Recent events have made me think a lot about appearances and the vast amount of importance we place upon them.
Friday was our annual Christmas party for the staff of Starbucks St. Gallen Bahnhof, a greatly anticipated event, as it is a rare moment when our boss “Ebenezer Scrooge” Ricardo acts uncharacteristically generous!
Dinner was at a Tex Mex Restaurant in St. Gallen´s market square.
Preparation for me was simplicity itself: shower, shave, throw on boxers, pants, socks, shoes, shirt, tie, sweater, coat and hat – ready to roll.
For the eight men in attendance, this process was quick and easy.
The ladies in attendance, on the other hand…
Some had visited the salon before and may have purchased new dresses for the occasion and they had spent countless amounts of time on their make-up.
Among the many reasons I would never want to be a woman is that the maintenance and expense and work that goes into being a woman is far more than I would ever desire!
Don´t misunderstand me – the women looked stunningly beautiful and it was a welcome change to see these baristas in attire that is not the dress code of Starbucks.
But there is a tacit, unspoken psychology that suggests that it doesn´t really matter so much how a man looks as much as how a woman looks.
As long as the man´s attire is not an assault of riotous colour or mismatched patterns, ragged or unclean, a man can pretty much get away with wearing most anything as long as it is not blantantly rude or feminine as judged by the culture he is interacting with.
At work on the day before the party Nathalie (our Brazilian beauty) and I (Starbucks token Canadian) were trying to convince Katja (our Slovenian beauty) that she should come directly to the party once her shift was completed.
Use the Starbucks staff bathroom, I suggested.
It has a shower and a sink with a mirror and unless her work clothes underneath her apron were dirty, I couldn´t see a reason why she couldn´t join us at the restaurant shortly after quitting for the day.
The ladies stared at me as if I had lost my mind.
“Oh, no!”, Katja insisted.
She had to go home first, change her clothes, fix her hair and make-up there.
“What´s wrong with the Starbucks staff washroom?”, I asked.
Again the shared look between them – God, he´s such an idiot.
“Have you seen the washroom?”, they shouted.
“It´s small, never really that clean and the men baristas use it as well.
When I have to pee I would rather use the lady customers´ toilet.”, Nathalie exclaimed.
I couldn´t understand why an unattractive bathroom would stop someone from using a fully functioning bathroom.
At home in Landschlacht – the same sort of image debate between my wife and me.
Every married man is accustomed to the phrase from his wife:
“You´re NOT going outside in THAT, are you?”
Which we follow with the exasperated question: “Why not?”
And is answered with a rolling of the eyes, heavy sighs and an alternative piece of clothing shoved into our hands.
Now this sort of interchange between man and mate is expected and seen relatively early in the relationship, but as the relationship evolves the battle escalates from public persona to private life.
Our apartment is surrounded by many windows which means that people can see inside, so at night we tend not to be exhibitionists when walking between the rooms.
My long-suffering wife has surrendered to my habit of wearing jogging pants and sock-slippers when lounging about the apartment, but my choice of comfy shirt attire causes battle lines to be drawn.
A number of years ago I attended a high school class reunion where an old classmate gave me a bright silk Spider-man short-sleeved shirt, which I absolutely adore as I love the feel of the silk against my dry skin and I have loved the exploits of the Marvel superhero Spider-man since boyhood.
Ute, the aforementioned wife, absolutely loathes this shirt and threatens to toss it or burn it at the earliest opportunity, even though the only person who ever sees me wearing this shirt is her.
Same goes for my winter sleep shirt: a bright red, long-sleeved, Swiss cross on the chest with the letters SPHA, picture of a horse on the back, obtained spontaneously when I was shopping alone at a thrift shop I stumbled across during one of my hiking excursions.
I wear this shirt because it is comfortable and warm and I like the colour red.
It may be a tad garish and celebrates an organisation I know nothing about (the Swiss Painted Horse Association) but I feel relaxed in it.
Ute will use this shirt as kindling to burn the Spider-man shirt!
Much as sex strikes have been used in Columbia to protest against violent drug wars, in Poland to fight for legal abortion, in Amsterdam by sex workers to protest against harassment, in Turkey to get a main water supply to a village and to expel a gold mining company, in the Sudan to try and end civil war, in Landschlacht my wife threatens to banish me to the sofa or the balcony should I keep these shirts!
Good thing my sleep shirt is long-sleeved…it´s really cold out on the balcony!
How men and women being so different somehow keep populating the planet remains a mystery.