Monday, March 15, 2010

Sex in public: a sign of freedom?

Recently, I have read an interesting post on Travel Blissful about "love customs" in different countries. The writer, Erica, stresses the importance of respecting every country we are visiting. Rightly so, I would add.

I'll never get tired (or maybe at some point I will) of pointing out that belonging to a specific culture doesn't make that culture necessarily right or the best one. People, wherever they are, should consider natural to respect their neighbours, but more so if they are travelling to a foreign country.

I have just got back from to the UAE, country that in the western public mind is very conservative and strict, and I struggle to understand why much of the British press gives a rather negative coverage of the Emirate. 

Two years ago a British couple got arrested in Dubai because they were having sex on a beach, and the police charged them with the count of offending public decency. In Italy they would have got arrested too.

In today's news, another British couple got into trouble in Dubai for having allegedly breached the local law and kissed in public. Kissing in public might be appreciated in some countries, but the UAE tourism office ask tourists to respect local laws. I think visitors can make this enormous effort until they get back home.

British people are usually obsessively respectful of the law, so this persistency reeks a bit of arrogance.

During the two years I spent in London, for quite a few times I've had the impression that the word decency was gradually disappearing from the dictionary, at least during the weekends. I, myself, have witnessed, in Shoreditch on a Friday night, very degrading performances involving young women boasting their "cool" drunkenness, and instead of feeling "emancipated", I felt outraged. 

But that's just me, I don't like such behaviours so I try to avoid places where I know they're common habit.

You feel unable to respect another country's laws and traditions? Stay home.


A Good Moroccan said...

It seems a bit silly to visit a country that frowns on a certain type of behaviour, and then do exactly that.

People should also respect the traditions of the UK, for example, where it is not normal to restrict the freedom of women - how they dress and behave (within the law).

AngelaCorrias said...

As far as I could see in the UAE, it's not exactly the law that asks women to wear the headscarf, as there was plenty of women without it and police officers weren't arresting them.

Also, when people breach the law in the UK get arrested, fined or punished according to the law, just the press doesn't make much fuss out of it.

Alison said...

I'm with you. I can't understand why someone who travel to a country and then totally disregard its laws and customs. I also agree that I've been appalled on weekend visits to London. Maybe I'm just getting old but how is it liberating to dress like a prostitute and get so drunk you can't walk on your stilettos...

AngelaCorrias said...

Yeah, Alison, it's pretty much what I had in mind about London weekends, and I don't think it's due to age, when I was twenty I had the same opinions. I've seen sad performances many times, but after two years in London they became almost "normal", except one that I've had the nerve to tell only once because I feel ashamed only talking about it.

The world is big, and if we really don't feel comfortable in respecting the laws of a country, we can just change our holiday's destination.

Kim said...

It is known as respect - although being the emirates there is more to this story than we are reading. Possibly they "told off the kid" for misbehaving, and the mother decided to "teach a lesson". In this society it does happen. Look for stories on what happened to a French expat child living in Abu Dhabi. They wanted to jail the expat (10 years old) for breaking the law when clearly it was local kids that were the instigators.

AngelaCorrias said...

Hi Kim, I'm not sure what is the story you are referring to, the ones I read about don't involve kids but fully aware adults.

What's the story with the French kid? Maybe if you can provide a link I can understand better...

Thanks for stopping by!

Jack Norell said...

I think Kim is referring to the fact that it's reported the woman reporting the couple for kissing in public has given inconsistent testimony. Apparently, she couldn't remember if she'd seen the couple kissing or if her child did. There are also inconsistencies in what the couple reportedly did.

I'd say that there's a good chance the woman decided to "teach the foreigners a lesson", which has happened before in Dubai. The police tend to take the locals side, even if the locals are outrageously in the wrong.

AngelaCorrias said...

"The police tend to take the locals side". I'm not too sure about that. I haven't spent years in the UAE, so I'm not able to judge extensively their society, but in the short period I was there I have had the opportunity to speak with locals *and* expats who didn't appreciate the behaviour of some tourists, especially regarding what they were wearing, in obvious disrespect towards what the tourist office asks.
And what they actually told me is that authorities tend to turn a blind eye on that, because they are tourists.

Dubai-er said...

There is absolutely zero consistency with the application of the laws. This is what causes the problems.

Come to Dubai and watch tens of thousands of people encouraged to get drunk. Watch locals, other Muslims, Westerners, rolling round drunk. Watch the city being marketed as a party city for tourists, a liberal haven for expats, watch people driving home wasted day after day, week after week.

Then suddenly, watch someone be arrested for doing something minor (not the sex on the beach case. Dubai was not really panned for that as they were totally in the wrong). Watch when someone offends someone in power. Watch those homeowners now trying to get some rights and redress now developers are holding up projects by three or four years.

If the rules were laid out in front of everyone and enforced, then everyone would know where they stand.

They aren't. The laws are vague and enforced on a whim. Which is why you get people charged with consuming alcohol because they had a drink in a bar earlier but were not in a bar when they were arrested, why you get people occasionally being charged for adultery sharing a hotel room with their girlfriend (technically it is illegal to have sex out of wedlock anywhere in Dubai) while prostitutes freely, and obviously, roam the streets.

It is why you get people being jailed for flipping the bird at someone with influence because he/she deliberately tried to run you off the road.

Dubai is trying to tread a fine line between being an Islamic emirate and a liberal emirate. Most of the time it gets it right, but it sends so many mixed signals that it is not a surprise that people fall foul of the law for seemingly stupid reasons. There is no warning that they will suddenly enforce a law that has been ignored for years.

The French boy is probably the case of the young boy who was raped in the desert and when they pressed charges the prosecution tried to charge him with having sex out of wedlock.

The current case is causing an issues because the woman's statement was inconsistent (said different things to the police and to the prosecution), and she did not appear in court to be questioned. In fact prosecution cannot get hold of her to ask her to clarify. But they just took her word over theirs.

It's not a terrible place to be, but it is struggling with which ideology it wants to embrace. People like the couple above are the collateral damage of that.

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks for your comment, Dubai-er, I think you quite know Dubai..
I agree that "it is struggling with which ideology it wants to embrace," in fact it's a rather young country, and it went from being a desert into being a wealthy and modern country in 40 years.
You are also right that law might be inconsistent and people don't really know where to turn to, but when I arrived (in Abu Dhabi) I was given a lovely little map, where it's clearly stated "Visitors are asked to dress modestly and respect local customes - this means women should cover their shoulders and wear skirts or shorts that end below the knee." It's not specified whether tourists are allowed or not to perform in obscene behaviour, but I don't find it really hard to catch that it's not permitted. Actually, it's not permitted in Europe either.
Dubai has been defined an "experiment" of globalisation, and to some extent it's true. The UAE is a young nation, it is suddenly dealing with the positive and negative aspects of globalisation, and it needs good leaders, which it has had at the beginning, if I think of Sheikh Zayed, and it still has.
I didn't find rules in the Emirates particularly strict, but you are right, the road towards the perfect place to live is still long, as it is everywhere.
Thanks for stopping by and for your constructive comment.

Dubai-er said...

Agree - Abu Dhabi is much clearer, and you don't get these problems in that emirate. They do not tolerate drunkeness, skimpy dresses etc and they are very clear about it.

Dubai is (possibly) deliberately vague. It preaches liberalism and tolerance and markets itself as a hedonistic destination. There are probably more far more bars here (offering free drinks to ladies all night during some days of the week) than any city of comparable size in the world.

Dubai's mantra - even to people living here - is sold as. Drink to excess, spend to excess, buy that car, watch, dinner, dress.

To be honest, most Westerners here think it has gone too far too but it does come as a huge shock when this tolerance is suddenly withdrawn for some poor individual or couple. Because it is actually withdrawn for one case, or the crackdown is for one week and then it is back to the normal 'do what you like' mentality.

No-one believes sex in public is fine. But if the court statements in this case are to be believed, they were guilty at most of having a kiss. No groping, no sex. Just the word of one local woman over two other people with no other witness statements.

Regarding the other point. Emiratis are favoured in law over expats. Rightly or wrongly (its their country after all so they have the right to do what they want) courts, the police and employers tend to side with locals in disputes.

But everyone knows the trade off. Nice life, more money, just be careful.

AngelaCorrias said...

I spoke to some of expats my friends and they agree that "liberty" in Dubai has gone too far, so yeah, I agree that when suddenly tourists are arrested, it's a shock, and authorities should be clear on what is or is not allowed.
However, I have to say that some expats, especially the ones living in the Emirates for long time, have said that too often the police turn a blind eye on what tourists do because, at the end of the day, Dubai depends much on tourism.
Also, I tend to forget that each Emirate is independent and, my mistake, sometimes I speak about one thinking about the other... I've only been twice tu Dubai, but I was based in Abu Dhabi. Although, I spotted the difference.

Nancie said...

If we can't respect the laws of the countries we visit then we should stay home.

Secondly, we are guests in these countries, so behave appropriately. I am always amazed (and ashamed) of the number of foreigners roaming around the streets in Thailand drunk with beer bottles in hand. We certainly don't see the Thais doing this. As visitors to their beautiful country I don't understand why some foreigners think it is acceptable behavior.

AngelaCorrias said...

I couldn't agree more, Nancie. Sometimes it seems like tourists go out of their minds when on holiday.

I think the very essence of travelling is to appreciate different cultures. We don't have to necessarily love them, and we don't have to move to countries we don't like, but if we do, like the first couple I mentioned in the post, we need to respect their culture.

Or we always have the possibility to stay in our own country...

Thanks for stopping by!

BLOGitse said...

WELL WRITTEN! I agree with you!
We lived 2 yrs in Abu Dhabi and we had never any kind of problems.

I didn't wear a scarf nor here - no problems.

Life in Dubai has gone too materialistic. Plastic.
I'm not sure I could live there...Abu I don't know - I loved living in Abu but that's....too many years ago! :)

Thanks for your comment on my blog.
I follow you on Twitter and blog too!
We're moving next week so I'll be more active again in April... :)

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks for your comment, looking forward to reading your next posts and seeing your new photos from Morocco!

BLOGitse said...

I'm so happy we met...can't explain but guess you know what I mean :)

AngelaCorrias said...

Well, I guess we'll surely meet if I go to Casablanca! ;-)

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