Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Tourists are funny people. They leave their home and go somewhere else. They want to learn about the culture that they are going to--or at least they say they do. (I'll get more into this later). They take a crapton of pictures. They buy overpriced goods at local markets. Oh, and they are great sources of humor to locals and snarky exchange students.

Essentially a tourist has, on average, 4-12 days to try to get to know a culture completely. Which brings me to the cultural iceberg. The cultural iceberg is something every exchange student orientation ever goes over. They teach us that culture is really just a big floating mass of ice. You see 10% on the top--in dances, foods, clothing, language. This part is what the tourists see. They come to Oman for the palace, the souq, and the camels. The come to see the dhows and the beaches. An exchange student comes for the other 90%--the values, sense of time, and the little details that explain why the 10% are how they are. After all, it was the 90% below water that sunk the Titanic. That's the important stuff. And tourists just don't see it. And if you really want to know a culture, I recommend that you delve deeper and get to see the other 90%. Don't just come to hear the language, learn why the language is how it is. Learn about the -allah words and why they're so important. And come not to learn why those guys are wearing a musar, but to realize that it's tied in a certain way for certain people to keep the sun off their necks.

When tourists come to Oman, they inevitably will hit the souq. They go to buy tradition crafts--for wayyyy too much money. Dear visitors to Oman, if you're paying 50 Riyal for your kummah, you are paying way too much. Yes, the souq is miles and miles of winding shops and alleyways. And yes, the locals shop there. But the locals know how to get deals and bargain.

Which brings me to another point, and a small story. Last week, I was at Muttrah with my host sisters when we saw a small group of European or American men walking. They were clad in western tourist clothing--shorts and tshirts, cameras around their necks. But the funniest part was seeing one of them wearing a kummah (just purchased in the souq) with his shorts and tshirt. That's the thing with tourists. They come for a short time, 'burst through' all of the culture, and then leave. They don't usually actually understand things about the culture like that you can't wear a kummah with your tshirt and shorts. It made my host sisters and me burst out laughing but it also made me think about tourism. I've been a tourist places before and I've bought souvenirs that, in retrospect, probably were really ridiculous to the locals. That's one thing I love about being an exchange student: I might not be from here, but I can act like I am. It might not always be fun, but overall I just have so much of a better experience.

I don't think tourism is in basic being a ridiculous idea. It's a fun experience to travel somewhere new. I've seen some amazing places through tourism. And it can be a great economy booster--I believe that tourism may be in the top ten income generators in Oman. But it can also be funny and, from a local's point of view, kind of ridiculous!


  1. This post is so true. The only way to learn about a culture is to live there long term. With oil getting ever more expensive as the cheap sources are exhausted, the days of jetting off somewhere for 4 to 12 days will become a thing of the past. Travel will become slower and take longer like the pilgrimages from where recreational travel originated.
    I am impressed at the way your blog discusses the cultural issues in Oman. Not just the 10% of iceberg that is readily visible.

  2. Again a post a wee bit late, relating to the comment about a RO 50 kummah. This is the going rate for a kummah depending upon the intricacy of the pattern, made in Oman by an Omani lady, as opposed to the generic machine made kummah for RO 3-5 or those that are hand made in the Phillipines. The problem lies in the souq as sadly they pass non Omani items off as Omani made. There are some Omanis who do not have access to ladies who embroider the kummahs but still would like to have one made by an Omani who will be willing to pay that amount. I know and work with ladies who sell the kummahs and their prices range from RO 30 - 70, which include the cost of the cloth bought from the tailors or shop keeper.