In traditional old-fashioned Arab hospitality, the people of Asir have some old customs that they continue adhering to when entertaining guests from out of town.
Visitors to Asir, Abha, (Saudi Arabia) constantly have to face old Asiri men at weddings and parties who feel compelled to ask them to say “tamm” (loosely translated as it’s done). The guest says “tamm” and all of a sudden he’s invited with a whole entourage of people to an expensive classy meal at the host’s home or an inexpensive restaurant.
The Asiri might be totally bankrupt, head-high in debt and penniless, but in true Asiri fashion he feels obliged to entertain the guest or otherwise lose esteem. Many old people still adhere to this practice, but the younger generation is moving away from their age-old tradition, in fact for many people a simple “tamm” could set them back, SR1,500 per meal.
Young Asiris, nowadays, are shying away from asking people to say “tamm” due to the financial burden accumulated in inviting guests. In fact many try to leave Asir during vacations.
On the other hand, other people continue adhering to the tradition by setting aside a budget for the practice to ensure they project a suitable hospitable image among their peers.
Yahya Asiri said that the word “tamm” represents hospitality and is a way for people to force guests to accept invitations for meals.
“If someone doesn’t accept the ‘tamm’ request, then a host may throw a shumagh and igal (Arab head-dress) at the feet of the guest to force him to accept the invitation. The whole point of this is to stress the lofty status of the guest in the eyes of the host,” he said.
With regard to the money spent in upholding the tradition, Yahya spends between SR2,000 and SR5,000 in one lunch or dinner to entertain relatives and friends.“This has driven me to set aside a significant amount of my salary to ensure I keep my promise when I say ‘tamm’. Financially I find it a burden and by the middle of the month I am more than often broke, he adds.”
Abdullah Asiri usually spends SR5,000 a month and more during the summer to keep face value. He says the tradition is practised widely and can end in financial disaster.
Speaking about the younger generation he said, “In reality not many people from the current generation are upholding this tradition. There are really only a few old people left that insist on saying ‘tamm’.”
Another young Asiri, Saeed Al-Nageer tends to take out loans from his friends when forced to ask guests to say “tamm”. Al-Nageer believes the tradition is a good one and is reflective of traditional Arabian hospitality. But he complains of the price of sheep, which can sometimes cost SR1,500 each.
Al-Nageer said, “The word ‘tamm’ is something I can’t escape from. Those that want to show hospitality to guests should sacrifice to generosity and even get a loan to do it or else they would lose face in front of guests.”