Friday, January 11, 2013

What to Wear: Guide for A Western Woman Married to an Omani

I recently got the following comment from a sweet lady married to an Omani and new to Oman:

Hi, omani princess..
I am very glad I found your blog to guide expats in terms of clothing. I just arrived here few days ago with my omani husband which is my first time as well. Seriously, I am having problems in clothing, none of my western cloth fit in here according to my in-laws, and I was not covering my hair in front of my sister in law's husband which made her really upset even though I did apologize, and my father-in-law just told me yesterday to cover up myself totally. Before we came, my husband promised that Oman is very tolerant, I have my choice to cover or not; somehow, everything turned out differently. My in laws tell me they are really worried that the families will not accept me. Why?? What have I done ? I have cried out my eyes...Please, tell me how did you fit yourself in this place?

And wanted to reply in more than just the space in the comments section.

I too ocasionally have problems fitting in with my Omani inlaws. Where I am from, women and men do not sit together unless the women are wearing abayas and all their hair is covered, and no excess jewelry is on display, and no makeup is allowed. Pretty much ever. Even alot of my preferred abayas (those black robes) are too stylish in cut or decoration to suit my inlaws. They never wear Western clothing, ever. Omani traditional dress (i.e.a long sleeved and floor length floral printed dress with a matching shawl) is all that is suitable for visiting other women, and this without makeup. I also have to avoid wearing my hair too high as to avoid having the appearence of wearing those flower pouf  claw hair clips girls stuff the scarves with to get more volume, as this is considered sinful in my inlaws interpretation of Islam. Also mine too, so no biggie for me, that one at least, not wearing Shambassa aka Gamboo3a, but trying to avoid a bun or top knot? Veeeerrrry difficult for someone who prefers not to spend more than 5 minutes doing her hair in the mornings. Even for weddings, where women are just with women, too much makeup is frowned upon, usually women just wear Omani kohl (eyeliner) and that's it. The dress style never goes shorter than below the knee, and I've never seen anyone's arms but my own, and brides.

It is a little too strict for me, not how I follow Islam (and I am Muslim) and it can be difficult at times. Not just for a Western woman, but for Omani women as well. I have an Omani sister-in-law who has a more difficult time fitting in with our family than I do. Because I like to cover my hair (and even my face) the way the Qu'ran tells Muslim women too, so even if I am too flashy at times for them, they can't say I am doing anything against the hijab. She doesn't like to cover her hair entirely or her chets with her scarf, so they take issue with her being stylish.

Since I am Muslim, and was before I married, I am not your typical Western woman. I love abaya (those black robes) and I just wear cool Western clothing underneath of them. There's no other way to get away with tank tops and shorts in Muscat without stares. I also wear the headscarf so that all of my hair and neck are covered. I love a stylish abaya. I have been known to waste alot of money getting the latest cut in them.

So I am fully covered. If you are Muslim, well, you should do this too (not abaya necessarily, but loose, not see-through clothing and hair and chest covered by a scarf). but if you are not Muslim:

So here is my advice to women married to Omanis:

In Oman, when an Omani woman marries, be into into another tribe, or another region of the country, she is expected to become the same as her husband's family. That means, my neice who is from Sharqiyah, the Eastern region of Oman, where they wear knee length tunic and pants as their traditional dress among other Omani women, is expected to dress in the floor length dresses of her husband's family here in Dakhliyia. If she doesn't, they'll talk about her behind her back, and probably to her face, telling her to change. And this is fully covering Omani women, not to get into anyone not covering. It is about style and fitting in for them. They are culturally bound and prefer to be that way for the most part with a few exceptions [like one of my sister-in-laws].

Culturally, Omanis expect you to dress like you are from the village if you are in the village. If you are in Muscat, you allowed to dress like you are from Muscat. If you are married to an Omani or living in an Omani household, they expect you to dress like an Omani from their family.

Which is, pretty much fully covered. Hair covered, dress loose and all skin covered.

The other dress guide I wrote is for Western Expats living the expatriate life, not those living the Omani life. Sure, Oman is tolerant to outsiders, but Omanis when judging themselves, are not. I constantly have to tell my inlaws that my daughter's nanny, does not have to cover her hair, I don't mind if her dress shows her ankle (she's pretty darn modest anyways) as she's not a Muslim. But if I leave her alone with women from the village, they'll tell her how to dress anyways.

She's a pretty smart cookie, and wants them to like her, so she drapes a scarf on her head and wears the same floral length dresses they wear. When she's with me, or my more modern Muscat Omani friends, she wears Western clothes, or her own traditional dress. And since I don't have a dresscode as an employer [I make an exception for when my mother-in-law visits] anyone she doesn't care what they think of her [like rude Omanis] she dresses as she likes, and I defend her if they complain. I know the Islamic rules for interacting with non-Muslims, and requirements of a Muslim woman's dress better than they do, so I usually win all arguments, but they go away, preferring their culture anyways. They all pretty much require anyone living as an employee in their homes to cover, the exception being, one of our cousins and myself.

Islam doesn't require non-Muslims to cover. Oman doesn't have laws for either non-Muslim or non-Muslims to dress one way or the other. Omanis [in majority] do require though, anyone who is consdiered family or under their protection to do that though, including housemaids, and non-Muslim in laws. They may additionally insist upon one covering like they do in a certain style, and not just simply covering.

I generally do. When in Rome, as they saying goes. I leave my preferred more stylish abayas (still loose but more decorated or colourfully trimmed) abayas for Muscat and wear a boring old comfy one for the mountains in Oman. I wrap my long floral print length shawl like the village women do in the village and forgoe makeup. Which I hate. I often keep my abaya on though, so I don't have to wear the floral floor length dress that I have less love for. I still feel more stylish in abaya.

How do I remain myself and happy? I have a life away from anything I disagree with. I am friends with everyone from the village, but they have their culture and I have mine. I like to visit their culture, and I respect it, but I am not my husband ect... just because I married him.

My advice is, if you care what they think, make the appearence of dressing as they do. If you don't, then do as you like. Sometimes, I wear makeup even though my MIL hates it. I like makeup. I don't care what anybody thinks. My husband likes it too;). And even if he didn't, I'd still do it. Sometimes I just do what I want anyways, regardless of who is around. But most of the time, especially big family occasions, I do my best to be part of the team. Small minds can't be changed in a day.

Part of being married in a cross-cultural marriage is knowing which things about yourself you can give up, i.e. they are not what you enjoy too much to be part of who you are. I have learnt to try to give the appearence of being toned down on occasion, even if that has very little effect on what I feel correct dressing IS in Oman;). But never give up anything that will take away from your belief of right and wrong and true peace and happiness, just for marriage. That's the best advice I can give. I usually give that to girls BEFORE they marry out of their culture though.


I'm Farsilla said...

wow this is very interesting. well i just hope i wont ever face this bcoz i know i can b very rebellious if i get fed up with peopl


Anonymous said...

Like you, I am a western woman married to a Syrian man. We live in Oman.

This lady who wrote to you should do as she pleases, especially since her husband accepted her (style, culture, etc.) and married her. likewise, knowing omani culture itself, his family most likely gave their approval for him to marry her as well - knowing that she is not Omani or even Muslim. It should be a non-issue. She shoudl do what she feels is right for her. She doesn't have to completely change herself. She will find out as time goes along what she feels comfortable with.

She should not be expected or forced into covering because we claim that even Muslim women are NOT forced into wearing hijab.

This lady should decide for herself what she wants to do and what she feels is right. She doesn't want her married life to center around this petty topic. Problems with in-laws are common. My in-laws had a very difficult time accepting my marriage to my husband but now everything is fine. I did not change who I am nor did they change who they are. We simply GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER - beyond clothes, traditions, cultures, etc. and we have learned from each other.

If you give up everything about yourself, you will nto be happy in your marriage, your new family, or your new country. Find the balance & your in laws also need to find the balance with you.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

I am not saying she should be forced, ect... I am just saying, if she cares what her inlaws think, then she should. If she doesn't, especially if they are in the wrong, they'll have to learn to respect her or she'll live without them;).

I am just giving my advice from my own way of being accepted. I haven't changed myself. I am more than my clothes;)

Anonymous said...

ooh no, i didn't think you were saying she should be forced to dress a certain way. your advice was smart and well balanced. i was rather just responding to the lady's words about the pressure she was feeling from them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Syrian anon. & I would add that you try to make & keep an open relation with the inlaws, refrain as best u can from burning the bridge, & try some more, unless its obvios that they have completly rejeted u (then plan ur escape) . IF UR HAVING SERIOUS ISSUES DONT GET PREGNANT (see sweetness of salalah )! Another thing u can do is get a job ($$for u only), acar (financed by Mr. Tolerant, & maybe ur own house ( made clear that it is urs & Mr. Tolerant's only. No group stuff &ofcourse house financed by hubby).

Anonymous said...

I think that she should just cover up for her in laws.She can still dress differently when not around them .I wouldn't expact to go in western clothing to my in laws when i now there muslim.I would respect there costums and culture and dress according.By covering up you will not lose a part of yourself.I dont want to sound mean .But i think that when you choose a certain men that has different believe.You either accept this ore not.And there some things what you perhaps dont like.And its not always easy, but commitment is a hard thing when you disagree with a lot