Monday, September 28, 2009

Tourist! Clothing and Culture

Americans have the honor of being known as the worst dressed tourists in the world. I truly find that perception to be either mythical or fascinatingly frustrating. Then I looked a little deeper and discovered that there is more to it than mere outward appearance. It appears to be a simple case of tourists behaving, or in this case, dressing normally.

In the United States the line has largely blurred between indoor and outdoor attire; tourist money is still green even if your legs and arms have no business being seen. Conversely, Europeans bend to decorum when it comes to what can be worn and where. Here there are few places outside of the White House where shorts are not perfectly acceptable attire during the high summer. Throughout much of Europe the norm is not to wear them in just about any building over 100 years old, which takes care of nearly every museum, cathedral, art gallery and government building that is open to the public.

The “ugly” American kicks in over the personal desire, nay God-given right to be comfortable at all times versus sacrificing even a smidgen for the sake of protocol. Rather than having a humorous story to tell the folks back home about having to wear long pants in 100-degree heat but the museum was worth it, we leave behind hurt feelings and bad impressions on both sides in the wake of a pointless scene over shorts or going sleeveless.

Friends and I were touring Jerusalem and wanted to enter the spiritual sanctuary atop Mt. Olive. I had tried to warn our female companion that her fashionable choice of sleeveless top and mid-thigh shorts were not acceptable. She first accused me of being chauvinist then pitched a high holy fit at the gates when the attendants denied her entry to the site. We went inside while she cooled her heels, fuming about the male dominated culture of the Middle East. Uh…if she had at least read the guide book….

Fashion is a relative term. American and European senses of fashion have long clashed but Americans are probably the ones that treat vacations as a high fashion opportunity, putting clothes shopping way up on the list of things to do before boarding the plane. Here we come dressed to the nines in our studied, designer-label, layered “casual” look, when we’re not strutting around in scoop-necked tees and madras shorts, that is. Did madras shorts catch on anywhere other than the U.S? TOURIST!

“Over dressed, over-sexed and over here!” goes the saying. Save money by taking what’s already in the closet – no one will know or care that it was last year’s. Wear what the locals are wearing, which anywhere in France pretty much means black leather and jeans. And if the entire day is outside, strolling the neighborhoods, enjoying the parks and eating from street vendors, shorts are fine. Otherwise, long pants and long sleeves are appreciated the moment you enter any building other than a 7-11.

Gotta go!

No comments:

Post a Comment