#15 Dressing like the locals
This guest post comes to us from a reader named James.
A sure way to win the hearts and minds of your local colleagues is to dress like them. Or how you think they should dress… or how they used to dress before they started dressing like you do back home. By adopting their dress, not only are you showing your affinity with them, you are also respecting their country and culture. No matter that you’re half the height of Sudanese men, that jalabiya doesn’t make you appear small and ridiculous. No matter that you’re twice the size of Vietnamese women, you still look graceful and elegant in that ao dai. And you will be much more likely to blend in. The giggles you hear are the locals’ way of showing appreciation, and the stares are looks of true admiration.
Dressing like a local is a great indication of where you have lived once you’ve left. Who can help but notice the colleague in the canteen in New York, in her stunning salwar kameez? On closer inspection, you notice it’s tastefully complemented by huge wooden zebra earrings and matching necklace, hand-crafted by a Kenyan women’s cooperative; silk slippers made by a Pakistani disabled-persons’ NGO; a Cambodian krama scarf sewn by amputees; and a bag hand-woven by Guatemalan street-children. With one glance, you immediately know every country she has ever worked in, and she didn’t even have to open her mouth! “Oh, you’ve been to Cambodia too?!” you might ask her. The ensuing conversation will immediately enlighten you as to what a kind, good-hearted person she is — a true humanitarian.
So dress like the locals. As many have learnt, it’s the best way to connect with the local population, build lasting friendships, and show real appreciation and respect for the country you’re living in. Once you leave, your appearance proves immediately to everyone that you are a true citizen of the world.
Tip from Shotgun Shack here: If you’re embarrassed to ask the locals how to wear their clothes properly, eHow has some helpful advice on wearing African clothing and headwear, Abayas, the long dress that Muslim women wear and dressing in Asian styles.
It’s also a nice gesture to do some research on local dress if you find upon arrival to a new country that the locals have forgotten how to wear their traditional clothing (See #11 Explaining local culture to locals). For just a few hundred dollars, your church group or NGO can set up a small project to help the locals dress like locals. This helps them reclaim the cultural heritage and traditions that were lost in the past due to colonization.