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The Society of the Spectacle: Why Arab People Love to Stare

The great outdoors: a venue for people to jog, to cycle, or maybe to get a little bit of fresh air… But not in the Gulf.

In this region, locals seldom use the great outdoors for the aforementioned activities. Instead, the great outdoors is a venue mostly used for our special kind of sport. You see, we, the people of the Gulf, are first place, gold medal winners at staring. Yes, you read it right: staring. In fact, I see it as the national sport of the region seeing as how pretty much the entire population partakes in the activity.

Staring is referred to as “Khaz” and roaming around to see and be seen is “Gazz”. “Khazzing” or “Gazzing,” recent colloquial terms, are sports that one can partake in outdoors as well as indoors, conveniently making it a year-round activity. My friend Suad apparently believes that “To ‘gizz’ came from the word to gaze.”

Having only lived in Kuwait for less than a year, this staring phenomenon became all the more intriguing to my sisters and I. Take this scenario for instance; my siblings and I head out for lunch. If this were in Sydney (where we lived previously), we’d arrive at the restaurant, be escorted to our table by the waiter, order food, enjoy a good conversation, have a good meal, share some laughs, pay the bill, and head back home.

Here, in our beloved Kuwait, however, the scenario is most likely the following: my siblings and I head out for lunch and on the way to the restaurant, on a slow night, as many as five male-filled cars would follow, honk, and pledge their undying love for us. When they’re not voicing their need to have our numbers, they’ll just stare. At the destination, once we walk through the door, everyone turns to look, each one with a different objective. A person could look out of interest to see if they know the person coming through. Some also look to size up the competition or to check out prospective mates. Most likely though, it has just naturally become a habit to just stare at anything and everything.

So we head to our table, we sit and we order. We keep the conversation volume to a bare minimum, as most local eateries are usually full and table distances don’t allow for the comfort of freedom of speech. At this point, all we can think of is how long it’ll take for us to quickly chow down our meal in order to exit and head back home, sadly realizing that, to the untrained partaker, such a sport can be extremely overwhelming.

After having been subjected to a number of unwanted head-to-toe visual check-ups, I really could not help but pose the question: why do people stare? Young boys stare. Old men stare. Children stare. Even babies stare. Oh, women, you stare too, but I’ll get to you ladies in a bit.

To answer this question, we must first define the problem. Perhaps explaining what staring is could simplify the process of understanding the phenomenon that has taken over the region by storm.

Staring has been defined as a gaze or a fixed look. When one person or an object is the constant focus of your attention for a considerable amount of time, chances are you’re staring. Now, let us be clear, there are lots of types of staring – some can be hostile and some affectionate. At times, staring can be seen as a sign of aggression and has been referred to as an invasion of one’s private space.

These are a few reasons why people enjoy staring at others, and if you partake in this national sport, read on and see what category you fall into:

1) Staring might be the result of admiration. It is quite possible that the person staring at you admires you for some reason or the other. Maybe it’s your sense of style? Your presence? The way you command attention when you walk?

2) The person who is staring at you wants to initiate a conversation and hence keeps gazing towards you to see whether you reciprocate this feeling. After all, reciprocating a stare can be taken as a sign of approval and acceptance and sometimes further allows for the stares to be taken to the next step, of actually initiating a conversation.

3) Staring can also be a result of insecurity. People who feel insecure about themselves tend to stare at others because they need to know what everyone else looks like or behaves like in order to make sure that they look and behave in the same way.

4) It is possible that people are staring at you because they find you very attractive. Yes, be proud of your parents’ genes if you fall into this category because you are just so darn pretty (or handsome) that they just cannot get their eyes off you. In the words of Derek Zoolander, you must be “ridiculously good-looking.”

5) The stares can also be judgmental; they can be looks of disapproval or acceptance. This can happen to both the best-looking and the just-plain-awkward types of people.

6) When people see someone who is different from what is considered as “normal,” people stare. I’m sure if Lady Gaga was to strut down the Gulf Road, all eyes would be on her, not for her oh so aesthetically pleasing face, but for the mere fact that she is, in the nicest way of putting it, different. It is unfortunate that foreigners and hybrid children fit into this category, but by national standards, they are considered different, and because of this, they might be subject to staring.

7) Daydreaming. Sorry to break it to you, but sometimes, just sometimes, there is the slight chance that the person who you think is gazing at you in admiration is just daydreaming about that deliciously juicy burger that he or she just ordered and is merely hungrily awaiting it.

Now that I’ve outlined the different reasons why people stare, it’ll hopefully assist you in understanding the different kinds of looks given to you by people. Furthermore, if you’re new to the region and have never partaken in this sport, and would love to join the playing field and witness first-hand the effects of staring, the rules of the game are as follows:

1) The Venue: Pick the busiest and most popular venues, whether it’s a chic new restaurant, a café in a busy mall, or even a strip with an array of different cafés. Remember, the bigger the venue, the better the options for a major show-down.

2) The Table: Select your table cautiously, being careful that it’s not too closed-off and yet not too open. Remember, if you want to take part in this activity, you want to do it politely. Judgmental stares will not be tolerated, but in a world in which everything has become some form of entertainment, stares that result from admiration and intrigue are acceptable.

3) The Attire: If it is during the day, big, dark, designer shades are an acceptable form of disguise. These especially allow one to stare at many different people for long periods of time, without seeming too obvious about it.

4) The Stare: When staring, it is acceptable to turn one’s head in the direction of the subject of allure, but it does not mean that one can hold his/her gaze toward that direction for too long. I have witnessed girls stare at another girl for a solid two minutes without moving their glances. Remember common etiquette, folks!  Turn your head, take a peek, take a double peek if you like what you see, but do not, I repeat, do not hold your gaze for longer than 20 seconds. It is rude, annoying and nerve-wracking.

The rules are quite simple and so is the sport. But at the end of the day, remember one thing: if it bothers you, it probably bothers the person you are staring at. In other words, whatever you find acceptable to yourself is probably what the other person finds acceptable too. There is an unspoken etiquette as to what is acceptable and what isn’t.

As I slowly settle into Kuwait, I find myself still not being able to fully grasp this sport, as crowded places and stares make me feel claustrophobic, but I will, however, admit to a cheeky glance every now and then. This region is filled with beautiful women and men who are very well dressed. What’s more, is that they add a little extra bit of free entertainment, for those times when E! Channel isn’t available.

– Ghadeer Al-Otaibi

Illustration by Shahed Al-Wadani

This article was first featured in The Entertainment Issue published July/August/September 2012 




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