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Unwanted Advice in Dhofar: It’s a ‘Love Thing’

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This post is the result of an ‘Aha!’ moment I had recently when a wonderful human being (you know who you are) enlightened me with one sentence that suddenly made sense. It all started with me ranting on as usual about people in Dhofar interfering in each others’ business non-stop and continuously bombarding you with unwanted advice.

I’ll give you an example. Recently I was at Carrefour in Salalah in the home section … in the corner where the annoying voice attracts you with ‘Everlock! The solution to all your problems! The suction cup system that holds and holds and holds….’. Yes, that corner.

As I was attempting to choose a few boxes to store my ever-growing pile of papers, notes, musings, and writing… I heard someone approach me. High heels. I stuck my head deeper into the boxes hoping whoever it is walks by without recognizing me. You see, I’m not very social. I don’t like to be out in public particularly in shopping malls or supermarkets unless it’s at 9:00 am on a Friday morning (as Travelallergy so very well knows since we tend to shop at the same time).

Anyway, I wasn’t lucky. The heels stopped two feet away from me and I hear the usual “Nadia? Are you Nadia?”. I look up and see a woman in a burqa (face veil). I smile politely and nod my head. She immediately sticks both her hands out and takes my right hand in both of hers.

Weird Woman: “Nadia?? It’s you? Daughter of X and X? Cousin of X and X?”

Me: “Yes, that’s me. I’m sorry I don’t recognize you. Who are you?”

Weird Woman: “Did you sister get married recently?”

Me: “Uh, yes. Who are you again? Sorry I didn’t get your name…”

Weird Woman “Oh, but she’s younger than you, no?”

Me “Um, yeah”

Weird Woman “You know Nadia, everyone knows that you studied abroad and are independent and everything, but you really shouldn’t see marriage as an obstacle to your life ..”

Me: (by then I’d given up finding out who she was) “Don’t worry. Insha’allah everything will be fine”

Weird Woman “Yes, but you’ve reached an age where you need to start making sacrifices and getting married. You can’t let past experiences or other people’s experiences stop you from getting married”

Me: “Um, ok?”

Weird Woman “Look at your cousin X and sister Y. They rejected the idea of an arranged marriage at first. But look at them now, they’re settled and content”…

Me: “Um, thanks. I’m kind of in a hurry to meet someone in ten minutes, so…”

Weird Woman “Really, you should open your mind to marriage. It’s time. Stop being difficult. The more independent you get, the fewer men you’ll get. It’s not worth it”

Me: “Ok, well thanks. See you around”

I walk away fuming and thinking to myself “who the hell does she think she is? I don’t even know her! she didn’t even give me her name!!! I HATE THIS TOWN”  as I pull out my emergency packet of Dettol wipes (I have OCD and can’t stand the idea of someone holding my hand …I had to disinfect immediately)

If you think that conversation that took place was weird and completely rude, then you’re probably an expat. In Dhofar it’s completely normal. People do it to each other every day … all day. And if you’re an expat living in Salalah they probably do it to you too. (why don’t you wear an abaya? It will make you more beautiful. Why not wear makeup?  Teacher, you should do this or eat this or wear this, etc, etc)

In that past one week alone, I’ve been told to wear the veil, stop driving, become more demure, wear more makeup, wear less makeup, get married, not get married, eat, not eat, lose weight, not lose weight, etc, etc.

It’s insane.

It drives me crazy.

And there’s nothing I can do about it.

Another example, one of my cousins got married to a girl who is slightly darker than he is. The girl is extremely pretty and wears makeup to match her skin color (i.e. not Marylin Manson white please click on that link). At a family lunch, a bunch of women approached the groom’s sisters and proceeded to inform them that they NEED to advise their new sister in law to wear more makeup because it’s shameful to be darker than the groom.

Yes, they had the nerve to approach the family with serious faces with serious advice concerning something that is none of their business.

Here’s three main points one needs to keep in mind before telling a Dhofari to ‘F*** Off’ if they offer unwanted advice:

(1) They really do believe from the bottom of their hearts that they’re doing you a FAVOR.

(2) They give you advice because this society is all about conformity. They want you to be just like them. Take it as a compliment.

(3) When they interfere in your business and ask you personal questions and insist that you answer them, it’s because they’re looking for flaws in your life that they can help make better.

(4) They do it out of love.

Ok, so you’re probably thinking I’ve gone nuts. But I haven’t. Yesterday morning I was sipping coffee with that wonderful person and complaining to them about someone else who keeps offering advice and telling me what I’m doing wrong (everyday, all day). The wonderful person (we’ll call him W.P) chuckled and said “But Nadia, it’s a form of love”.

I stopped for a moment and looked at him blankly. Love? What love? Telling me I need to start wearing the burqa is a form of love? Telling me I’m too liberal and I need to calm down is a form of love? Telling me I shouldn’t be driving is a form of love? Telling me I should make myself whiter is a form of love? What the heck was he talking about?

Then, when I let it sink in for a little bit I realized he may be right. They don’t do it because they’re horrible, nosy and rude people. They do it because it’s their way of expressing caring. When you live differently, they worry about it. It keeps them awake at night. They want everyone to be the same (collectivism at its best). They feel comfortable and secure when everyone around them lives the same way they do. Dhofaris are terrified of change. They want society to remain the same. When someone tries to do something different they stick out like a sore thumb. Society then does its best to correct that by offering advice.

This isn’t an affectionate society. It isn’t a society where people openly express love or their feelings. Hell no. People here express their love in different ways. When someone dies they’ll be the first people at the funeral helping to get things organized. When you get married, they’ll support you. And most of all, they’ll offer advice. On everything and anything.

It drives private people like me CRAZY. But if I look at it from a different perspective, it becomes easier to handle.

So thank you W.P for phrasing it like you did. It’s a form of love.

Oh well.

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