By Kevin Stoda, Dhofar, Oman
Although I have traveled to or lived in more than 100 countries over the past 4 decades, I still run into culture shocks. (This is part-and-parcel of my personal lifelong learning project in any case. In short, I am committed to learning about new places, ways of life and different ways of thinking.) Culture shocks used to take me down--get me depressed for quite some time. However, nowadays, I usually try to take the bull by the horns and turn things around as fast as I can, i.e. chalking such "shocks" all up to experience and to the fact that the planet is filled with thousands of cultures. If we are all going to get along, we have to be tolerant and open to different ways of doing (and thinking about) many things.
I want to share the following anecdote about an experience
in a men's locker rooms at a major international hotel chain, a hotel which is
not far from where I live in
The Arab world is far from being a unified culture. This is something almost any guidebook will note. Such a situation is inevitable when one considers that there are some 22 countries which speak Arabic or Arabic dialects as their primary language of communication. Nonetheless, even though I have lived and worked in Arab countries most of the past 15 years, this diversity within the Arab world is something that I can forget or fail to take into context from time to time.
I need to note that I have worked in
Quite obviously, swimming procedures for females in the Arab world are certainly more proscribed than the procedures for males. In many of the stricter Islamic countries, women must swim fully clothed. Whereas, men can simply wear shorts in most places. On the other hand, bikini shorts are out in most any place for both genders and men often need to cover themselves with at least a robe or t-shirt when leaving the area of the pool or the beach.
Of all the Arab lands I have swum in, the one where I swam
in the most often was
That particular public pool in Salmiya, by the way, had an
enormous men's locker room--where one could both shower and change. Within this
particular locker room, life functioned as would be the case in most public
locker rooms I had grown up in back in the
Sadly, most Arab countries do not usually have public
swimming pools, like
On public beaches in
I would often bicycle 2km from my house wearing a swimsuit, t-shirt, and sandals to the sea. I should note that such behavior (of wearing shorts) is totally acceptable for Westerners living in this tourist city of 150,000. There have been enough foreign visitors, tourists, and workers over many decades to this part of the Dhofar region to create an acceptance for men wearing shorts--even away from the seaside and away from the football pitches.
At the sea, other swimmers, even a few fisherman, and I would take off our shirts and swim in the waves at the Haffa from late October through March. More fully clothed women and children would occasionally swim, too.
Alas, by April each year the waters around Dhofar begin to
get rougher--and starting in late June people are no longer even permitted to swim in
the sea due to safety concerns. This is
due to the rise of Monsoons coming off the
Finally, in late April, after getting beaten by the strong waves one-too-many-times, I decided or chose to become a member at the local Crown Plaza Resort. The offers a health club, pool, tennis and golf. This was the first time in nearly 25 years that I had decided to join a private health club, so I tried to watch what others were doing so as not make any faux pas. Nevertheless, one Friday evening this may, I was blindsided and almost became angry.