THE BLOG
26/10/2015 07:48 GMT | Updated 26/10/2016 06:12 BST

Don't Wear Lycra into a Shopping Mall in the Middle East

Even if you have just left the gym...

The life and times of living in another world and another culture, begins with a story about being manhandled out of a mall, by another woman. I had been to my regular Saturday morning barre class (57 minutes of body sculpting torture) and was en route home in my spandex when I thought I would stop for groceries while I was out. After 15 months of living in the Middle East, it still hadn't sunk into my peanut brain that gym kit wasn't suitable attire for anywhere public, save for the class I had just left.

I sped around the supermarket with my basket dropping in the usual fresh fruit and vegetables and a few pantry items, just enough for a couple of plastic bags I could happily carry to the car with my tired arms. As I emerged into the bustling mall to track back to the subterranean parking, I thought I would quickly head up upstairs to the Diesel store while I was so close before leaving for home. My physical fatigue clearly not abundant enough to dull my ever-present urge to shop.

I stepped onto the moving stairs and as they peaked at the summit, a stern face looking up and down at my form-fitting clothing greeted me. It was a female security guard. In no time flat she had me in a strong pincher grip, on the bingo wing of my upper arm, and was frog marching me straight back to the down escalator, stepping on with me so we descended together. Had I not seen the signs on the door? She hissed in my ear, close enough for me to feel her breath on my neck.

I glanced down at my three quarter length leggings. They covered my knees so they were not the offending apparel. My workout top was a snug fitting Lycra tank with shoestring straps. There was no cleavage showing, I'm no Dolly Parton, but my shoulders were bare. Schoolgirl error. I was escorted all the way to an elevator and prompted to board as soon as the doors opened. This lady wanted to see the semi-clad back of me and my shame at my massive oversight was palpable. To be called out and more accurately hauled out over my blunder was mortifying. I couldn't look other shoppers in the eye as I was shuffled along with this woman glued at my side ensuring I was ejected from the complex.

A brain full of confusion joined my muscle-weary body as I played the visual tape back in my head of my entry to the shopping centre. I know I had passed several male security guards who had not batted an eyelid. Perhaps they had but didn't feel compelled to approach me. Or maybe they had radioed ahead to get a woman to deal with another woman. I cringe to think how that transmission would have gone: "western woman with inability to read signs who is disrespecting local customs is on the move to level one, over".

I drove home in contemplation. I live by the seafront and frequent the lovely shores in a bikini and beach cover-up much like other expats. Admittedly, the local women wear Abayah (traditionally black, and essentially a robe-like dress that is worn as a loose over-garment) but it seems there is a happy co-existence of the spectrum of beachwear so I've never felt out of place. I guess it is the transition to being under the roof of a communal shopping area where the lack of proper clobber causes offence. I did this once and I will never do it again.

To summarise, let's look at the scoreboard: Lessons in life in the Middle East 1, my basic common sense 0.