Some things are universally embarrassing. Not in the sense that everyone, everywhere, would be embarrassed if they occurred, but that geography and culture are sort of irrelevant when it comes to initially crossing the threshold of humiliation. They’re embarrassing no matter where they happen, or when. Yet geography and culture can determine the degree of embarrassment you’ll suffer thereafter, for sure. So: always at least level-one embarrassing, but possibly even higher.
For instance, if a middle-aged man rifled through a pile of my intimate apparel in Boston while I stood there, watching, waiting, I’d be freaked out. Boston is home. That man and I would have some vital things in common probably, like an understanding of what’s socially appropriate and acceptable. I’m well-accustomed to how things work there, culturally and otherwise. Doesn’t matter. Underwear crosses the line.
Underwear in the Middle East is even more embarrassing. Unsurprisingly.
Katie and I tried to track down the nearest, cheapest place to get our clothes washed after a week of playing in the sand and stuff, and discovered that washers charge by item count, not by weight. Which made for an awkward couple of minutes while a 40-something-year-old guy dumped my goods onto a small table and sorted them into piles, organized from least mortifying (shirts, pants) to kill-me-now-thanks (undies, of course).
Of course, this was all exponentially more disturbing since completely veiled women were walking down the street outside, and we’ve made such a conscious effort to cover up – no shoulders, three-quarter sleeves, low capris, scarves galore. The juxtaposition of extreme privacy and Islamic conservatism with my striped Gap bottoms in this guys paws made me feel like a cultural offender. Might stick to hand washing from here on out.