How to Adapt to Local Customs
In many parts of the Muslim world is it unusual for native women to travel independently (without their families) so I suggest that you acknowledge the need to be sensitive to local customs and manners.
The place of the female in the country you are visiting will depend on the degree to which Muslim Sharia Law operates. For example, in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women do not drive cars and are covered up most of the time, whereas in some North African countries attitudes are more relaxed. In many Muslim countries women’s place in society is conservative and regimented.
Remember, if you blend into the society you will discover so much more about the culture and people of the country.
Aside from the religious and society issues, if you are blonde you might also like to take precautions so as not to warrant increased attention. This is purely because native females will generally be dark-haired: wearing a hat or perhaps dying your hair are measures to lower your profile – your choice.
On a sexual note, you need to be careful not to be misinterpreted. A simple ‘western’ gesture such fixing the gaze of a man and smiling could be seen as a sexual advancement.
Tips on assimilating into the culture
- Carefully research the country you are visiting to understand the appropriate dress and behaviour code, so as not to offend those in your host country. If the country or region adheres strictly to Sharia Law we suggest you are extra vigilant with your research.
- Take the appropriate clothing so that you can ‘cover up’ quickly – that is, hide flesh from your ankles to head. It may be necessary for your head to be covered as well. Loose, light-weight cotton dresses and shawls are generally very useful
- Avoid public displays of affection.
- Research the dress and entry code when visiting mosques: females are likely to have to completely cover up and in some cases will have a separate mosque or section of the mosque for their use.
- Assume you must cover your arms and chest (and don’t wear shorts) where dress codes are conservative
- Avoid eye-contact with men because this will often be taken by them to be a sexual advancement, even if you have no interest whatsoever. This is not your fault, just be aware of it.
- Women travelling alone should try and sit where a group of women are sitting together. If travelling on public transport with a man, the girl should sit in the window seat.
- Women will often be spoken to through their male companion, rather than directly.
- In homes, the women will usually sit and eat separately from the men. Do not try to go and join the men!
- In taxis, women are advised to sit in the back behind the driver.
- You might consider wearing a wedding ring, perhaps if you are going out with your travelling partner but are not married. Females travelling together may find wearing a wedding ring will indicate they are unavailable and this can be a simple method to lower your profile.
I’d love go back!