You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hijabi in France

So in light of my confession yesterday, I ended up going home and wearing the same outfit, but with my hijab over the top. I felt pretty, classy, modest and best of all... cool. (I mean that the air cooled me off, not that Justin Bieber would approve of my clothing choice.)

That feeling of finding the perfect clothes (which I get so rarely these days) evaporated after about 3 blocks. I was wandering around my hotel's quartier (neighborhood), doing some shopping and stopping in cafes. I was minding my own business. No one else was, it seemed.

As I stopped by jewelry stores and book stores run by Jewish men (I am, after all, in the Jewish quartier), I'd get distrusting looks as I stood in the window. The moment I crossed the threshold into their shop, I got outright glares. And followed. I don't know whether they expected me to plant a bomb or steal stuff or what! And this at just about every shop I went into, because, let's face it, why go into anyting besides jewelry and book stores? When I walked into stores that weren't Jewish-run, I got ignored. The shopkeepers would not greet me, although they greeted everyone else that walked in and out. Good thing I didn't want to buy anything because I would have had to jump up and down with money in my hand to get anyone to bat an eyelid at me.

I did get some headnods from women in hijabs, which made me smile, and even a headnod from a woman in a hijab-esq thing, wearing a hodgepodge of modest clothing-- she kinda looked like me actually: indefinably modest.

I wanted to wear a sign that said, "I'm Christian. I'm a feminist. I like my rights. I also like hijab." Or for the Jewish shops, maybe a sign that said, "Do your research. Hijab and tzniut are very similar!" Would that have made it better? I don't know. I felt like everyone was judging me-- and I think they were. It was totally isolating and, frankly, humiliating. I was embarrassed for me and for the French. This was a very touristy-area and there were people who noticed how these French shopkeepers were treating me. It was awkward for everyone involved. It can't have been good for business.

Interestingly, there was one exception to all this. And it made me hella proud. Near the end of my day, I stopped at a gay cafe. The waiter showed up almost the moment I sat down (which never happens in France, hijab or no) and took my order. It took him about 10 minutes to come back with my drink (not long, in France) after which he apologized profusely for being so slow (which he wasn't compared to everything else here). He was sweet, he checked on me frequently and he was prompt about everything. It was such a relief, because the afternoon in my hijab had been so incredibly draining!

Why did this one gay man treat me like a human being? Did I set his gaydar off? Did he recognize me as a fellow oppressed person? Is he just that nice to everyone? Whatever the reason, I hope he continues...


Anonymous said...

that's awful :( totally disgusting.

i imagine it'd be ten zillion times worse if you were muslim in france and had to deal with that like literally every day.

- megan

Allie said...

Yes, I can't imagine it!

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why you were "hella proud." Is it because a gay person was nice to you? Because to be hella proud of that tells me that it's a rather unique experience, which doesn't speak terribly well of the gay community. Or is it because he was nice to someone he thought was Muslim? Again, I don't think this speaks well of the gay community. Or are you claiming that gays are the only ones who look past appearances and are nice to people simply because they are people. Clearly you don't think the Jews do it, even though they are and were oppressed, and clearly you don't think the Christians do it, considering they completely ignored you. I think it is frustrating and insulting and degrading of you as a Christian to wear a hijab and dress kosher, and then complain that people are judging you for it. If you want to dress modestly, there are ways of doing it that do not make a mockery of another religion's clothing, tradition, and centuries-long oppression. I think you should be ashamed. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are making a statement to the world, and if you're not ready for that, then you need to change what you're doing. Also, "tourist" has an "o" in it.


Allie said...

I'm hella proud because of all the places I passed in and out of in a hijab Monday, the gay institution was the one where I got treated like a person. You don't think it speaks well of the gay community that they were the only one in this particular area of Paris that treated me well? Why would that not be something to be proud of? Do you not think women in hijabs should be treated well?

I'm claiming that of the people working in shops and cafes in this area, the people working in the gay cafe were the only ones who were nice to me. I'm not saying that's true everywhere or all the time-- certainly it's not! I'm simply saying, that it made me proud that in this instant, the gays got points for treating me well!

How am I mocking centuries of oppression? I don't think I follow you... And how would you suggest I do it differently? I'm open to suggestions. Once my Lenten discipline is up, I think I'm going to need to work out my own methods of dressing modestly and I could use some suggestions.

Why should I be ashamed? For wearing hijab? If that's true, should all hijabis be ashamed or only non-Muslim hijabis?

Here's how I see the statement I am making-- I trust you'll feel free to give me your opinion on it. I cover my head in submission to God (as do many people). I'm trying to dress modestly.

Please try to be respectful in your response. I'm open to differences of opinions, but do remember I'm a human being and words do hurt!

Thanks for the spellcheck, though.
Note: above post edited for spelling.

Anonymous said...

This is KC...

Out of curiosity, how did you know it was a "gay cafe"?

One thing about the cafe that you said that I thought was interesting was that he checked back with you frequently, which French people would find highly annoying. I wonder if one reason he kept coming back is because it was bit of an oddity: gay (presumably), strict-ish Muslim (presumably) and an American. I remember reading that most Muslims in France are from North Africa, so I bet your fair complexsion also adds to the mix.

...more later


Allie said...


I knew it was a gay cafe because it was listed on all the gay Paris webpages as "the" gay cafe in Paris. There were gay couples there, also.

As to the checking in frequently-- I hadn't thought of that! That he would check on me more often because he knew I was foreign. I don't usually get people assuming I'm American in this get-up. Frequently, in fact, I get asked if I'm Serbian. But yes, maybe he was checking back so frequently just because he didn't know what to make of me! Which is still interesting, considering the predominant reactions seemed to be to ignore me or to glare at me...

Anonymous said...


Ummmmm...I think she was just glad that at least someone - a gay person, so someone she feels an affinity with - was nice to her on a day people were treating her badly. She's not making a mockery out of anything - she's seriously considering the social ramifications of what she does and learning what feels right to her in terms of modesty. And what, so she's not supposed to be upset that hijabis are treated that way in France and she got to experience firsthand how gross that is? I have a friend who is straight that constantly gets mistaken for gay because she is very masculine, and people treat her poorly because of it. Should she just start acting girlier so people think she's straight? Should she refrain from being unhappy about the fact that people treat her poorly because she isn't actually gay?

Getting mistaken for Muslim for a day and getting treated like crap gave her a tiny bit of insight into this social problem in France, so she wrote about it. Her whole POINT was that this oppression is terrible - she's NOT making a mockery out of it. She has nothing to be ashamed of. And she shouldn't accept her

By the way, it's a little pathetic that you're anonymously doling out doses of shame to someone when you obviously can't even address them directly and who you obviously don't know very well.

- Megan

Anonymous said...

sorry. *shouldn't be okay with anyone being treated that way, even if for her it is temporary.

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