Arabs don't wear shorts

Back in 1998, before making my first visit to the land from which my great-grandparents had emigrated some 80+ years prior, I sought some last minute advice from a Syrian friend. When we got to the topic of what clothes to bring for the 7 week voyage, he bluntly told me, "Don't bring shorts. Nobody wears shorts in Syria, except maybe kids. You will look foolish if you do so."

So I took his advice. In fact, I got accustomed to not wearing shorts. Actually, since that time, I have basically abandoned shorts. Living in London for 2 years cemented this trend (shorts are less common in Europe as well). I recall another journey to the Middle East, this time in 2003, flying from London to Damascus. At the airport were a number of Syrian families, the males of which were all very Arab in their mannerisms, but very American in their dress: they were all clad in shorts. I found it amusing.

Several months later, during the congressional campaign in 2004, we were planning an event which was likely to attract a number of supporters from the Arab-American community. As we prepared our invitations, my campaign manager said, "You'd better put a suggested dress code on there. We don't want anybody turning up wearing shorts." I laughed. "Arabs don't wear shorts!" I added dismissively. "What are you talking about? I see your dad walking around in shorts all the time!" "That's different," I clarified, thinking back to the Heathrow Airport incident.

Why do I mention this topic? Well, while cleaning out my inbox recently I came across some photos of another Arab friend living in the US, in which he was wearing shorts. I joked with him that his clothing choices indicated that he had become fully American. I then related the story behind my own fashion purge of shorts, inaugurated by my first visit to Syria.

He amused me with his characteristically defiant reply, proudly asserting that he had been wearing shorts in the Middle East for the past twenty years during the hot summer months.

Another mutual friend agreed with me that shorts were a no-no in the region. He recounted a story of wearing shorts on a visit to his home country, and getting some men giving him dirty looks - and smiles!

So, I stand by my original conclusion: Arabs don't wear shorts!