Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heat, Humidity and the Traveling Pants

Freshly washed, softened and ironed jeans ready for San Salvador.

Growing up in America, I'm predisposed to one particular item of clothing: shorts. In what I can only surmise is one of the greatest sartorial passions that our nation has produced (along with t-shirts), a pair of shorts is both comfortable and an expression of freedom.

The problem is that when you wear shorts in most countries outside of North America, you're instantly pegged as a tourist, and perhaps as "one of those people we don't want to associate with."

Travel to most any country in the world, wear shorts and the locals will think you're an "American" or worse: "Australian" - and God Forbid they might think you're English (especially if you're in Eastern Spain). Beyond the general disdain you'll feel in these nations, you'll also become a beacon for any and every kind of hawker, con artist and hustler that preys on unsuspecting tourists.

The one universal that seems to placate most every society is surprisingly another of America's great contributions to sartorial desires: the denim jean. Jeans are ubiquitous throughout the world. They're always in fashion and can even be worn to fancy restaurants (if you're part of the right crowd). Some countries demand that you iron and press your jeans with sharp creases (that's how they tell you apart in the Philippines) and you'll be chastised by your friends if your jeans are wrinkly.

The difficult part, for an American like myself, is that these tend to be nations where the weather seldom drops below 75F. Regardless of temperature, humidity or general weather conditions, these people believe it to be de rigueur to wear jeans (or long trousers) at all times. Shorts are to be left to those less than desirable types: poor urban youth or tourists.

So whether I find myself in Central America, Africa, South America, SouthEast Asia or whatever country that finds it necessary to hit me with 90 degree weather and 100% humidity, I'm resigned to going with the locals and donning my jeans to try to fit in with the local culture. Lest I desire to be marked as a tourist and meet all sorts of tomfoolery up and including kidnapping, ransom and extortion.

Of course, no matter how I may try to blend in, there's always something else that gives me away as a foreigner: fabric softener. But that's a tale for another day...

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