Who Wears Short Shorts in the UAE?!
I have an OCD packing routine that I implement about a month to several weeks prior to a trip. I meticulously lay out all of the clothes I intend to pack on my living room sofa, and over the weeks leading up to my trip, I edit my wardrobe selections based on the weather forecast and my itinerary, adding and subtracting from my selections as needed. Did I mention that I’m a bit OCD?
Packing for my recent trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was no different. But at some point during my editing process, I came across several blog posts about the wardrobe rules that women are expected to abide by according to Sharia law which is derived from Islam. When I read that skirts and dresses above the knee along with sleeveless shirts are a no-no in public spaces, I had to remove several outfits from my couch selection and return them to my closet rack. In fact, I had to buy more hot weather shirts that wouldn’t expose my bare shoulders.
While I thought it was a tad ridiculous to have to hide my shoulders in public, I figured, their country, their rules!
Once in Dubai, although I discreetly chewed a piece of gum while riding the metro despite the prominently displayed signs forbidding such an act, I otherwise tried my best to follow the rules: I made sure to periodically check that my skirt wasn’t riding above my knees, I didn’t laugh too loudly during dinner conversations with my husband, and I thwarted his absentminded attempts to hug me or hold my hand in public. I’m by no means a Goody Two-Shoes (doesn’t my gum chewing on the metro prove that I’m a rebel?!), but I tried to follow the rules because I didn’t want any trouble from the authorities and because I wanted to be respectful of the local culture.
So imagine my dismay when I came across a female tourist on the metro confidently wearing a tank top and short shorts.
“WTF!” I thought. “Doesn’t she realize where we are?”
Everyday locals seemed unfazed. But then again, the majority of those on the metro weren’t Emiratis, but expats from all corners of the globe.
During my trip, I ran into other female tourists wearing similar garb: another girl on the metro in shorts (albeit not short shorts) and a sheer shirt, a woman walking down the street in a long form-fitting dress with thigh-high slits, a woman checking into our hotel wearing a sleeveless, flowy short dress. I made a mental note of all of the dress code violators and wondered if they’d face any consequences for ignoring the rules. Perhaps they didn’t know the rules, but ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse – right?
On our way to a desert safari, we met an expat from Canada who lives in Dubai who informed us that of the seven emirates, Dubai is by far the most lenient. He told us that the authorities in Dubai are more likely to turn a blind eye to dress code violations or “mild” signs of public drunkenness that don’t result in rowdiness or public disturbances. Other emirates such as Sharjah, are a lot more rigid with the dress code rules and are more likely to enforce them. That could explain why the female tourists I encountered in Dubai went by unscathed.
But to be clear, most women in Dubai – tourists included – were dressed very conservatively. Many local Muslim women adhered to the custom of wearing an abaya. During our desert safari, I got a chance to try one on, complete with a niqāb, the face veil that covers everything but the eyes. I’m not going to lie – it felt restrictive. And hot. But if I were ever required to wear one when visiting an Islamic country, I’d wear it and wear it well despite the fact that I’m not a Muslim and despite the fact that at home, I enjoy the freedom of being able to wear whatever I want – bare shoulders, exposed face, and even short shorts (if I was into wearing short shorts, that is).
As a traveler, I guess I just get frustrated when I come across other travelers who don’t abide by local customs or who don’t even seem interested in making the effort to find out what local customs dictate. Just like I don’t want to go to Laos and see golden arches on every corner, I also don’t want to go to an Islamic country and see a bunch of westernized women nonchalantly or defiantly sporting short shorts. It shows an insensitive and downright flippant disregard for local customs and an unwillingness to learn to appreciate and be tolerant of other cultures despite the fact that you may be ethically or politically opposed to some of their practices and beliefs.
*Featured Image Credit: Christine Chau, Flickr Creative Commons