Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Culture Lesson 101: Appropriate Dress

I realized something had changed this morning when I went outside to collect water from the sima vai (the container that holds the rain water) wearing shorts and I felt super uncomfortable. I have now been conditioned to feel guilty exposing my shoulders or my knees to the outside world. Pants? Nope. No pants, either. I thought it might be fun to do a comparison game - what's appropriate in America vs. what's appropriate in Tonga. You in? Here we go.

Situation #1: To work.

America: When I taught in America, it was perfectly acceptable to wear pants and close-toed shoes.

Tonga: Now I wear a long skirt (something that covers my knees and my calves), flip flops, a dress shirt and my kiekie (grass belt).

Situation #2: To a funeral.

America: Black really is optional when attending an American funeral. Some people even request bright colors to celebrate the life of the person.

Tonga: Black. All black. And don't just wear black on the day of the funeral (which is sometimes 6-10 hours long). You must wear black all week long and upwards of a year if you're closely related to the person who has passed. You must also wear a taovala (a large grass mat). The mat increases in size based on your closeness to the deceased.

Situation #3: To the beach.
America: Bikini, speedo, swim trucks, whatever. Just make sure to bring a towel to dry off when you're done.
Tonga: Women must wear shorts that cover their knees and a t-shirt that covers their shoulders. You can imagine my tanlines as we are approaching the summer season.

There are many other situations where differences occur in terms of clothing. These are just 3 that I've noticed in the last 2 weeks. We've had 3 funerals in our village since last Sunday ('Ofa is only 450 people big).

1 comment:

  1. I don't know that I would be able to survive in an area where I couldn't wear clothing that allowed me to cool off as I get really hot, really fast. But, that's me. And I suppose there are ways around it. Southern women learned to deal with it without AC and those ungodly long dresses and layers.