Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Evening out: Learning to be Flexible

A post from Little Diamond on having passport photos taken in Lebanon reminds me of how differently we live in our foreign adventures. She tells how patiently the photographer dealt with her, encouraging her to comb her hair, and finally, after showing the first photos, convinced her to clean up her act for a second, more glamorous, round.

I read a book Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, in which she describes her arrival in Paris, dressed in typical Outback Australian style, and her adventures learning that in Paris, you don’t even leave the apartment in sweatpants to run to the baker because “it might hurt his eyes.”

I remember returning home from life in Germany and thinking “the women here are so COMFORTABLE in their own skin. They wear jeans, even into their 80’s, they go hiking, they go without makeup, and they look happy!” and I wanted that for myself. In my neck of the woods, too much make-up is a big no-no. And too much is anything beyond mascara.

Identity photos in the USA are simply expected to be awful, so no one thinks too much about it, and we all just avoid showing our ID’s if we can help it (maybe that’s why we drive so lawfully, so that we don’t have to show our dismal drivers’ licenses?)

So when I had to have my first residence card done in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t go to a lot of effort. I cleaned up, combed my hair, put on my abaya and scarf around the neck, and went to the local photo guy and got the photo taken. It happened to fall on the day of a significant birthday, you know, one of those with a zero in it. Later that day, when we picked up the photos from the beaming photographer, I looked, and I mentally gasped. The photo looked fabulous.

What to do? I know the law says photos are to be unretouched, but this photo is clearly a little doctored. As any woman would, I decided to just go with the local customs. I even bought a few more enlarged versions to sent to my family. I still grin when I look at that photo. Yes, I even framed one for myself.

Here in Kuwait, I have had to had these photos taken several times, I don’t know why, for several different cards, and then the cards take time and someone loses the photos and I have to have them taken again. There is a very nice man, he takes them and I can get them almost instantly from him. I even got to pick out the one I wanted, and then, he started airbrushing.

“What are you doing??” I exclaimed, as he brushed broad strokes across my face.

“Oh Madam, I am just evening out your makeup a little bit,” he said, as freckles, crow’s feet, shadows, and any blemish totally disappeared. I wasn’t wearing any makeup, only mascara.

Hypocrite and vain as I am, I just rolled with it. It’s another culture, and I know, because I asked, that everyone gets the same treatment, the re-touch, so all the ID photos look pretty good. Mine would draw attention if it weren’t retouched, I tell myself.

December 7, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Uncategorized, Women's Issues | 1 Comment