Continuing on from yesterday's post, we also had a really interesting discussion about the relationship dynamics in Syrian couples. A lot of the wealthy Syrians left Syria not long after the troubles started and moved to Cairo, and many settled in this very same compound. As we talked, the conversation turned to match-making - the ladies were really wanting to get the daughter of one friend set up with another Syrian friend of the family. They made a side comment about how Syrian women are treated like queens, so I asked for more details. Apparently according to Syrian tradition, the women do not work - they take are of the children and the household - but in exchange, the men have to buy them whatever they want. So during the woo-ing phase, the men shower the women with all kinds of gifts. Any clothes, or shoes or jewellery - whatever your little heart desires, they have to go out and buy.
And once they are married, it is 100% the man's responsibility to take care of all shopping and purchases. Even groceries. But it's all the wife's choice - she sends him with a list of "Buy a kilo of oranges, 5 peppers, etc" and he has to get it on his way home. Same if she needs any dishes, household items, clothing, etc - it's his duty to provide them.
It got me thinking though about how this could be perceived elsewhere, as many of these Syrian refugees are moving abroad. Seen from the outside, and without that cultural context, it almost looks like the woman is completely submissive to her husband, forbidden from even leaving her home or having any money or purchasing power. I tried explaining this to the ladies, and they were completely flabbergasted that anyone could ever think that, repeating again that "Syrian women are queens!" It reminded me a bit of how I used to find so many things in France ridiculous or stupid - until I took the time to find out the 'why' behind them. I wish there was a way for us all to remember that there is a often good reason behind most things that seem scary/strange/wrong in other cultures.
On another topic, I used a different hotel this time, and they gave me a list of ten rules for using the pool. The English was a bit spotty, so I wasn't quite sure I was understanding it right - I thought it said women had to wear burkinis - so I asked for clarification, and it turns out it was actually the opposite. This particular hotel chain - which was Egyptian - has forbidden burkinis in their establishment. It was only then too that I noticed none of the women were wearing a veil.
I brought this up too with the ladies, and they said it's a change that's come about in the past two years. Before, women could wear whatever they want to the beach - a bikini, a one-piece, a burkini and no one cared. But recently, more and more hotel and private beaches/clubs have started forbidding them, and my dear friends were getting rather frustrated by the whole thing because it was limiting the places they could go and have fun, with no logical reason behind it. I'm sure most of you have heard how much of a fuss the birkini has made in France over the past 12 months, so it was interesting to see a similar tactic being taken in a Muslim country.