The "hero" of A Hologram For the King has had a pretty global adulthood: he's traveled extensively to make deals for Schwinn—disastrous ones, but still—and feels pretty comfortable being a stranger in a strange land.
But Alan's bringing a lot of extra baggage with him on this trip to King Abdullah Economic City. He's already feeling displaced and useless, like an exile from a certain place and time. So when he hits the ground, it's not much of a surprise that the culture shock is especially intense.
As he struggles with his own experience of alienation, Alan is also trying to understand Saudi Arabia through Western eyes. As it turns out, navigating the text and subtext of a foreign culture is the easy part. Finding his own place in the world is far trickier.
Questions About Foreignness and the Other
In what way does encountering the "other" in Saudi Arabia catch Alan off guard? How does it change him, if at all?
Why is it so difficult for the characters to get a hold on expectations and even proper behavior in Saudi Arabia?
In what ways does Alan feel alienated in this work? Does his sense of isolation stem only from being a stranger in a strange land?
How do Alan's preconceptions of the Muslim world run him into trouble in this work?
Chew on This
Alan's strong focus on his own misery makes it difficult for him to cope with the complexities of Saudi Arabian society.
Alan and his colleagues have a hard time in Saudi Arabia because of cultural differences, but it's pretty clear that even local people are a bit mystified about the rules governing their society.