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!


Anonymous said...

George, I agree that Arab men do not wear shorts. But some Arab women do wear shorts. Which is a good thing, most of the time.

Fares said...

George, great topic, I got yelled at in 94 by some relative adults when I went to visit wearing shorts...

I don't know if you know French but this is a good article that I introduced in a new post about Aleppo, it starts in English

Alep, ville de ma famille et mon enfance

Amr T said...

Funny but True...

Growing up it was not the things to do. Today, we made peace with shorts...and wear them...


George Ajjan said...


Yes I do read french, a nice article, thanks for sharing it. I know the Farhat statue from the Jdaida section well, right outside the Maronite Cathedral and the Melkite one, in fact I have a picture of that statue that I took in 1998 on that voyage (unfortunately those were pre-digital camera days, so I'd have to scan it in to share it).

Frankly, despite my origins, I do not enjoy Aleppo as much Damascus. Halab is too طائفي for my tastes.

George Ajjan said...

Amr, yes, I agree, things like shorts have become more acceptable for young people anxious to mimic American fashions and tastes.

As an example, last week I had a chance to see the son of the friend I spoke about in the post, who initially advised me against shorts. His son (visiting the US), who is ready to graduate high school next year, told me that he and his teenage peers in Syria are far more interested in heavy metal and hard rock than Arabic music even!

He also told me that he stays up late watching al-Hurra (the American-sponsored Arabic-language channel on which the US spends $50+ million per year on average).

Why? No, sorry my Republican colleagues, not because the Arab youth have fallen in love with our democracy message, but because al-Hurra offers the best coverage in the Middle East of the NBA!

Shady Zayat said...

hmm... my grandma keeps asking me how the hell I'm ALLOWED into the college with my shorts ... but it's getting more and more accepted as ghouta's turning into desert, and as we don't have Air conditionners at the college yet.

Yazan said...

I know this is supposed to be an amusing fun post, but seriously.. EVERYONE in Syria wears shorts... at least as long as i remember..

The buy stuff with shorts and even that stupid underwear shirt "shayyal" lol


George Ajjan said...

Yazan, you were only 11 years old when I first got the advice, Don't bring shorts. Nobody wears shorts in Syria, except maybe kids.

So it makes sense.

The world has gotten smaller in recent years and trends in fashion, music, etc. spread more quickly than ever before. Therefore no one should be surprised that dress like shorts has become more common.

I think the comments here show the changing mentalities and varying degrees of openness between the older Arab generation and the young people who have grown up heavily influenced by satellite tv and internet.

Nice Syrian girl:) said...

Hey guys, you all wear shorts, it's okay, but did u ever wonder if girls like them?!!
I don't think Arab girls like guys in shorts! Yuck!
It's my opinion anyways!

BTW,Nice blog you have here Mr. George, keep it on!

Nice Syrian girl:) said...

Sorry, I forgot to ask, why are you called Abu Halab?
you've said
جورج عجان الملقب ب أبو حلب!!!

George Ajjan said...

Abu Halab is a long story. You will have to ask the military police at the border of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it was they who gave me the nickname!

By the way, they were not wearing shorts. But they did have moustaches. ;)

Ammar said...

Actually, wearing shorts had its ups and downs. Growing up, it was quite OK to wear shorts, up until 1976 that is. The Summer of 76' was when I suddenly realized, after receiving a hard slap on my long bear legs by someone from a passing Suzuki truck, that wearing short all of the sudden has become a no-no. It was in this Summer as well, that I began noticing the shifting demographic character of Damascus, too many people from rural areas were pouring in, in search of jobs. And Islamism was on the rise to boot. It was only in mid-90s that shorts began making a new appearance on the Damascene scene, at first rather shy, then pretty much nonchalant, young teenage girls and boys blazing the way for all of us. Albeit, I still would not wear shorts in Damascus. But, will I ever see Damascus again?

Amer.b said...

Whats up george....its like we discussed the other night shorts are really for kids my advice is to new comers to syria dont wear shorts.....and as for the guy that says " EVERYONE in Syria wears shorts... at least as long as i remember.." thats not true in my time and im not old im 17 so there u have it the truth hearts (lol)