Friday, August 31, 2007

Am I Muttawa?

I like freedom. Oman may not be the world leader in freedom for the people, but I appreciate what freedoms we have here. Granted, that even if the government doesn't dictate all your freedoms, then your company, your family, or your friends may fill that gap through rules, guilt, and mockery. Anyway, I digress....

Take, for example, the freedom to wear pretty much anything we want. We have the freedom to wear bikini's to the swimming pool and hotel beaches. German tourists have the freedom to wear string bikinis and budgie smugglers to the public beach in qurum, where the guy hanging out then have the freedom to laugh at them. Women have the freedom to wear the hijab, or not. Men have the freedom to wear national dress or not, as they see fit. Fashion-wise we are a pretty free bunch of folks, and I think that's a great thing. I certainly don't want to see a bunch of acne scarred, short-dishdasha wearing, camel stick wielding, scraggly bearded government nut-jobs dictating my attire or questioning the company I keep.

Which is why the experience I had yesterday leaves me feelingrsomewhat conflicted. Maybe you guys could be kind enough to advise?

We were shopping at Sultan Center and in behind us walked a youngish couple of white folks. She was wearing daisy duke denim shorts so short that you could see the bottom of her butt cheeks hanging out from them, and a tight white tank top with sparkles across the tits. Attire that would be trashy in the US or Britain, and that is entirely inappropriate here in the Oman at a grocery store. Half an hour or so later we are riding down the escalator in the store, and I look down into the frozen foods section to see if our trolley is where we left it, and the couple is kissing. Like full on embrace, tongues intertwined, his right hand squeezing her left butt cheek. I know I should have looked away, but it was unreal. Right there next to the frozen beans, their image reflected in the polished front of the ice cream display.

That was the last I saw of the couple, we paid for our groceries and left. I pondered saying something to them, but didn't. Should I have;

  1. politely mentioned that their attire and behavior might be found offensive.
  2. Told them that when they do things like that it brings the freedom we have to wear what we want one step closer to extinction.
  3. Told them that as someone married to a white guy, they make his whole culture look stupid, uninformed, and insensitive.
  4. none of the above, you are a busy body. Who appointed you the Muscat Muttawa? If you don't wanna see that, don't look.
  5. none of the above you should have done / said _______________________
  6. Hey Suburban, freedom is freedom. TO even speak to them is the thin end of the wedge. Posting here is the thin end of the wedge, etc?

Let me know what you think here kids... I'm conflicted on this one.


Arabian Princess said...

If I were you, I would do the same .. wouldnt say anything to them ...
the problem is that there is Middle line .. wether you allow it, or not .. and I would hate it if there was someone dictating what should or shouldnt we wear ..

I strongly beleive in the society .. society correct itself .. the couple might be new to Oman .. slowly they would adopt to the enviroment and would find it weird to kiss in public ..

Luisa aka Balqis said...

When I started to visit Oman 6 years ago, it was not like this.
Now I see more uncovered skin than before and I dnt like it, is disrespectful .
But what you do, start a fight in public ? That's even worse maybe .

Sythe said...

I'm white... I wouldnt say that short-shorts and a tight top are "trashy" in the UK or in the USA, and I can say that because I've lived in both countries.

But those people, just like myself and my wife, are guests of this country and should know better - it's rude and incensitive. A solution would be an informative campaign about appropriate dress & behaviour that is in the form of a leaflet or something that is given to every visitor of the country, arriving by land or air - that way no one can claim "they didnt know" and then the police, or incensed people such as yourselves can have something to point to and say something.

However, you see, that kind of behaviour isnt neccessarily "trashy" in Western culture - and anywhere where there are a mix of cultures, you will see problems like this. I suspect this couple you speak of were young and foolish, too wrapped up in themselves to even comprehend that they are incensing other people.... and like the arabian princess says... probably new to Oman.

A good old "death-stare" is often all thats needed to make the point anyway ;)

Luisa aka Balqis said...

But is not against the law .
I asked : apparently there was a decree couple of years ago which makes it allowed [kissing or wearing short stuff], is called private freedom or something similar [and anyway one can find also worse if goes on the beach at night ...], so is not even possible to complain to police .

Is not matter of being trashy, is out of context : actually is more than two years I don't visit my country but inshallah I go there, I will find it ok, in line with the culture .
Here [and am not bigot or strictly religious] it just feels strange.

Anonymous said...

A tough one Suburban. I guess you could politely ask them if they knew what they were doing and how this would be seen by people here? I like the idea from sythe on an info thing when you arrive at the airport. Thank goodness it wasn't Ramadan...

Personally I'm all for the culture accepting more the public display of very short shorts and tight tank tops, being both a non-muslim and a bit of an old perve [subject to certain asthetic standards naturally], but I can appreciate the way it pisses off others, if not for the actually offensive [to them] sight itself but more the message of complete ignorance or total disrespect it shouts out.

And in this sense, it does encourage those [few] 'Omani Taliban' who would generalise such incidents and use it as an excuse to control everybody in many many ways.

I can sense your conflict.


Abdullah Ali said...

I also believe in freedom. I don't think that there should be a law in this...HOWEVER, there are certain amounts of respect to other's cultures when visting their country that you should know about.

This is vey inappropriate here in Oman in the public eye and they should know that. They should have anough common sence to know this when being in a muslim country.

Well, this is how it's supposed to be but if I were in your place, I would have probebly laughed and told them to get a room (that's just me).

Luisa aka Balqis said...


next time just ask the lady where she bought her night dress cause your hubby wants one for you
If she's smart enough she will understand :P

Twister said...

I'm speechless...:o

Anonymous said...

Thanks For the input ladies and gents. It's really interesting to see where others stand on this.

I should add that I wouldn't have been bothered by the same incedent if it had happened in one of the bars here, or on a private or hotel beach where i think different norms should, and do, apply.

A.P.- Agreed, it's about the middle line.

Balqis- thanks for all your comments. Hope you feel better soon.

Scythe- that's an excellent Idea to offer pamphlets at the airports. I stand by thier attire and behavior being trashy by western standards. They were in the grocery store, as opposed to a bbq in the park, or a weekend at NASCAR.

JP- you hit the nail on the head with regard to the "Omani Taliban" who are seeking any excuse to shift oman towards a more Saudi / Iran type of place. You can see limited sucess on that front in muscat just by counting how many professional women wear they Abaya now, compared to the early / mid eighties.

A-M- THat was what amazed me... was the brazen-ness of it. I have a very difficult time fathoming that anyone with access to a trans-continental flight wouldn't be aware of the prevailing social norms in a muslim country.

after giving the matter lots more time and thought than it deserves... I'm glad I didn't say anything to the couple. I think it's a pretty short road from me or the authourities telling them that her shorts are too short or that french kissing is not allowed in public, to someone telling me I have to cover my hair, my abaya is indecent, or I can't hold my husband's hand in public.

In this case, and many others, I think that freedom is absolute, even if not everyone uses it responsibly.

Anonymous said...

I have trouble deciding whether it is acceptable or not without photos of the act and perpetrators of the said act.



Anonymous said...

As a Westerner living here, I find the conduct of some other foreigners pretty astonishing - but that's far beyond what I've seen. I'm all for sidling up and murmuring "get a room!"..., although a sharp stare and an only slightly under-the-breath "really!" can have the same effect, more indirectly. Perhaps we'll luck out and the parties involved will read this thread (and take heed)!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I believe that there should be action against such people. Even though there has been a decree that allows such action, it's something that shouldn't be done in order to respect the people around. The couple was living in Oman, a country in the Middle East that is predominantly Islamic. Whenever a person comes to a country other than his own he/she have a responsibility to embrace the culture and customs. They also need to realise that any bad behaviour that they might do that does not concur with the customs as in this case is an Islamic country might cause people to look at them in a bad way. This leads to stereotypes and it's not at all true as I know friends (men and women) who have lived their entire life in Oman and have dressed respectfully in public. This young couple needs to get their act straight and understand their actions have reverberations and realise in negative vibes and in stereotypes.

PID- 40556132

Anonymous said...

I agree we should respect the culture of the country wherever we are .
But at the same time we should also we a bit tolerent. As whatever dress we wear depends on the climate and on our comfort.gradually it becomes habit.And if we don't wear the clothes generaly we wear we feel uncomfortable.
The world is changig . Let's respect on another other and to some extent their freedom too.

Unknown said...