Last night, I got to karate a bit early, so I sat in the car listening to the radio for a few minutes. A car pulled in to one of the spaces in front of me, and I watched as the people got out. The woman who got out of the driver’s seat was tall and thin, wearing a short, slinky, kind of tango-looking skirt; a spaghetti strap top made of a couple layers of dark, semi-sheer fabric, with a flower print, over one of those bras with the “clear” plastic straps that don’t fool anyone; and purple flower-patterned platform-heeled ankle-tie sandals. I thought she was going into the restaurant next door. Certainly, she looked like she was dressed for some sort of date.
But no, then her husband and three kids, all normally dressed in jeans and t-shirts, walk into the karate school to find out about classes. Into the karate school… full of Muslim mothers who all wear the hijab, waiting for their children to finish class. (The instructor is from Egypt, you see, and that area of town has a lot of immigrant families.)
I winced. I wondered what they would think. I went in and sat down with them to take off my shoes and get ready for class; none of them said anything, of course.
The interesting thing I’ve been thinking about today is why exactly I winced. It wasn’t really because I thought all the mothers would be shocked, I’ve decided. It’s because I felt bad for the woman, for entering a situation of culture shock where she wasn’t expecting one. The first time I went to the school, I was wearing yoga pants and a modest tank top, and I found myself wondering if bare arms were possibly unseemly. I can only imagine how a woman who looked like she was dressed for work at a Japanese hostess bar would have felt.
-posted by Dana