Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cultural Differences...Embrace Them!

Living in a foreign country is, in itself, an adventure. You encounter such a diverse cross section of people. During my 2 years in Honduras, most everyone I saw looked to be Honduran or at the very least, to be from South or Central America. No one really stood out as being from another country, except us gringos. That's not the case here in Oman. Many people come here from nearby countries for employment opportunities and, from what I can guess, a better standard of living. The quality of life is very good here. Consequently, there are many different nationalities living in Oman. There are only subtle differences in their appearances, so it's hard for me to tell who is from where...if you know what I mean. I am told (but have yet to commit it to memory) that you can differentiate one countryman from another by how they dress. Many Omani men wear the dishdasha, or the long white tunic that goes all the way to the ankle, leather sandals and the hat with beautiful embroidery on it. Some men wear the white or beige pants with the long matching tunic just reaching their knees with no head covering and I believe they would be from Pakistan. I say that because I drive by the Pakistani embassy every day on the way to work and see them standing in line to get in their Consular section.  Some, like the Saudis, wear the colorful ring that holds the cloth, which can be red and white or other color, around their heads with the long white tunic. I need some cultural help to know who is who. There are Omani, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Indian, just to name a few, living here and many other countries in this reagion are represented here. I need to make a concerted effort to learn what region they are from by the clothes they wear.

The women also have several styles of dressing from very conservative, covering completely, to regular street clothes. So far, I haven't seen anyone in a full burka. Of the women who choose to wear the abaya, the long black caftan with the head covering, most do not cover their faces completely. I've also seen ladies who wear a sheer black fabric that completely covers their face but they can see out through the material. Other women, who I can only guess are from surrounding countries cover their heads with scarves or other wraps. Some wear regular street clothes and others will wear colorful loose fitting pants with long tunics and scarves, much like you would see in India. All in all, the variety of dress here paints a lovely picture of a very blended culture.

The Omani people are wonderful. This is a Muslim country and faith is very important here. For those who would judge all Muslims by the actions of the radical Muslims, you are judging the wrong people.  There are good and bad in every religion, culture, nationality, color or any other factor you choose.  Saying all Muslims are bad is like saying all blondes are dumb or all husbands cheat on their wives.  You just can't generalize like that. I can remember how uncomfortable it made me feel, years ago, when my ex-husband would use degrading words to describe someone from the Middle East who wore a head covering.  When you think about it, some types of clothing worn in the United States probably seems pretty stupid to people in other parts of the world. What kind of comments do you think are made about our Native American Indians and the feather headdress they wear? What about pointy toed Cowboy boots in Texas?  Or grass skirts on ladies dancing on the beach? My point is this...until you get out and learn about other cultures, it makes no sense at all to criticize.  It's all the many varied cultures and the desire to adhere to tradition that makes this world a beautiful painting.  And instead of criticizing and making fun of someone who just might be a little different from what you're used to, make an effort to learn about their culture. That's one of the beauties of my job...the opportunity to travel around the world and learn about others and more importantly, from others.

Living here in Oman, it is refreshing to see the modest styles of the dishdashas and abayas and the obvious pride in their heritage. No longer do I see pants hovering around some guy's butt-cheeks or tattoos and the tops of thongs peeking out from low slung pants on women. And I also don't have to sit in a restaurant and watch some couple making out.  Living in a country where things are mostly conservative is really a very nice thing.


Stephanie said...

The conservative dress is nice on some levels. I have no problem with my tunics and pants for grocery shopping or restaurants. I appreciate it for the sun protection, that's for sure. But being a woman who likes to go running, and with the weather being so warm, the unspoken dress code here is becoming a problem for me.

Debi said...

I agree and I would feel the same if I were forced to conform to a regional dress code. Fortunately, living here in Oman, that isn't an issue. My friend is headed to Riyadh next summer and she will have to wear her abaya whenever she is outside the compound.