Friday, June 22, 2012

Burka in America




When I did the first burka post 6 months ago, I knew there would be another one. One that would be far more scary because I would be anything but invisible. And for 6 months whenever I thought about it, I'd get anxious and contemplate the possible things that could go wrong.   Then I'd think maybe I shouldn't do it at all.  But, I always thought that wearing a burka here in America would be the more interesting social experiment. So, I knew I had to do it.

I live in middle America. Colorado Springs to be exact. It's a little bit country, a  little bit rock and roll and a whole lotta  evangelical christian headquarters.. This is no melting pot. (Although we do boast the fondue chain downtown.) This is homogeneous-ville. Not by design, but by some weird magnetic force in the universe that draws pale as whole milk churchy people to this geographic location.  Of course  I'm overgeneralizing.  Well, kinda.  Have you been here?  My point is,  I have never, ever seen anyone in a burka within the city limits. Or in the state either, for that matter. It's just  something that doesn't happen here.

I knew the perfect place to conduct such an experiment.   The most American place on earth.  Besides Disney World of course.  Walmart. In the middle of the day. In the middle of the week. I don't know exactly what to expect.  But I image some stares, pointing, whispering and a bit of instantaneous contempt would be involved. Again, I'm overgeneralizing, but in situations like this, all it takes is one person to make things go horribly wrong.  That's why my husband Craig will also be in the store with me.  But not with me.  Watching me from afar to make sure I'm safe. That and someone needs to take pictures. But mostly for that safety thingy.
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My wobbly legs carried me through the parking lot past two men standing outside the entry doors. Even though I was extremely nervous, I tried to make eye contact, but they averted my gaze.  Until I passed them, and saw their reflection of their turned heads aimed directly at me in the glass.   The greeter is sitting in her motorized cart and is stunned into silence so I don't receive the gratis welcome to Walmart owed every customer.   Except me.

 I start in produce. When I notice the greeter who is rolling along in her motorized cart.  And she's not rolling back prices, she's either eager to get a closer look. Or to run me over because she drives dangerously close to me and narrowly misses crashing into my cart.. Or maybe that's just how she rolls.  She followed me down 2 more aisles before either losing interest or suddenly remembering her vital greeting duties.

 

I settle into shopping for my groceries.  Careful to not buy the bacon I really wanted to buy because it seemed so many levels of wrong while wearing a burka.  With each aisle, I grew more relaxed because no one was looking, staring or pointing.  But yet,  I wasn't invisible either. If a cart was in my way other shoppers politely moved it and apologized for the inconvenience, the way Americans do. So I wasn't invisible and I wasn't a spectacle.  And this isn't at all what I expected.

 

I made it all the way to the back of the store in the dairy section without so much as a second glance. I was just another one of the people of Walmart. Flying their freak flag. But, my rating on the freak scale was a 1 on a scale from 1 to 10. So no one cared. Or gave me a second glance. Maybe Walmart wasn't the right venue for this after all.



This was going nowhere.  I had to do something.  So I started talking to people. "Have you had that yogurt before? Is it good?" And my fellow dairy lover looked right into my eyes and explained with a smile how delicious that flavored greek yogurt was without a blink. Later, that key lime flavored one would prove her right.  I can testify to that.

 

Now this is the point where Craig completely lost track of me. Because he got so bored watching me shop and the nothing that was happening that he just started to shop.  Which I find funny because out of the two of us, Craig was far more fearful for my safety than I was. It was so boring it had just become a routine Walmart run.

I walked he rest of the way through Walmart asking the employees for chalk board chalk (which I never did find by the way), stove top cleaner, those frozen ice cube sheets for coolers, anything I could think of  to engage people. Oh, I also chatted it up with customers. Then, I slowly perused the toy section where I was sure a small child would be enticed to say "Why is she dressed like that mommy?" But, no.  Even kids know I'm a 1 on the Walmart freak scale.  So I've got nothing.

After a couple hours of extremely slow and methodical shopping in a burka, I was finally done.  Simply because I couldn't think of anything else to do.  So I  sent Craig a text that the mission was complete and headed to the check out. Hoping something would happen there so I'd have something to write about. Maybe I would use my credit card and she would check my ID and ask to see my face. But of course she didn't.  She was friendly as could be. Until I left the store.  Then she ran into the parking lot behind me shouting trying to get my attention.  Turns out,  I had just left my eggs in the revolving bagging wheel of childhood black eyes.

Craig met me at the car and we were both stunned that there was essentially no reaction.   Maybe if I'd done it on a weekend, maybe at a different store. Maybe if I'd  gone to Hooters to eat some wings.   Maybe if I'd have worn the thicker face veil that they couldn't see my facial expressions through.  Or maybe if less people were buried in their cell phones.  Or maybe, just maybe Americans are more tolerant than I gave them credit for.

15 comments:

Leah Griffith said...

Marie, you are something girl! I am so happy that you were not harassed or ignored, but treated like everyone else. Makes me proud of Americans.
Where else can you conduct this experiment, how about a high school? Although I have to say, I think Hooters would be a hoot! LOL!! I'm so bad.

Cerebrations.biz said...

I'm pleased but surprised that there was no reaction. Maybe things are getting better in Colorado Springs.

Sine said...

Marie,

I am actually not surprised at all. To me, Americans are the most tolerant people on Earth, which is one reason why my husband and I became American citizens two years ago. They (we) might sometimes not be tolerant in theory but when it comes to actually dealing with people, everyone goes out of their way to be nice, just like you described. Whereas other nationalities might be very tolerant in theory but not when it comes to dealing with people. If that makes sense.

You know what I'm most impressed with? Not only that you did this (takes a LOT of courage), but that you did this now, when you must be in the midst of moving-related stress! What did your kids think? That you're absolutely crazy?

The Loerzels said...

@ Leah and Roy-I was very surprised and proud of Americans too.
@ Sine-I'm completely exhausted! We are painting the house and having a sleepover tonight (it's my oldest daughter's birthday). Among other things...

The Loerzels said...

Oh and Sine-I guess overall Americans are fairly tolerant. But, there are so many factors that come into play and all it take is one to make their intolerance intolerable.

Janette said...

People are people where ever you go:)

Glad the experiment was more successful than anticipated.

Mrs. Treathyl FOX said...

This is America.

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

What a fabulous story on several fronts! I admire you for doing this experiment. The fact that it didn't give you the results you (and the readers)were expecting actually made it a great story.

It's very encouraging to see how "unimpressed" people were in Middle America. I've lived in a number of foreign countries and know all about being stared at, checked out, and so forth.

Christina Williams said...

You're so awesome...and brave. Glad to hear everyone treated you normal. One time at Walmart some guy leaned right into my ear and whispered "Fu@king Jew", and I'm not even Jewish!! Maybe he was on crack. Well I'm glad your experiment turned out positive. I think Americans are so worried about being politically incorrect (or sued) that they go out of their way to be nice to those who are different. Maybe they're just nice and tolerant. Here's hoping!

Janine said...

I'm seriously totally amazed at their reactions, or lack thereof...which is a great thing!

stuartnager said...

Good for you, and good for the majority of the people you encountered (Walmart greeter).

I also have had "fuc#ing Jew" things a few times, mainly here in the NY area. So, I'm glad it was not a negative experience for you.

MuMuGB said...

What an interesting experience! In France, you would have had a fine. Wearing a burka is illegal there. But I have to say that, yes, Americans seem to be a lot more tolerant than I thought...

Hajra said...

The fact that America allows it and hasn't banned the Burqa shows that they are ready to appreciate the cultural and religious differences.

My sister, who lives in San Francisco; wears the headscarf and says that people really are tolerant and for the last ten years she has just had about two incidents of complain.

So yes, things are changing!

Joy Page Manuel said...

You are one amazingly brave (and creative!) chick! (I hope you don't mind my calling you chick. I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration, believe me). And yes...maybe...maybe....(or maybe everything's just in the closet??? don't know....)

And here I am still afraid to wear my Obama shirt or put an Obama 2012 sticker on my car as I drive around middle Tennessee. I wish I had your guts! You go girl! What an amazing social experiment :-)

Sine said...

Joy - is Franklin in Middle Tennessee? Just asking because we might be moving there (Obama shirts, stickers, and all:-) in the near future. And we have a knack for picking the most evangelist/conservative areas in the US, for some reason. Might be quite a shock after South Africa. If we do, then there'll be at least one other Obama sticker driving around other than yours.

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