Recently Qatar, a largely Islamic country in the middle east, launched a campaign targeted at Western tourists. It’s simple really, they are asking tourists to wear clothes more in keeping with traditional Qatar dress code observant of the Islam religion.
I can’t decide how I feel about it. It’s pretty passive aggressive, right? But tourists are indeed guests and should be observant of culture…I keep going back and forth arguing with myself about it. So I recall a similar experience of my own.
When I was in Germany studying abroad a few years ago, I was traveling with a sizeable group of Americans. We were visiting the branch of an international corporation in Munich and were briefed on how German business meetings typically run. Be on time, don’t be annoying, and certainly don’t be a moron. Not too different than American business meetings, other than a colleague of mine screaming at me across the room to, “SIT DOWN.” Like in the middle of the meeting when I was just getting a glass of water. I’m pretty sure Germans are cool with water getting.
Anyway as the meeting concluded, one of the German gentleman offered our group nuggets of cultural advice as we were about to hit the streets on our own. I presume he was trying to help us fit in and avoid unpleasant altercations. He began by explaining how Germans are inordinately respectful of rules – from the obedient silence on the trains (pictured below are my friend and I NOT TALKING on a German train…seriously, dead silence) to the absurdity of even the thought of jaywalking.
He continued painting a picture of what people like him have noticed about touring Americans. Keywords like, “loud,” “rude” or “you all say please too much,” littered descriptions he personally had with Americans. Finally, and he seemed uncomfortable in doing so, he asked us to consider dressing more conservatively.
In sum he closed, “Just…behave.”
Behave. An interesting choice of word in my opinion. Behaving seems like an absurdly relative term, which is why I think he spent so much time providing context of how NOT to “behave.” Yet I chew on this term of behaving and I consider other contexts wherein I should behave. At work, at happy hour, in bed. You know…the old Austin Powers request to bewitching go-go dancers, “Oh, beHAVE!”
The request for us to behave is seemingly quite common. So when I stumbled upon the new Qatar ad, I didn’t know how to react. Apparently fellow readers of the article were conflicted too. The top comment on the particular Facebook posting at 848 likes was: “So the Muslims should not wear the Burka and hijab when they go to Europe!”
Followed secondly at 507 likes was: “You travel to a country, you respect the culture. Simple.”
Below that were primarily frustrated Brits lamenting being told what to wear. I hate to say there were some pretty repulsive reactions, and no I do not condone hatred toward a religion or culture under any circumstances.
There is indeed a lot of emotion surrounding what a person wears. I suspect it is because it is a deeply personal choice and a representation of individuality. Your clothes are your statement to the world, and your perception of that statement is wildly different than others. For example, I was at a party the other weekend and there was a gentleman in attendance I was interested in getting to know. He wore the now trendy hipster 50’s attire, complete with a fedora, button down shirt, and fitted shorts. His arms and left leg were fully decorated in what I can only assume were carefully chosen tattoos.
One of my male companions noticed my gaze at this fellow. He gave his cocktail a swirl allowing the ice cubes to clink, getting my attention as I looked over at his direction. He lowered his sunglasses down his nose raising an eyebrow. “What?!” I asked as though I was caught stealing.
“Joni,” he judged, “He looks homeless.”
After I was able to collect myself from the immediate fit of laughter, I dismissed the comment but decided I didn’t feel like the effort. Maybe my friend dissuaded me, but I still enjoyed the scenery from time to time as the evening continued.
This is a pretty simple phenomenon to explain – past experiences dictate how we perceive and accept behaviour and dress. My friend thinking the hipster was homeless and my perceiving him as handsome are simply examples of how we view the world based on our backgrounds. In the neighborhoods I lived in in Seattle, I’d say most of the men donned full sleeves of tattoos. So that’s comfortable, familiar, and even attractive to me. They tell a story and help me understand the man right off the bat. To my friend…well…homeless people have tattoos, people living in homes don’t. Simple as that.
The big pandora’s box is, I think, that cultural dress and behaviour are mostly dictated by religion. When I was at the Vatican, the bastards wouldn’t let me walk in the building unless my shoulders were covered. Oh by the way, it was over 100 degrees that day and the halls of the giant Mecca were insufferably packed with humans. You even had to cover up climbing the 900,000 stairs to the top of the basilica. I got around it by tying a cardigan around my shoulders preppy style…but STILL.
German culture is primarily protestant, with a heavy cultural background of Lutheranism (Martin Luther was a German, in
case you didn’t know). My German ass understands the Lutheran religion and way of living, so I really wasn’t offended when our German host asked us to shut up in the trains and to behave ourselves. My colleagues, especially my Puerto Rican pal, were less convinced.
I’ll admit that I don’t understand Islam. So to me I’m a little more offended by Qatar’s ad in the same way people who don’t understand Catholicism or Lutheranism are offended in Italy and Germany. Fortunately I have absolutely zero desire to visit the Middle East, so that will not be an issue anytime soon. But the thing is, Germans and Italians were pretty covert in their requests of telling me what to do – there were no signs anywhere telling me what to do or wear. I knew what to do given simple hints from locals.
So honestly, I think it’s too much for Qatar to pay for a campaign telling tourists what to do. A little too close to 1930’s propaganda if you want to get serious about it. Although I do find a lot of humorous enjoyment at the clarification, “LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.” Good! Pants are the worst, I don’t understand why anyone ever wears pants.
At the end of the day, standards of dress and behaviour are a matter of coming together in tolerance of both individuality as well as cultural observance. I get that there is a fear of Western culture taking over the world – but what if people like wearing what we wear? The world evolves but that doesn’t mean that culture is gone just because people like tank tops in a country where the mean temperature is 90 degrees (and it’s going to be 117 degrees there later this week…A HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN). I am admittedly western biased, but if people are more comfortable in tank tops and leggings, I say let em.
And if you want to wear a full sleeve of tattoos, well, I’ll make sure to tell my friend you aren’t homeless.