Saturday, July 14, 2007

When Cultures Collide

I've been mulling this post over for a while, even though there's nothing really critical in it. I've just noticed some oddities lately and thought I might share them. As much as we might complain about foreign cultures not assimilating to Western/American culture, you do see signs of it sometimes. These transitory stages of a changing culture can be interesting, even amusing, to observe. In this case, both of my observations relate to Islamic customs regarding women's attire.

As I'm sure you know, many muslim women wear the hijab, the scarf covering most of the head and neck. A while back, I saw a woman wearing the hijab talking as she walked. She was alone, so I assumed she was using a headset to a cell phone. (This in itself has become an oddity. We used to think that people talking to themselves were insane. Now we just assume they're on the phone. Sometimes I think the difference is negligible.)

However, when she came within closer inspection, I realized I'd been wrong. Oh, she was on a cell phone all right. In her case, though, she'd simply slipped the whole thing into her hijab, wrapped so tightly that it held the phone to her ear. I thought to myself, "There's something you don't see every day." Maybe it's just me, but I found it amusing.

My other anecdote could be filed in a similar category as my previous musings on "Christian cleavage."

Universal Studios in Orlando has a section called "City Walk." It's filled with restaurants, many of which become night clubs after hours, so it's not unusual to see a stream of people coming in for late night revelry.

One night, when we were on our way in for dinner, I saw a group of three muslim women also heading in, noticeable for their hijabs. As I understand it, the veil is to be worn for purposes of modesty, which is typically taken a few steps further with burkhas and nikabs (The veil covering all but the eyes). Most muslim women I've seen in America, even if they're not wearing burkhas, will still wear full length clothing all the time (pants, long skirts, long sleeved shirts, etc.).

So, I was somewhat confused by the dress of these women. Yes, they were still wearing long clothing, but it was long clothing made about as sexy as you can make it. The skirts were tight, their shirts and jackets too, and cut low enough to start showing off some skin. They were even wearing high heels, which I'd always been told were to help show off one's posterior. In all, slightly less "modest" than the head scarf might lead you to believe.

Now, I'm making no judgements on these women, nor saying I'd prefer them in that hideous amorphous bundle ubiquitous in Saudi Arabia. As I said before, I find the convergence of American culture, with its "sexy" clothing, and Islamic culture, with the hijab and its expectation of modesty, to be somewhat amusing.

Silly anecdotes, yes, but this blog is all about the silly.


Nicole said...

Maybe you should leave the anecdotes regarding the clothing of women for someone else.
Knowing that you can be a very biased male it's not surprising that you would have a skewed view on the topic.
You already know I am not a fan of the "Christian cleavage" standpoint and this was just another article that made me shake my head at you.
"They were even wearing high heels, which I'd always been told were to help show off one's posterior." WOW, what a claim...whoever has told you that is obviously out of touch.
Maybe you shouldn't urge me to comment on your blog...

Anonymous said...

Ouch. biased male...skewed view. Pretty strong words.
I think what Halbert was getting at wasn't necessarily how they were dressed- that was just a means to an end; the title is, after all, "When Cultures Collide," not "Women Who Dress Too Sexy."
What I got out of the blog posting was that the person wasn't interested so much in the "why" of doing something (in this case, dressing a certain way), but took a more legalistic standpoint. She felt she was supposed to dress a certain way, without thinking through the reasons.
Like, if I said I was on a diet, and instead of following the diet properly, found a way to eat everything I wanted and still technically be on the diet.

Hal said...

Thanks, bear. That was a rather cogent way of putting things. And thanks for coming back to read, I hope you'll stop in to comment more often.