During my second visit to Saudi Arabia in March 1988, two U.S. Embassy officers and I were invited to visit the home of one of the princes attached to the suite of then Crown Prince (now King) Abdallah.
The Prince’s home was surrounded by high walls. One of his servants recognized the embassy car and opened the tall gate so we could park in the driveway. The Prince’s place was a two-story California Arabesque complete with turrets on the roof corners. On top of the roof was a mass of equipment including a satellite dish, antennae, and other objects I did not recognize.
We were met at the door by a servant. He ushered us into a lavishly decorated sitting room. The chairs and couch were European-style and looked very expensive. These were arranged around an enormous, intricately designed brass table which had been polished brightly. The walls were literally covered with paintings in ornate frames. There were also exquisite oriental rugs on the floor.
Another servant came in the room bearing a tray with crystal goblets containing “Saudi cocktails”–a delicious mixture of various fruit juices.
After about ten minutes, the Prince himself entered the room. The three of us stood up to meet him. He graciously asked us to sit. He was in a jovial, expansive mood.
We asked him about the paintings. He told us where they were all from: England, France, Italy. Mostly nineteenth century, he said, but a few seventeenth and eighteenth. They would have made a fine addition to any museum, I thought.
All during our conversation, more servants came in the room with trays of fruit, sweets, coffee, tea.
After awhile, the Prince sat up slightly in his chair, signaling that the preliminaries were over and he was now ready to get down to serious conversation. We sat up too.
The Prince turned to me and said, “The trouble with the Americans is that they are so…”
He could not think of the word at first, but then it came to him: “Materialistic! Not at all like we Saudis.”