Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Getting it Wrong

With all my years of living abroad, with all the experience I’ve had keeping my head down, observing, and trying to look and act like the locals, you’d think I’d get it right in my own country, right?


Well, most of the time I get it close enough. Sometimes I am overdressed at the Target or Home Depot. Rarely am I underdressed, but today I was. I looked around the church and I was one of very very few women in short sleeves. Almost every woman was wearing a jacket with either full length sleeves or 3/4 sleeves. Oops, I thought. When you are new, you especially need to try to look like those around you. It must be a calendar thing, not a temperature thing, because the temperatures today are back up in the 80’s; that is not long sleeve weather in my book, but it is in the Southern Lady Book.

One week I wore purple shoes – I love my purple shoes. I realized, too late, that they might go a lot of places, but probably not to our church. Oops.

Florida is particularly hard because there are the long-time Floridians and then those who are more newly arrived. I learned this the last time I lived in Florida, when, thanks be to God, I had an old Florida friend who told me all the inside scoop to help me pass. That was about 20 years ago, though, and some of the information has gotten a little outdated. The first rule, though, is not to look like a tourist. No little sundresses – and if you get a sunburn, you should have T-shirt marks on your arms so people will know you’ve been out fishing or working in the garden. No T-shirts with beachy sayings; T-shirts from the Breast Cancer Run or the Junior League Marketplace are OK.

My big dilemma right now has to do with legwear. I overheard some of the younger women in the locker room at aqua aerobics laughing about ‘old lady’ stockings, and I realized they meant nylon stockings. I haven’t worn them for a long time, except for once or twice in Seattle when I was back in the winter and had to go to funerals, but I don’t know what ladies are wearing in the place of nylon stockings. Nylon stockings in Qatar and Kuwait were pretty much irrelevant; when the temperatures are in the 120’s F, you simply don’t bother, wearing nylons is unthinkable.

You almost can’t even find nylon stockings in Florida, and a lot of the women seem to finesse the matter entirely by wearing pants, or not wearing stockings at all, which you can do in the summer, and of course you can wear pants in the winter, but what do you wear in the winter if you want to wear a skirt? It does get cold in Pensacola, and my legs are going to need some protection.  I have a good supply of colored tights, which I have seen some younger women wearing, but this is one of those times when I feel like I have been gone from my own culture for too long and I am out of touch.

As I looked around the women at church today, I also had the funny idea that almost every woman in that church would do just fine in Qatar or Kuwait, they are covered to the elbow – and beyond – and they are covered to the knee, at the very least, with clothing that is mostly not too tight. Just as wearing long sleeves seems to be more cultural than weather-driven, covering your hair in the Islamic countries is more cultural than religious. Mohammed, the Prophet, told the women to ‘cover their adornments;’ it was the men who decided that hair is an adornment. My Saudi women friends told me that it originally meant ‘cover your breasts’. It’s cultural, not religious.

Still working out what works – and what doesn’t – in Pensacola. Praying that all my ‘oops’ are little ones.

October 25, 2010 - Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Women's Issues


  1. The “Southern Lady Book” would gather dust on my shelf (supposing I had seen the need to purchase it in the first place!) because while I do try not to give offense, I generally dress to please myself. Some days I blend right in, and some days… I don’t. And I don’t care. lol
    I hope you wear purple tights with your purple shoes and a purple hat when you celebrate your next birthday. lol I’m not old enough to wear even a red hat yet…but soon. ;p

    Comment by DaisyMae | October 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. LOL, I had purple tights and also green tights, but they were too bright for me; when I wore them – once – I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West and I never wore them again. I tend to stick with dark colored tights now, black, navy, brown, dk green . . .

    I wear what I want around the house, but there are places where what you wear matters. Church. The symphony. Family gatherings . . . I want to fit in.:-)

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 25, 2010 | Reply

  3. aaw! heart goes out to you! really! cmon, these small things, do they matter much? not for someone like you i would think. like your friend has suggested go on with it, the purples, the pinks, the greens too! 🙂 i wouldnt want you to merge and be lost!! they would take you as you are…not totally flamboyant, yet not the very ‘merging’ type too!! 😉

    Comment by onlooker | October 25, 2010 | Reply

  4. LOL, Onlooker, at my very worst, I am not flamboyant, and at the beginning, when I get somewhere, I try to keep a low profile, to fit in.

    I always think of bringing a new cat into the house. You keep it separate from the other cats who can smell the new cat, and the cats need to get used to the smell before they can accept the new cat. I am the new cat. In small ways, I smell ‘wrong’ or different, and I need to stay small, keep my head down for a while, so they can get to know me first, and then, after a while, if, from time to time, I want to wear my purple shoes, I can do it, because they will know I am not, in essence, flamboyant. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 26, 2010 | Reply

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