Hominy & Hash
BY YOUR SHOES SHALL YE BE KNOWN
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Traveling out of the country raisesquestions best answered in advance of boarding the plane; i.e., what to wearcoming and going and what to pack for the stay.? Good advice to remember is"when in Rome, do as the Romans do."
Of course, that doesn't mean I'd pack a grass skirt for Hawaii orflowing black robes for a trip to the Middle East but I would planappropriate attire for me and for the circumstances. And, so, when I toreinto the package I'd been waiting for I was excited beyond belief to find myname on the airline tickets, an itinerary designed for me, the schedule ofclasses at the Travel Writers' Workshop with my name on the list, well ... Iwas beside myself.
Once I'd settled down, I started to read the information abouthotel, restaurants, currency, etc., and also, "dress code." Good, Ithought. I had wondered if the workshop would be casual or daytime businesswear. I learned late April is unpredictable. I can expect rain and cool.Okay, I'll prepare. "Jeans are fine in the workshop but not at the dinners." (I thinkwe all know that.) "Paris is a city and urban clothing works best nomatter where or when." (Well, that's reasonable.) "White athletic shoesare an American give-away." While I have no intention of packing my Keds, Istarted to get uneasy as I read further:
"Following is an excerpt from Adrien Leeds restaurant guide: "DRESSDress appropriately. We are not suggesting you don your finest suit andSunday best but dressing well is part of the French culture, so use yourgood judgment. I think you'll find that if you're dressed to fit incomfortably with the Parisians, that overall you'll be treated with morerespect."
The advice goes on for a few more paragraphs advising that Parisiansnever wear shorts, not even in hot weather and jeans are clearly for theyoung. A frivolous aside adds "although with a designer blazer jeans can beacceptably French!" Well, ooh la la. My uneasiness as I read is not because I think they are stating theobvious about dressing in an urban setting, it's the suggestion that if Webehave ourselves they won't even know we're there. The final lines informus that Paris has become more casual in the last few years but, even so,"if you don't look like a tourist, you won't be treated like one, and thatcan take you a long way." I can't spell the sound I'm making, "Uh, uh,uh," I'm saying, forcing air from my throat for want of the words thataren't there.
Where I live, two or three seasons of the year are almost reservedfor tourists and the rest of the time spent preparing for them. The trafficgets heavier, their colorful presence and exuberance on bike trails, golfcourses, beaches, restaurants and historic sites makes us smile. They'rerelaxed, they're happy.
I'm not saying I like circling the block three times before findinga parking spot near enough to the shops. And, waiting for a table is nomore fun that it ever is ... but we accommodate our tourists because theykeep the Island flourishing. They're happy, they like it here, and we don'thave to do much more to please them than smile back. In my nine years hereI have never heard one person say, "How can you stand it here?" We havewhat they came for -- no complaints.
Now, look what's happening as I read my preparations for Paris. I'muneasy because I sense the French might not like me. I'm beginning to notlike them because they're prejudging me. They would actually judge me bythe shoes on my feet.
I will not let that poison take hold. Paris will have all I'mgoing for, I keep telling myself. What could I possibly complain about?I'll pack lightly, a little black dress for the cocktail party, leavingbehind two accessories I might otherwise wear, but not in Paris where I'veheard, less is more. And, that's good fashion sense. I will have only threedays to absorb a city centuries in the making. I hope the reputation ofUgly American does not precede me. And, I won't allow innuendo in travelguides prejudice me. I'll get to know some Parisians, we'll get to know and like each other.
How do I know that? Because we'll be one on one. We won't judgeeach other according to what "they" say. If after a reasonable exchange wedo not like each other it will be because of our attitudes, whether highfalutin' or in-your-face rude. I know this because, in my experience,treating everyone with respect takes you further than the shoes you'rewearing.
Still, I'm aware of Richard Reid and his story out of Paris. He'sthe one dressed in traditional Muslim garb, sporting long hair and a beard,paying cash for a one-way ticket to the U.S.., having suspect passport papers,no luggage, but sure-footed and confident-looking in athletic shoes -- lacedwith explosives.
The security people detained him in Paris. They knew whoever he was, hewas not French, not with those athletic shoes on his feet. Imagine, daringto show up at an airport in Paris wearing athletic shoes! That was insultenough to hassle him long enough miss his flight and have to go through thesame security check the next day before being allowed to board Flight 63bound for Miami.
Athletic shoes are such a part of the American image that thosesecurity officers just added a line to our welcoming slogan: "Give me yourtired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and ifthey're wearing athletic shoes, they'll have a leg up.