The Movie Sex & the City 2: Samantha’s international etiquette faux pas

The Movie Sex & the City 2: Samantha’s international etiquette faux pas


A couple of weeks ago I went to see the release of the new movie Sex and the City 2. When I used to watch the HBO show I always enjoyed seeing what the four divas were wearing. That was also the case in this movie, although much of the focus was on what these women did not wear. Samantha gets the girls invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi to have a public relations business meeting with a very wealthy businessman. 

But throughout their trip, for example, Miranda is constantly asking her to cover up her bare shoulders, plunging neckline, and cleavage because people are glaring at her. In a shopping scene, Samantha sports short-shorts and a tank top showing the top half of her bra. Samantha also gets arrested for her demonstration of sexual conduct in public and kissing a man on the beach. A local observed her behavior and was so disgusted that she was insensitive to their traditions and customs that he called the police. 

Trying to get to the airport – dressed as a true revealing American – she calls attention to herself and again the police are called to arrest her. She realizes that she might face prison time for her inappropriate behavior and dress, but she escapes that fate by borrowing a local woman’s customary dress of a ghutra (headdress) and abaya (black heat-to-foot-robe). 

So after viewing the movie I began to ponder two important issues that businesswomen travelling to Middle Eastern countries need to be aware of:

Tip #1:  Do Pre-Departure Research – Familiarize yourself with the allowable behaviors, customs, and traditions of the country you are visiting, whether it is for business or pleasure.  Every country has rules of appropriate public behavior. If Samantha had done her homework prior to her trip she would have known that any overt display of public affection is against the law and violators can be whipped or arrested. When we travel abroad we need to be aware of what is offensive and what constitutes a punishable act – because we are no longer in the USA and are instead under the laws of a different nation. As Americans we often think that our customs are the only ones – or that we can do whatever we want, whenever and wherever we want. That’s not just a completely uniformed attitude, but it’s also disrespectful, rude, and insensitive to the diverse cultures of others.  

Tip #2:  Know Your Audience and Local Dress Codes – Samantha went to the Middle East – where it is the predominant religious custom for a woman to cover her knees and elbows, wear a high neckline, and not wear anything too tight, short, low-cut, or revealing. Saudi men will, for example, stare at you if you are not dressed modestly. Every country has customary dress codes, so read up on those before you go. Even places in Europe will have stricter dress codes about entering a cathedral. But when you know the rules you can pack accordingly and be comfortable in the knowledge that you are projecting a good impression. 

Spend some time doing a little preparation for your trip – so that unlike the girls in the movie, you aren’t going to be asked to leave the country as your entire business deal falls apart due to your indecent dress and inappropriate etiquette. 

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Sarah Hathorn is a professional image consultant, certified personal brand strategist, speaker, and author. 

Her company, Illustra Image Consulting, works with high-achieving future leaders and large businesses by enhancing their corporate and personal brand image to take their businesses and careers to the next level.

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Copyright © 2010, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

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