Monday, August 17, 2009

A few words about my shoulders

Here's the evolution. I arrived in the UAE almost 18 months ago armed with a series of sweaters, wraps and T-shirts. I would be culturally aware; sensitive to the religious differences here. I wore them, all through last summer's sweltering summer. If I was going to the gym, I'd put a T-shirt over my workout top. If I was wearing a nice halter dress out for dinner, I'd carry a wrap and put it on while in the street. I looked at the other girls in the malls, in Starbucks, wearing strapless dresses and bikini tops with flimsy halters over them and wondered what they were thinking.

Some time over the last year I became less diligent. Much less diligent. Part of it, I think, was chafing a bit at the way it is here. Why can't I just show my shoulders, I would think. It bred a certain defiance. And so I started to forgo the sweater, the T-shirt, the wrap, more so as the weather heated up. I'd nip to my gym a couple of minutes from my apartment, uncovered. I'd walk to work in a sundress, my sweater tucked into my handbag. I'd go out on a Thursday or Friday night, hailing a cab in a tank top and skirt. I'd notice the stares, but they didn't really bother me. Plus I swear I never have to wait long for a taxi that way. (And when a hoard of men would gawk at me at whatever hotel I got out at, I would just pretend I was famous)

But then one night a couple of weeks ago, I ducked out in the evening for an appointment in a sundress. Just a sundress. I was hot and tired and didn't feel like putting on my sweater, so I didn't.

As I got on the elevator at my destination, a building in the old fish market area, two men turned their backs and faced the rear of the elevator. Fine, I thought. A little bit weird.

I didn't immediately start covering my shoulders. But the memory of them having to turn round for reasons I still can't fully understand weighed heavily. So I am covering them again - mostly. It's pretty much always been the right thing to do, I just forgot that for a little while.


Anonymous said...

It's a sign of respect and of decency.

A man is supposed to lower his gaze if a woman walks by who is indecent as to not have his eyes testify against him on judgement day. Oh he looked at so and so.

As a show of resect, if a woman is decent, as to not invite indecency and "hassad" (Envy) to that woman's beauty

You're lucky. very few men still do. I do, even with my own fiance. She is a very striking girl, and even though she is covered head to toe, she commands respect.

Even at work, when a woman walks into my office, and Im the manager of the branch (in a bank) I lower my gaze till she says hello. It is a part of our customs.

Sometimes we men joke that it would be better to be a woman given our customs of putting them 1st. Their schools are better, they have special lines at public offices, special bank branches, and even at a place of commerce like a bank, the second a woman walks in some men leave the room, and most clear a way for her.

So you stopped dressing decently because others didnt? Lemming. Its sad really.

rosh said...


Shafqat Nawaz Balouch said...

Dear, if you just look English or Ammerican woman fifty years back you got emmazed to know how conservative and shy woman were they are, unfortunaitly you people have never asked your grandmothers or so how they lived.

Julian Si said...

Thank you for sharing your brilliant blog, funny yet informative!

I first found your blog when I was searching for an Etisalat Muroor office on Google, and guess which write-up I found ... I was hooked!

Wishing you a super start to the week, yes I am getting used to working on Sundays, having moved here only 2 months ago.

Malaysian Food Blogger
in Abu Dhabi ... settling in!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am also Canadian and moved to Abu Dhabi in March 2008. I like your blog. I have always dressed very conservatively ( pants, my arms always covered and sunglasses) to avoid getting the attention from men. However, when I got back to Canada I wore shorts, skirts, sundresses again...At the beginning, I was surprised that men in my building avoid getting in the elevator and let me have it all for myself or if they decide to get in, they will keep their eyes down or look somewhere but now I understand that it is a sign of respect and I appreciate it.

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