not because Japanese culture says that wives do not need to speak a foreign language. As it is, she is currently learning German, which makes a fair bit of sense for someone living Germany. And her husband just might say it makes sense his wife does not need to learn English - and his wife agrees with him. He is not learning German as his wife is, to my knowledge.

This is merely to point out something that is fairly commonplace with married couples. That Saudi Arabia is a ridiculously patriarchal society is beyond any dispute.

And that this is classic full mode Straussian writing is also beyond question.

+1

"Is that your wife in there".

Only an Islamophobe would dare ask that question. Where do we line up?

Jesus Christ, how far the MR comments section has fallen.

He's not wrong.

'Only an Islamophobe would dare ask that question.'

Of course not. From a person without manners, on the other hand, such a boorish question is no surprise at all.

Did you miss the part where TC says it was NYC? Boorish does not exist there.

Bonus trivia: I'm often a boor overseas. Because let's face it, the 1000th time somebody yells "Hey Joe!" and treats you like a celebrity gets boring, and encourages you just to give a weak smile and not even acknowledge the guy, or, not even smile. Plus, an American overseas is given great leeway and actually is expected to be an Ugly American, which I sometimes play the role.

OK, replace "NYC" with "NYC woman" and my comment still stands. She's excused (being from NYC).

'Boorish does not exist there.'

Of course it does. That New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude is true, obviously.

I'm not sure what to make of this dialog -- or what Tyler Cowen saw in it that he wanted to highlight. Saudi Arabia is not New York City. There is, so far as I know, no mass transit to speak of, so that women without drivers' licenses are dependent on either paid chauffeurs or family members to drive them. Hence, Saudi Man's reply was hardly a "mic drop" sort of answer.

And, of course, the NYC Woman addressed the man. Was that ill-mannered of her, in the way that it is, to address the companion of a wheelchair user? The reality is that the full face veil is designed to accomplish this very thing, to exclude women from social discourse in mixed company, to ensure that her male companion is the one addressed instead.

+1

I am confused as to what is remarkable about this also.

Don't worry. Albeit very grateful for Tyler's references to other people's serious research, I'm confused as to what is remarkable about Tyler's opinions on non-economic issues (his opinions about economic issues are pretty standard and add little to what economists know, except for his comments on particular countries about which he knows little or nothing, like China). Finally, I appreciate greatly Alex's insightful comments on economic issues, even if sometimes I don't agree with him.

'or what Tyler Cowen saw in it that he wanted to highlight'

Don't worry. As a self-recommending Straussian, Prof. Cowen will go with whatever explanation raises his status, or proves your mood affiliation, or possible virtue signalling affinities.

'The reality is that the full face veil is designed to accomplish this very thing, to exclude women from social discourse in mixed company, to ensure that her male companion is the one addressed instead.'

What makes this a bit more complicated is that women are not prevented from talking to each other by that particular social convention.

"women are not prevented from talking to each other by that particular social convention"

And yet it's so effective at erasing women's social identity* that (at least in this telling) she made no effort to talk to the woman and they were both happy to talk about her as if she wasn't there... which in a sense she wasn't.

You're right Cliff, but since all of us are not willing to sacrifice anything to change that, when we observe their behavior we should vote with our feet.

'And yet it's so effective at erasing women's social identity* that (at least in this telling) she made no effort to talk to the woman and they were both happy to talk about her as if she wasn't there... which in a sense she wasn't.'

Sure. But as noted, she may not speak English, for any number of reasons.

And one can assume that the NYC woman was aware of her rudeness in participating in that erasure if she made no effort to talk to the wife in the first place - at least in the spare account provided.

This is extremely Islamophobic. Par for the course for an adopted German to hate religious minorities I suppose.

It can be extremely offensive to speak to a Salafi woman, address her directly, or speak about her in general to male family members.

It is considered appropriate to not refer to female family members at all, even if they are literally present. It can be a sign of great disrespect and Islamophobia to acknowledge that they exist. Inquiring about the health of one’s wife, for example, can be considered the equivalent of jumping up and down shouting the N word at an African American.

Not even a faux pas, just literal bigotry.

'This is extremely Islamophobic.'

You mean calling a woman from NYC rude is Islamophobic? Fascinating.

'It can be extremely offensive to speak to a Salafi woman'

Ah, so the rude NYC woman was actually being respectful of Salafi beliefs?

'It can be a sign of great disrespect and Islamophobia to acknowledge that they exist.'

So, the NYC woman was not Islamophobic, she was just being rude while being polite in terms of particular Saudi cultural beliefs, though also mocking them, Saudi beliefs that are definitely not general Islamic ones?

'Inquiring about the health of one’s wife, for example, can be considered the equivalent of jumping up and down shouting the N word at an African American.'

That may apply to Saudis, but most certainly would not apply to Syrian Muslims, Iranian Muslims, Malaysian Muslims - basically all Muslims that are not Saudi, or adherents of a Saudi based Islamic framework that is generally rejected in the rest of the Islamic world. Leaving aside how the Saudis use their oil money to attempt to sway the Islamic world to their own Wahhabi perspective - full points on using the more culturally sensitive term Salafi by the way. To be honest, it is true that I do not really care that a bunch of puritanical fanatics prefer to be called Salafists - but at least it is not a faux pas as a choice to indicate disdain for such adherents.

It isn't as if much of the Islamic world doesn't agree with that disdain anyways.

this reads like something you find on buzzfeed.

The land American jackals support!!!!

"It's legal for her to get her driver's license, but she hasn't done so. It could be because she's satisfied with her transportation situation. It's also possible her controlling husband desires to limit her independence."

Couldn't that statement apply to both the NYC woman and Saudi Man's wife?

My mom takes things a step further. She once saw an Asian woman who was fully veiled (not a burhka) at a picnic and told her to take off her veil because she's not Arab. When she refused, my mom told her to leave.

'told her to take off her veil because she's not Arab. When she refused, my mom told her to leave'

Wearing a veil is an Islamic custom, but then, as already noted, people being boorish is commonplace.

Here is the wikipedia article explaining the Malaysia term to describe a woman following Islamic female dress conventions - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tudong Face covering is not required, but also not unknown.

Such clothing was commonplace on GMU's campus in the late 80s/early 90s, with hundreds of Malaysian exchange students on campus.

Islam is a lot like Catholicism - both may have originated in a certain context, but asking an American woman to remove her visible crucifix because she is not Italian is roughly equivalent.

Islam is a lot like Catholicism -

Your conceits about your perspicacity are an amazement.

Ah, I just couldn't think of a concise way to say that Islam has its major roots in Arabia (just ask a Persian if that is not clear) in the same fashion that Catholicism has its major roots in Rome. However, both religions have spread far beyond their geographic roots.

And clearly my mistake for assuming that anyone could make that conclusion on their own.

An interesting question:

Was Catholicism more influenced by Rome or Islam by Arabia?

Actually, the woman was wearing a tight head scarf, not a veil - I had to look it up on-line - but my mom's point was that whether the Asian (Malay or Indonesian) woman was muslim or not, she shouldn't be covering herself or hair unless she's an arab. My mom actually made her leave and she did.

She thinks the religious arabs have spread their culture to the asian muslims and that's wrong in her opinion.

Alvin, your mom is stupid. That should be the inference from your story.

Please, more of this "overheard by Tyler" travellogue!

She should have also asked the Saudi if he was taking any flying lessons :0

Has German got a compound noun for "flying but not landing" lessons?

A single word - 'Terrorismus.' Or if you prefer, 'Terrokakt.'

I'm sure you can figure out the English equivalent terms.

Slightly disappointed. I was expecting at least a 20-letter compound noun. :-)

Landungsfreieflugunterricht

That's pretty good, but unfortunately in this form it would be 2 words even in German. Landungsfreier Flugunterricht.

Is this the conversational brethren to a famous public intellectual talking to taxi cab drivers for hot takes?

Maybe someone needs to diversify their acquaintances, sounds like a typical ugly American who lives on CNN airport deadspace filler news.

If you really want to test mood affiliation, the narrator should have made the NYC woman ask, "what do you think about the bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition in a devastating attack on a school bus filled with school children in Yemen that was sold as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal with Saudi Arabia?"

I know what I think about this. What does Tyler Cowen think about it? Tyler must have some opinion- you turned it into a blog post after all. Why? Rude woman from NYC? Sexist man from sexist Saudi society? Something else entirely? You were the one there Tyler.

Possibly it was posted in order to find out what you think about it?

The husband drives. But does he need to?

You know that? From what? For all anyone knows, that Saudi family may have been here a while and neither of them drives. From the line of questioning by the NYC woman, you'd never know.

[this is above comment is retracted, considering as the restaurant is in Baku]

What happened next? Did they engage in actual dialogue or back off from confrontation? This story speaks more to the petty quips people engage in around real problems and stops short of anything truly interesting. Where is the rest of this story! Follow up post?

When will the video of John Quinones suddenly emerging to scold Tyler for not intervening be aired? In it does Tyler squirm or go all “me no Alamo, me no Goliad”?

But what NYC restaurant?

You didn't pay attention. Go back and read it again.

Wow... indeed... I'm embarrassed.

Really make ya think...

Wow, selective censorship from the Tyler Man!

Let's try again: do you think it's ok to publish "jokes" about women from guys who live in countries that force girls to marry their rapists?

What is with your misogyny lately?

Was Thomas Friedman at the next table?

My goodness, the faux intellectualism that goes on here.
It was a funny comeback. It could be the start of an interesting discussion. That’s enough without resorting to Strauss.

Maybe she doesn’t need to drive- and maybe that lack of need is tied to the restrictions on her life. Or maybe she’s just fabulously wealthy. Hilary Clinton doesn’t drive, after all.

I think it's hilarious how people get this liberal frisson watching lurid Gothic fantasies like The Handmaid's Tale when they could just move to the Saudi peninsula and see how the real thing plays out.

Really the whole region, including Israel, is where a lot of Western universalist balloons get popped so Westerners don't like to think too hard about the place.

"NYC woman: Is that your wife in there?"

That's just a solid burn directed at the husband (and a pretty misogynist culture in general). I'm not going to impute any islamophobia where it's not apparent it exists (she is in fact traveling to Azerbaijan in the first place, and struck up a conversation with them without calling police, etc.)

This reads like something you find on buzzfeed. Very interesting.

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