Friday, September 13, 2013

Dear Expat: About Your Cleavage...

Dressed for Success, Doha Style
Dear Expat in the Megamart:
You in the bum-engorged aerobics pants, skin-tight, razor back tank, high exposure, hot pink, nipple revealing workout bra.  You with the gregarious cleavage, thong underwear, shimmying side boobs.  You leaning over your cart, breasts dangling, bare arms glistening.
Do you see the ladies in black abaya and sheyla, watching you from the cake mix aisle?  Their unblinking eyes follow your sashay from chips to canned corn.
Do you see the men in dishdasha, heads down, taking a wide berth?  How about the teen boys, eyes popping?  Or me, head shaking… you thumb your nose at Doha's persistent plea to the from-elsewhere majority population:
Please cover your body from shoulders to knees.
You're ruining it for the rest of us.  The majority who adhere to the not-law rule.  Who wear jackets, long shirts and skirts, loose pants, sweaters - even in summer's searing heat and humidity - just because our hosts asked.  Who appreciate the opportunity to live and work in this peaceful Middle Eastern place.  Who demonstrate regard for our conservative hosts through respect to their customs.
I didn't challenge you.  I've already heard your arguments:  It's too hot.  I'm not Muslim.  I can do what I want, wear what I want.  It's my life.  Deal with it.
To you, this is just one more foreign assignment; another dot on the map.  And you're busy: there's lunch with the girls, working out, getting home before the nanny arrives with the kids after school and the maid finishes cleaning the bathrooms.
Anyway, why should you cover up?  It's not like this is your culture.
You're not the only one ignoring the request to cover up, either.  There's the teen in snug jeans and see through crop top I bumped into just a minute ago; the pair who crossed Onaiza on foot at Carmageddon's peak wearing short shorts and spaghetti straps.  There was yesterday's jogger in skin-tight togs and bra slogging through a West Bay job site at 7:00am.  And those tourist-types in sundresses and low cut blouses at the mall.
Sure, some busy expat women throw an abaya over their culturally inappropriate clothing to stay cool and respectful at the same time, but your sense of self-worth is too high for that.  Wearing the abaya aligns you with the oppressed, subservient, exploited local woman.
You've heard that those ladies cover by choice and as a sign of respect - to God, family, self.  That they earn college degrees, work as teachers, educators, administrators; in politics, law, architecture, engineering and business.  That they read, write, travel, manage households, raise children, comment on blogs and post updates to facebook and twitter. 

You've heard, too, that Muslims are gentle, modest, kind, hospitable and welcoming.
And that they're all terrorists.
The truth is you don't actually know any Muslims.  From Doha or anywhere else.  Unless you count that one covered lady who walked you through the Islamic Cultural Center when you arrived two years ago.  Or when you secretly snapped photos of local women dressed casually at the Ladies' Coffee (btw, phones and cameras are no longer allowed in the room).
You wear what you want, do what you want, no matter what anyone says or thinks - that's a sign of independence and strength, right?
Anyway, since you're the stranger here…invited to the desert to plant their high-rises, dig out their oil, forge their roads and develop their infrastructure - they should be respectful of your culture.


They should fork out perks like Christian churches, nightclubs, stores with merchandise you recognize and food chains that serve hamburgers, pizza and queso.  You should have a Starbucks, Dairy Queen and how about a liquor store that sells pork, never mind that it's haraam.  Sports events, celebrities, symphony, Film Festival, annual circus - all for your comfort and amusement.  And don't forget, a salary that accommodates villa-style housing, gym membership, tuition for the kids at world class schools, cell phone, internet, trips, holidays and more.

Wait, they already do that.
Psh, whatev.  It's not like the law says you have to cover up.  Qatar isn't Saudi Arabia, ya know.  There's no Hia'a wandering Qatari streets with sticks ready to swat you over an exposed ankle.  Nobody in a uniform pointing hefty fines at your cleavage and knees.  Nobody dragging you off to the calaboosh for refusing to wear hijab and abaya.  Not today. Nope.
Today it's just a humble request:
Please cover your body from shoulders to knees.
We'd all appreciate it.
Just Another Expat


Peggy said...

And, BTW, "When in Rome, do as the Romans." It's not a new saying --and we know what it means in Missouri, too! Well said.

Charles W. Hedrick said...

Knowing and following the local rules and customs of whatever area you live in is always the better part of wisdom! Very well written! Perhaps you could suggest when it is appropriate to challenge local rules?

OnionKim said...

I completely agree with you. If you are living in any country, you should comply with the norms for public modesty and behavior. I remember in high school there was a Brazillian exchange student that hung out with my friends. She wore a thong type bikini in 1974. Eyes popped everywhere she wore it. She thought we were all silly for reacting that way and refused to follow societal norms.

Anonymous said...

This is so true. I consider visiting a country akin to visiting a friend's house. I don't expect my friends to change to accommodate me, why should an entire country have to?

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Thank you for your comments and welcome to OnionKim and sixtyfourcolorbox! @Charles, (trouble maker with the questions) here's a question for you: if I'm a guest in your home, when is it appropriate for me to challenge your habits/customs/rules? And if I do, how long will you welcome my presence?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a wonderfully written article.