Friday, January 24, 2014
the poor you will always have with you
"Why do rich Canadians dress like poor people?"
It was a question that puzzled my favorite waiter Armando. I could not avoid the fact that he was staring at my clothes when he asked the question.
He meant "northerners." To a lot of Mexicans in Melaque, all foreigners are Canadians. And the odds, at 9 to 1, are in his favor.
I was just as puzzled, though. "What do you mean?"
"Look around. They all look like refugees. And what's with those shorts on old men? They look like giant diapers."
"Giant diapers." Great phrase. I told him I was going to steal it.
But the billowing drawers were just part of the tourist fashion scene. Battered sandals. Holey "wife-beaters." Thin blouses that do nothing to disguise a life of emptied bread baskets.
Until Armando called my attention to the attire of my fellow foreigners, I had not noticed them. Probably, because casual wear has simply become emblematic of northern culture.
Law offices look like country club locker rooms. Male celebrities show up at events attired in what looks like the Homeless Couture collection at K-Mart. And people shop at Safeway in outfits just this side of Lady Godiva -- or Lady Gaga, if there is any difference.
I reminded Armando that this is a beach town. A beach town with incredibly hot weather. We should probably be thankful that foreigners wear as much as they do. The alternative would put the kibosh on the restaurant trade.
My argument was immediately undercut when a 70ish guy walked by without a shirt -- reflecting enough glare off of his white skin that several NSA satellites were momentarily blinded.
Of course, Armando and I were looking through completely different cultural eyes. Mexicans do not believe the simple fact of being at the beach gives you license to dress -- well, let's be polite and call it "casually."
The restaurant where he works was filled with an equal number of Mexicans and foreigners. The Mexican men were dressed in long pants and polo shirts; the women in stylish dresses. They looked as if they had just stepped out of a L.L. Bean catalog.
My fellow foreigners? Well, I already told you.
And that is the difference in culture. Canadians and Americans feel no social qualm about heading to dinner in the same clothes they wear to clean up their garden.
Mexicans dress as northerners dressed about fifty years ago. Form matters a lot. Just ask my mother. She would man the Mexican ramparts on this issue.
Is there a correct answer here? Not one that matters. Or, at least, not one that is going to happen anytime soon. Foreigners will continue to dress as they choose, and Mexicans will continue to look at us as if we are indulged children.
And that is OK. Life is a bit too good here to be worrying about being pulled over by the fashion police.
My answer to Armando? We dress like poor people because we are a free people who enjoy our freedom.
I knew I could weave a thread of libertarianism in there somewhere.