Anna Roberts is 25 and works in London as an Advertising Account Manager. In this blog she talks about her experience as a woman caught in the western vs. eastern culture clash.
My memories of a recent holiday in an Arabic country included baking hot sun, smoking shisha, eating couscous and being called an ugly goat. Yes, the humble goat. Not particularly an attractive animal and there was no misconstrued language barrier it was definitely meant, and taken, as an insult.
The reason for this insult? My shorts and strappy top attire…I think!
I don’t want to name the country, as I don’t want this story to deter others from visiting a place where the locals were very welcoming to the Westerners storming the country. I knew it was a Muslim area, so I thought it was only right to respect their values (the ones I knew) by covering up whenever I left the resort.
However, the one time I thought it was OK to venture out in my ‘holiday clothes’, I got caught out. I was shopping in the tourist shop next to the resort when I noticed a guy pushing past me a few times in the aisles, muttering something under his breath. As weird as I thought it was, I didn’t take any notice of him until I left the shop and found him chatting away quite happily to my boyfriend. So I, let’s say ‘encouraged’ the boyfriend to walk away.
This guy’s response was to ask my boyfriend if I was his mother (insult number 1) and then called me “ugly like a goat” (insult number 2). We walked away. Talking through the incident later, we realised that actually, he’d also insulted my boyfriend’s mother (insult number 3) and my boyfriend, by suggesting he should have more control over his woman (insult number 4) and perhaps even a further insult to myself as I wasn’t worth been spoken to, only through my boyfriend (insult overload!).
We then reminisced about this incident and another which occurred earlier in the week where I’d been called “sexy” by another local. As a complete opposite type of comment, I still felt offended. This time I felt that because I was a young, Western female, this man had a preconception of what I was like. To put it bluntly: I’m happy to show my body, therefore I must be a whore. A sex object. When I received my “sexy” comment, my boyfriend and I laughed, but my boyfriend wasn’t sure how to react – it’s not exactly right to come onto a girl when her boyfriend is by her side. What’s he meant to do, hand her over for a go?
The difference was that the 1st man was being nasty and was genuinely offended by my appearance. He evidently wasn’t tolerant of a different culture in his country. The 2nd guy probably didn’t realise his comments were offensive and the situation was more like a lack of education in the intentions of a Western girl.
For both of these incidents, I wondered would there have been a difference if I’d had been completely covered up? I wondered if I should keep my mouth shut as it was their country and I knew some of the values and social norms were not my own before I even arrived.
So, why was I still shocked?
I feel like I have a better understanding of other cultures simply by the fact I mix with them daily in England. So surely there should be some cultural compromise in other countries to ensure that both parties are, at least, content? Maybe I had expected too much.
I admit I definitely had preconceptions of the country and the men featured in this story prior to visiting, so my analysis could be completely incorrect.
I haven’t been put off this country but it has definitely left a nasty taste in my mouth and it’s only down to two men’s comments.
Should I avoid cultures who don’t like my hair showing, my Holiday clothes and my love of a sun tan or, is my very presence in other cultures an education both for myself and for the members of that society?