Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Rant Time

The other day, I ate lunch in a Western restaurant that turned out to be unnaturally popular with the local tourist trade. I sat and sipped my Diet Coke, while hoards of Americans, Germans, and other random Europeans who chose to fly all the way to Egypt sat and ate American food.

But I’m not here to berate people for their choice of cuisine - after all, I was about to have chicken fingers delivered to my table. No, I am here to rant about men and women who chose to fly all the way to a conservative country and then chose not to show enough respect to their hosts to dress accordingly. During my brief lunch, I counted more tank tops, shorts, capris, mini dresses, and spaghetti straps than I had seen in the preceding three months put together. Did these people not read a single guidebook before coming?

When I told people that they could dress as they would at home, only more conservatively, I must not have been explicit enough. Shorts that barely cover your butt are NOT conservative. And sleeves that require either a strapless or clear strapped bra also fall into the not conservative department.

For those of you who think I’m being harsh – I’m sorry but I’m not. These ill-dressed men and women are going to go to the Khan Khalili and complain about being harassed and overcharged. They’re going to go home and talk about the horrible people who were rude to them. And what they’re not going to mention is that they failed to show Egypt enough respect to not dress as if they were at a Fourth of July picnic at the beach.

I was once asked if I was Amish (true story) so maybe it’s easier for me to say that wearing longer skirts and pants isn’t a problem. But respect shouldn’t be something that people think is difficult. Next time you decide to fly half way around the world to explore a new culture, try fitting in with that culture just a little. You never know, instead of being verbally assaulted and groped, maybe you’ll be welcomed like an old friend and offered the best deals.

32 comments:

My Choice said...

I would be scared to death NOT to confirm... When i was in Egypt & Oman I wore long pants & and sleaves at all times... People are just amazing sometimes aren't they?

My Choice said...

sleeves..good lord I am tired....

traveler one said...

Couldn't agree with you more.

LadyFi said...

I agree with you 100% - the whole point of travelling is to learn more about other cultures and peoples - not to foist your own traditions on them.

Brenda said...

Thanks for saying this! Many Americans don't care what the guide book says, all they care about is "freedom". But only their own freedom. They don't believe in a mans freedom to grope a woman even if her way of dress asks for it in the culture she is in.

Brittney Spears fashion belongs only on MTV. I live in Latin America where we see a lot more skin, but there are still rules. . . and when Americans see scantily clad women, they are usually looking at the prostitutes.

trailing grouse said...

I share your frustration on this, however, just a point: I get MORE harassed, the more covered I am (although I have never wandered around in hot pants and a tank top!)...

Also, and I only started thinking about this after living here for the first three years: if we have to dress to fit in here, does that mean we have the right to expect people to dress to fit in when they are in our culture? Wearing the hijab, abeya, niqab or other religious/traditional clothing from this part of the world seriously offends a lot of Westerners living in the West, but they have to accept that people from this culture can dress as they like when they visit/live in the West.

I find it a bit of a conundrum.

Lydia said...

Here, here! I don't think I could have put it better! It's not like they're being asked to wear a hijab! Just cover up those buns and shoulders! And really, come on! It's December!! ;-)

Anonymous said...

It would be like turning up at an interview in a see-through teeshirt and shorts! We do need to conform to some/most/all standards for certain scenarios.
merthyrmum

Linsey said...

That is just abject disrespect and drives me crazy as well. A well-deserved rant.

Peter H said...

The ugly westerner is at times VERY UGLY. I was going to say "ugly american", but the epithet is broader than that. The old adage of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" is very sound advice to any tourist. And it does not apply just to Egypt either.....just about every country I have been in, and women are generally worse, much worse than men.

Caution Flag said...

I can't speak from your perspective, but I can speak from the heartland of America where less has become thoroughly acceptable in any situation. I feel sooooo middle aged, but I do not want to see an almost dressed woman at church, the doctor's office, in my classroom, at my kids' school, at the local funeral home. I am tired of wondering if someone's nipples will accidentally slip out again while we chat at those places. And I am finished with tolerating deep chest and backside cleavage belonging to the women who assist in our church communion services. Here is my last complaint: the students in my college classes who skip first base, and go straight for second, and even third while I am teaching grammar.

Okay. I'm done.

Corinne said...

We were well prepped by our tour guide before we left for Egypt last year. We all wore at least 3/4 length sleeves, or light cotton shirts. I think we actually stayed cooler by wearing light layers...

Back to the point...I was AGOG at all the skin we saw at the Pyramids and other tourist hotspots. The fabulous woman in her fifties wearing tiny, bright-red shorts and tank that would have better fit a Barbie doll was...well...there are no words. Hello? Conservative country?

Simple Answer said...

It is such a small thing, isn't it? But it is BIG in what it will do in good will.

Oh2122 said...

Heck, it's out of control here too! I have zero need to see your butt crack. My kiddo is still in diapers, so I get enough of that at home, thanks.

Trailing Grouse, I am with you on this. Conundrum. My fierce independent streak is screaming, "You can't force your beliefs on me!" while my common sense is saying, "Did you think though exactly where you were going when you packed?"

While I don't think you should have to adopt every custom of a country when you visit, a little respect and common sense are in order, people.

Jacki said...

I totally agree....one thing I've done everywhere I've traveled is adopt the local customs. You DO get treated differently if you are respectful to the locals. The sad thing is....when you are in a foreign country you really CAN pick out the Americans.

Connie said...

I dress modestly, but I don't believe I should have to wear long sleeves or scarves or anything like that. Frankly, there is NO WAY I would ever pass as a local and those who choose to harass women, will do so, no matter what they wear. Muslim women in niqab are harassed too. Clothes do not protect you. And those who choose to insult westerners, WILL do so, no matter what you are wearing. I was downtown once, with my husband and children, dressed conservatively (pants and long sleeves in winter) and had a local person call me the Egyptian word for whore... no reason except I was a foreigner. (No, I do NOT believe this is typical Egyptian behavior at all, most Egyptians are respectful and cosmopolitan enough to accept the cultural difference, but there are idiots out there).

I will NOT wear a Muslim scarf or other covering because I am not Muslim... it's not a costume or fancy dress, it is a Muslim woman's religious garb. Why should I make fun of it by playing dress up and playing pretend?? I do not expect a Muslim woman to dress like me in the US, why should I have to dress like her overseas?

I do believe in decent covering. I'm from Florida. I am used to skimpy clothes. But that's Florida... it's flippin' hot there, and dripping with humidity. But even there, there are STANDARDS of what is decent and what is trashy! I have seen stuff at the Pyramids that Floridians would call 'too skimpy'... and you folks who are bashing the Americans.. tch tch!... I have seen far more half dressed Euro visitors here than from the US. Maybe it is because I see less American tourists, but also, Americans tend to be real prudes (not all, definitely!, but in general).

Bluefish said...

Maybe it's too hot for them to wear anything conservative...the only conservative country I've been to was Morroco when I was 16. I dressed normally and the teachers advised us not to show any skin. But the local men would still harass us in French...

lizzy-loo said...

do you think they don't care or that they are just obtuse? people who travel to other lands should be respectful of the customs of others. can i say it again? obtuse.

NicoleB said...

People simply don't care or they go by what they think they know. They think Egypt is not a conservative country. Well, wrong. Very.

Regarding respect.
Uh.
That's a can of worms I don't want to open again.
I just hope I'll not have to go to a Muslim country again and live with men that are mostly so disrespectful no matter what you wear.

Nicole
http://nicoleb.org/b2/

Betty said...

Great post!! You are so right!

Amanda said...

" They don't believe in a mans freedom to grope a woman even if her way of dress asks for it in the culture she is in. "

And so they shouldn't. Regardless of culture, bodily autonomy should be a basic right. No one asks to be groped and I don't think anyone gets a cultural pass for doing it.

Being respectful overseas involves more than just dressing appropriately. It also involves treating people as intelligent adults - which means that I'm not going to moderate my basic opinions to converse with people I meet while living overseas. I don't have a problem with avoiding offensive clothing, but I will not dice words in telling off gropers regardless of what they may or may not think is their license to do so.

Also, while in Egypt this may not be the case, in many places, things are changing. In Korea, tank tops used to be considered inappropriate and the shoulder area something that should be covered. However, Korean women my age now wear them regularly. I'm sure as a foreigner, sticking out like a sore thumb, I may get a few more nasty looks when I wear a tank top from the older crowd, but there you are. If the locals are doing it, I can too, right? But foreign cultures are no less prone to generation or societal divisions than our own.

Also, it's important to acknowledge that the lack of respect may well happen regardless of what you do because some of it is simply stereotyping. People here in Korea have some ridiculous ideas about foreigners and sex. All the foreign visas here are now requiring STD checks because of a common belief that foreigners brought AIDS to Korea. The incredibly common and accepted practice of prostitution (here and in South East Asia) and the lack of condom use by Korean men has absolutely nothing to do with it...

I believe in dressing appropriately. When I travel I certainly consider local customs. But I also think this is a very nuanced issue. Perhaps I shouldn't wear a tank top in Egypt, but people there also shouldn't see a tank top as being an invitation to grope. While I don't think that running around insulting the locals is the way to bring change, I'm not at all supportive of the idea that change doesn't need to be brought.

I think that there are systemic problems in how women are treated around the world in terms of their sexuality. Encourage them to bare all or cover up, either way the clothing customs are symptoms of the greater problem of the lack of women's equality and agency in the world.

Laural Out Loud said...

When you decide to visit a country that has different rules, and you don't follow them, it's more than rude. It can be dangerous. How hard is it to put some longer clothes on? And as for other poeple coming to the States and still wearing their traditional clothing, that's what our country is all about. Freedom to choose. If you go to a country that has more strict cultural views about appearance, leave your westernized opinions at home and dress accordingly.

Amanda said...

What if the different rules in the other country you are in are ideas like that being gay is wrong? Should you follow those sorts of rules too?

BLOGitse said...

Well written!

Connie said...

Where to find snow and other neato blog toys. :-)

Anonymous said...

rants and raves......have a read of another issue on the rant and rave band wagon
http://smouldering-mushroom.blogspot.com/ on using red pens at school

Oh2122 said...

And now for something completely off topic:

Sharing the meme love!

http://oh2122.blogspot.com/2008/12/meme-along-with-me_04.html

mythopolis said...

Ugly American syndrome...not a pretty picture..American tourists can be so self-absorbed...you are so on point as they say, good blog!!!

Zen Ventures said...

unfortunately, "visitors" don't have a clue how to dress in a foreign land like the middle east. I have lived in Kuwait for a year and I know what you mean. It is a disgrace the way "outsiders" dress themselves. They don't know any better but then again, they're pretty ignorant too!

Rhi said...

Thank you so much for sharing. Americans need to hear this... and I will definitely keep this in the back of my mind for when I go to Egypt!!!

aaarrrggg said...

here here!!!!!!

I teach college and I must admit I have to stop myself from staring at some of the stuff my students wear. And I'm not that much older than them.

Scriber's Web said...

Amanda, Very well articulated.

Great blog!