When you grow up in the Middle East or Arab world, one of the primordial things you learn is proper etiquette; from attire details to rehearsed phrases, the decorum panoply is endless! However, when you travel through the western world after having absorbed the myriad of rules and traditions so deeply implemented here, you inevitably experience not only culture shock, but hopefully eye-opening realities: we’re stuck in a bizarre medieval world with dépassé notions of social correctness.
I rarely go to weddings here, they simply exasperate me, visually and intellectually. Once the invitation received, the mayhem begins as invitees barge into all the bridal and evening wear shops the country has to offer, trying to find the sluttiest blindingly sparkling piece of cloth to wear. Once the item chosen, purchased and fitted one size too small, comes the turn of the matching bag and shoes, or stilts in most cases. I’m quite sure men in the area suffer from Napoleon complex with all these ladies looking down on them from their ego-pleasing pedestals. I have a feeling one day there will be a fashion uprising and the male population will start wearing heels again like in the 18th century, and women will only have themselves and Louboutin to blame. And because the gem-studded outfit isn’t eye-catching enough by itself, the invited ladies cover themselves in Swarovski crystals and head to the hair and make up salon. Now here’s my favorite part: here in the Orient, we watch the Rocky Horror Show every day! It may not be the original cast but hey, we have the second best thing; hyperventilating menopausal ladies in form-fitting bodaces and young beauties hidden under layers of ill-matched pore-clogging foundation. Needless to say I always attract attention whenever I do attend these events, as all I put on is a simple black dress and some eyeliner for show.
Funerals, on the other hand, are a strange thing to me. First, everyone wears black, which isn’t a big stretch in my case. Make up should be really subtle or appear to be non-existant; which doesn’t stop everyone from hiring a make up artist to create the invisible masterpiece – yes, we pay to have things not done to us. Jewelry is out of the question unlike the Victorian era’s fashions, and tears are mandatory…the first fifteen minutes. I always get the impression that people see funerals as occasions to meet up and have a cup of coffee lovingly offered by whoever was hired for the job. I once went to a friend’s grandfather’s funeral in France, and him being a veteran of the war, all his living comrades had come in costume for the ceremony and we had all marched towards the dug up grave. It was such a powerful moment. A few heart-warming old songs had been chanted and then we all headed to another location to have a drink and talk. No pretend tears, no overly-rehearsed condolence speeches, just an honest “life goes on” gathering.
There are so many ways to celebrate life, whether its beginning or its end or even the journey in between. It’s amusing how, in an increasingly globalised world, we’ve so skillfully managed to implement the worst in the oriental society.