Few of us have bodyfat percentages in the low single digits, ripped abs, and toned glutes that look even better in spandex than they do naked. So believe me when I say this entry isn’t intended to poke fun at someone who is a bit flabby in the nether regions. It is about something that is wrong, something I saw as I was walking down the street Sunday morning. Wrong in terms of “that’s not how a foreigner should be dressing in Bangkok.”
As I was walking from the Skytrain station towards Sukhumvit Soi 2, a farang (westerner) woman went zipping by me on a microscooter – you know, one of those skateboard-like vehicles with a tall handle. My first thought was, oh, what an interesting way to get around. When I noticed what she was wearing I quickly reached for my camera. It’s a bit hard to see the scooter as she’s blocking it, but I think this picture tells the story pretty fully:
What’s wrong here? As evidenced by the glances the woman is getting from the Thai women, what’s she’s wearing isn’t really… street-appropriate, shall we say. Unless you are a street walker, which I assume she’s not. Much too sheer and revealing for running out and about on a Sunday morning in Bangkok. Even if she was on the way to the gym (she stopped at the Starbucks around the corner, if you must know), some cover-up is called for. This isn’t the type of culture that goes for bare shoulders and revealing, tight-fitting outfits.
She shouldn’t be wearing spandex like that, period… it does nothing for her figure! But I assume that the cultural factor makes this even more of a faux pas – sounds like Bangkok is a lot more conservative than the US?
Yikes!If she’s on the way to exercise, why not just jog there?
same with taiwan it seems (and they never wear flip-flops unless theyre super ghetto!).. when someone wears something slightly more revealing, they’re either insane or american-born XD
Ugh – do you know anything about appropriate dress in Singapore. Will be there in January and can’t find much on Net (hard to believe)
I wonder sometimes why people dress the way they do. Your photo is a good example. I would be willing to bet she believes she is very attractive. She must be using the mirror that some of the women on the beach in bikinis does. Certainly a sure cure for lust!!!!!
I don’t know…I really think people should able to feel comfortable no matter what they wear.There shouldn’t be any judgment on how appropriate what a person wears. No offense, but I think it’s quite sexist to demand someone to wear something appropriate.I know it’s important to blend into the culture norm just so you don’t offend the host culture, but sometimes judgments that are inappropriate is just inappropriate.Well, the more I think about this the more contradicting feelings I have in my head.On one hand, I want everyone to be able to be who they are and wear what they want. On the other hand, it’s very egocentric to demand people be comfortable with you.
I have to agree – when in Rome… she should wear more appropriate clothing out of respect for the culture and people. If she wants to wear that get up in private fine… but I wouldn’t be caught dead in spandex like that!
As if we need another skimpy clothed farang woman running around in the streets, showing off her body parts (and offending the locals), I think she may feel more at home in Khao San Road?
@Wangium – I agree with you on both of your points. While I do think it’s important not to offend the sensibilities of the “host” culture, I think her style of dress is innocuous and people everywhere would do well to chill out. It begs the question: why are their sensibilities so easily offended? Isn’t saying that she should dress more conservatively only a few steps away from saying she should wear a niqab?Also [not directed at Wangium], so what if she has a few extra pounds? Good for her for feeling confident enough to wear that (I know I wouldn’t). Not that I know anything about fashion, but I like her outfit better than those oversized contrast-color polos the other girls are wearing.My views are certainly biased — I spent 4 years in Berkeley, where she could’ve walked down the street topless (or wrapped in filthy rags) with hardly any commotion… (On that note, why is it “indecent” for women to go topless? That’s totally a double standard and a relic of more prudish times.)
Thanks for your comments, guys. Some thoughts in response:@Senlin – Regarding the weight issue, my comment decidedly isn’t about her weight. Note the introductory paragraph in which I attempted to explain that.@Senlin – @Wangium – People should feel comfortable wearing whatever they want. But this isn’t about people feeling comfortable with themselves, it is about people respecting the norms of the culture they are visiting. While we might look at the outfit and deem it “innocuous”, that’s only by virtue of the perspective of our own cultural norms. It Thailand, her outfit isn’t appropriate street wear. To confirm my suspicions, I checked with several locals and asked their initial impressions.Regarding the sexist charge, Jason, I write about male farangs the same way. See this April 2010 entry. This isn’t about the sex of the person, it is about the way they are dressed, both men and women.
@Umnenga – From what I understand, Singapore isn’t as conservative from the standpoint that they realize their weather is tropical, so I see lots of people running around in shorts in public. That said, covered shoulders seems to be a good rule anywhere, except if at the pool or right on the beach.@Passionflwr86 – It is a more conservative society, yes. I notice that Thai women generally dress with their shoulders covered and their clothes, while attractive, are modest. Adult men don’t wear shorts around in public, preferring slacks instead. Part of that dovetails with the preference for fair skin, so they cover up to avoid exposure to the sun.@yang1815 – That was the first questions that came to my mind.@iskrak – Interesting how you can look at people and figure out where they are from. I was noticing that Continental European tourists often look and dress differently than the Aussies, British, Canadians, and Americans.@Fatcat723 – Well, in my mind it isn’t so much about attractiveness, because that’s in the eye of the beholder. But a bit too much for the public sidewalks.@murisopsis – I bought a pair of bicycle shorts once that were kind of similar. Very comfortable to ride in, but I always pulled a pair of cargo shorts on top because – well, the world just doesn’t need to see that much detail about my derriere.@CurryPuffy – Maybe she got lost. Although she was homing in on that Starbucks like she knew where she was going. Anyhow, I worry that maybe she’ll read this and feel bad… or track me down and bonk me over the head with the scooter.
@christao408 – @Senlin – I am just saying that universally, this notion of how people should “dress appropriately” is just not right.The popular notion can dictate what everyone can or cannot do, whether it is a tradition or not, is just a bit insane to me.People need to chill out a bit, like what Senlin said.So coming back down to earth, I do understand that a person who is obviously not indigenous to the culture/ethnicity there should respect the host culture, since that person may be viewed as a representative from the foreign culture.
@Wangium – Yes, that’s exactly what I thought too. Muslim women in the U.S. wear their headscarves; Indian women their saris; Sikh men their turbans and Jewish men their yarmulkes, and (ideally) none of us are offended or gawk too much. We don’t pressure them to dress the way that’s “appropriate” for American men and women. So (again, ideally) the pictured lady should be free to dress her way and not get gawked at too. Is that an unfair comparison? I dunno, that’s the way I see it. I like how free the U.S. is, fashion-wise (at least in the urban, progressive parts). Mohawks, tattoos, cowboy boots, nose rings, goth makeup — you name it — it’s all fine and dandy.Sure, she could go to Saudi Arabia and they would condemn her… but that shows that Saudi Arabia is a repressive backwater, not that the woman is at fault. With that said, the more gracious thing to do would be to dress more modestly, I suppose, but I think she was probably just oblivious and not actively trying to subvert Thai norms of dressing.
@Wangium – @Senlin – America’s relaxed, “anything goes” lifestyle is one of the most appealing things about it. It is something that several Thai friends tell me they most miss after moving back to Thailand.@Wangium – Not to take the conversation too far into the woods, but isn’t “the popular notion can dictate what everyone can or cannot do…” the very definition of culture and society? Those shared notions of what is appropriate and what isn’t are what keep people generally acting civil towards each other, aren’t they?
@Senlin – Exactly, although I am not really saying that wearing one thing or another is a bad thing. If women feel like they want to wear saris or whatever and they feel comfortable with it, by all means. If they wanted to parade around naked, it’s all good. They should not be made to feel bad about what they wear or don’t wear.@christao408 – What you are talking about ties into quite a few things at once. The ones I can name are morals and values of a society that directs how people should get along for a society of people to survive. However, there are aspects that stem from that culture for their survival that was necessary for their survival or for the society to be congruent that may no longer be valid. However, it stays because people resist change. (wow, this talk is getting really far away from what it was…)I believe there is a need for culture for people to survive and advance, but things do change. Our environments change all the time, and our thoughts change all the time; however, people are very resistant to change–change of ideas, change of values, change in wealth, just to name a few; therefore, most culture values stay with us. I’ll name one thing we are most familiar with: homosexuality is a sin. It’s probably important for people back then, when population is small, and reproduction is crucial.We know now that it’s not right, but it’s necessary back then, but most people don’t care and don’t want to challenge their own beliefs so we are at a standstill. There are only less than 10% of us who are gay, and there are probably even less percentage who are willing to speak out and make a change.If we still allow popular notion to rule us, then nothing we are speaking out for is right.This is what I mean when I say how weird the world is.
I’m not a fan of people who aren’t considerate enough to consult local cultures on things like that, but honestly, I’m really distracted by the choice of apparel for it’s sheer ugliness. Oh God. Never mind not wearing that in Thailand, that clothing item should be branded as a contraband! (Yes, I’m not a fan of spandex, even on supermodels.)
I’m pretty sure it’s ok in china. If I saw her on the street in China, I’d think she was sexy.
@Wangium – Yes, the conversation has really mushroomed. I think we’re pretty much in agreement. What I was trying to convey isn’t that people should feel offended if someone does something against their cultural norms (or against someone else’s cultural norms) – I’m in favor of chilling out and could even be sold on the nudity – but I think people should also make the effort to respect the norms of another culture they are visiting or living in. The norms change over time and some of the norms may be widely perceived as discriminatory/backwards/prudish. That begs the question, though, of who is responsible for changing those norms? As a visitor to a country, I don’t think it is my job to interfere (too much watching Star Trek as a child?) but rather think it is the right and privilege of locals to define and, if necessary, evolve their norms.@Senlin – Anyhow, I’m sure this would be a much more fascinating conversation in real time, especially if we were enjoying it over a bowl of Senlin’s cooking. Ha ha..
@foggysunnymorning – And that’s where it gets interesting, how different countries and cultures perceive different things in different ways.@AzureRecollections – Yeah, I think it wouldn’t win any wards on “Project Runway”. LOL
You know, someone needs to tell these people that discretion really IS the better part of valor.
I’ve heard that the people call us the land of fat people and I am going to Weight Watchers the first tues of Oct. to try to get my BMI down!!!!! myself. how have you been ? I’ve seen you around but haven’t visited for awhile.
There was another thing that is going on in my mind while I was typing up the reply. At what point does a visitor stops being a visitor? I would consider you part of that place, since you have family, real estate, and a career there.I think some values are quite intrinsic and simple.Let’s stay on the topic of this discussion.If we ask everyone that if we could live in a place where there is no judgment based on your looks, weight, age, how you dress, and any other physical attributes, would you like that?Most people would say it’s a great place to live, right?So what’s with this judgment on how that person dresses or how much she weighs if people thought the non-judgmental world is so wonderful?It’s so simple, but somehow the ideas are like parallel lines that never crosses.I know this value is better, so why not go with that value?Why let culture and tradition control what ultimately will make people happier?What is the fear?
I applaud your take on this issue Chris. If some one came to my home dressed in an unconventional way, I would be upset. I probably would never invite that person. There is certain amount of respect and class that visitors should show to the host ( country ). Not being judgemental at all, but these are my thoughts, and whatever any one says, my values are are always respected where ever I go.
@Wangium – Your point, Jason, if I understand you correctly, is that we say we want a world where we aren’t judged on superficialities. And if that’s the case, why are we judging other people on superficial things? Is that a correct understanding? It seems hypocritical to think one thing and act the other, right?You’re right. At some point in this conversation, I just sigh and ask, why am I even wasting any energy when, at the heart of it, I don’t give a flip what anyone is wearing? Shirtless Aussies at a girly bar and a spandex-clad woman on a scooter don’t affect me directly.I’m not sure that everyone thinks that a world where there is no judgment and no expectations about right and wrong would be ideal. As much as I joked in a previous comment about not minding nudity, for example, actually I do prefer that we have a cultural norm that people should wear clothes in public places. That’s a judgment I can live with.On your second point, I’m not sure if “judgment” is the right word. Judgement can be a negative thing. Some of the comments on this post, about the woman’s weight or the attractiveness of the outfit, are a bit catty and really are “judgments” in that regards. I draw a distinction, though, between making a value judgment about someone (“ugly”, “fat”, “jerk”, etc.) and evaluating their behavior as a guest. Why do I think it is appropriate for me to evaluate and comment on the guest’s behavior and style of dress? First, Thais are generally too polite to correct visitors on their lack of decorum. I’d like everyone who visits to experience the wonderful aspects of Thailand and the Thai culture, and they are more likely to if they behave and dress as a polite guest.Second, foreigners as a group are judged based on the behavior of members of that group. Since I live here, I have to deal with the effects of those judgments. The better behaved and more politely dressed farang are in general, the better my initial interactions are with Thais, especially those here in Bangkok who get jaded by their interactions with impolite visitors.Anyhow, those are my thoughts. We should do this in real-time – it would be an easier conversation to have.Oh, side thought: If we want a world in which their are no judgments, does that include positive ones? In addition to not saying, “oh, he’s fat” do I also refrain from saying, “oh, he’s cute”?
Daoism is all about the positive and negative. It does not necessarily mean + or -, however, the ying and yang actually represents absence and presence, respectively. There is one verse that talks about how when there is a presence of what we think is good, inevitably there will be thoughts on what is not as good. Eventually the idea will accumulate and thoughts about what is not good becomes a bad thing.So, even though it’s a good intention saying “Oh, he’s cute”, but eventually those who hear it less or not at all will start feeling like they are not.Back to the topic:I am more inclined to choose to do things the way you do, if I were in your shoes. I would probably feel the same way you do about the foreigners (btw, is farang a derogatory term?), since I would be staying in Thailand in the end and have to deal with all the biased view, whether good or bad, left behind by the local’s impression of the tourists.I certainly think it’s very empathic and considerate the way you choose to handle the situation. I am just saying, it just feels wrong that everyone seemed to have this idea of how people should dress or look like.
@Wangium – At the end of the day, finding comfort in the cooling depths of the Tao, I would also like to be at the place where we lose the idea of “should” and “should not”. I’ll have to work on cultivating that mindset in my own world.As for “farang”, it doesn’t really carry much stigma although there are a few folks out there (all farang) who seem to think it does.To an earlier point you made, Thais generally don’t see someone who lives here for however long as being one of them. I’ve met many people who are married to Thais, have children, speak Thai truly fluently, and they share many experiences of still being viewed as an outsider. Recently, one gov’t minister or another stated that there were probably less than a dozen non-Thais in the country who really understood the language, and none who fully understood the culture.Can you say “uphill battle”? =)
@marc11864 – Valor and a whole host of other virtues!@ZSA_MD – I have no doubt that wherever you go, good manners follow!@Babyboomerjill – I keep trying to lose weight and the best I seem to do is to keep it from going any higher. Maybe there’s a point where I need to revise my definition of “success” as simply not losing any more ground! Ha ha…
oh my…*gag* lol.
but yes, there are certain ways that should be observed.
Ick!! I can remember being in Rome and being absolutely appalled by the horrible rude, obnoxious behavior of some of my fellow citizens. Felt like apologizing for them and saying “Please don’t judge me based on this (expletive delted). We are not all assholes.”
@christao408 – you look skinny in your photos but I know what you mean-it’s best to have the lowest % of fat you can and one heart dr. I knew always looked ill but he was a specialist and said that was what we all should look like. We nurses wanted to fatten him up.now that I’m retired I eat too much but then when I worked I would eat out more -might be middle age,too or old ageI’m the one who has a brother in Ca. who goes to Asia alot. He lives in Ca. and the town is called Chino Hills which means China Hills
bully on her for being an individual and shame on everyone else for judging
@AppsScraps – Where do you draw that line? If she gestures at something with her foot, which is considered rude here, is that okay? What if she points her feet directly at a statue of the Buddha, which is a high insult? Individualism is wonderful. At what point do you think that individualism should be tempered to cultural norms and values in a country a person is visiting?