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Culture Shock Oman: Modesty in the LR

By       Message Kevin Anthony Stoda     Permalink
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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.

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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 Salalah, Oman.  I do this--not because the incident in itself is all that profound--, but  rather, it is how I responded and began to search for explanation behind the "culture shock" and how I sought to recover from it which are a model for what I suggest you follow when living and working abroad, especially in the Arab world.

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 Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE since 1999.  In addition, I have traveled to other Arab speaking lands--as diverse as Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Lebanon. I should also explain that in most of these countries, I have undertaken my favorite hobby: swimming.  For various health reasons, I have undertaken swimming to relieve stress and to tone muscles.


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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 Kuwait. This is, naturally, because I lived in Kuwait the longest--five whole years.  I swam year round there on the Persian Gulf--either at the sea or in the municipal public indoor/outdoor swimming pool in Salmiya.

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 USA, my homeland.  An individual simply changed from one's  street clothes or swimshorts (and visa versa) in front of one's own locker.  In other words, there was no area for private locker space, e.g. with private doors for individuals to change or dress behind. 

Sadly, most Arab countries do not usually have public swimming pools, like Kuwait had.   This is likely due to the modesty of dress and garb for which much of the Islamic world is renowned.


On public beaches in Oman, the situation is quite similar to that found in Kuwait and other Gulf state Arab countries.  However, the Dhofar region (where I live now) is known a bit more for its conservative and traditional rural lifestyle. Nonetheless,  I, myself, from January through March of this year swam at Haffa Public Beach in Salalah. 

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.

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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 Indian Ocean.

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.

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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