At the beginning of World War II, my father wore very black, very shiny, very pointed shoes. He might have dressed in the manner of Sonny Corleone, or someone you might call “Dapper Dan.” At the time, Papa had only been in this country for a dozen years, so he was like many other transplanted Swedes in St. George who were most comfortable dressing like they did in Sweden in the 1920s.

A few years ago while traveling, I looked up at a young man who had stepped out of a motel room next to mine. I spoke to him in Swedish.

How did I know he was Swedish?

He had Swede written all over him. You could tell by just one glance at his haircut, his clothes, his shoes. We chatted.

Two weeks ago at a public sale, I saw a man and woman who might have been 50 years of age. I could not place their nationality. They weren’t Americans, but neither were they German, French or Scandinavian. I figured they might be Russians, so I asked the woman where she was born. Yes, they were from what I would call Yugoslavia.

Just their clothes and the way they wore them made them stick out at this sale like a hungry coyote at a chicken picnic. I studied them. Although they were what I would call easygoing, they were, at the same time, aggressive buyers.

She told me they were American citizens. But just becoming a citizen of any country doesn’t mean that you can pass for a native, even if you are consciously trying to do so. When you move to another country, you are uncomfortable leaving who you are behind. Some of us wouldn’t even know how to do it.

Twenty or so years ago my wife, Marsha, and I were squired about Madrid by a handsome young Spanish lawyer who had once attended a Maine summer camp where Marsha had ruled as the queen bee.

It was early evening. We walked into a huge, colorfully illuminated plaza where hundreds of people were eating or drinking at individual tables. Many would remain there in full party mode, talking or singing until sunrise.

Proud of his social prowess, our young friend invited us to watch him pick up some American girls. I asked him how he could tell which ones were Americans. He scanned the hundreds of seated people and quickly pointed, “Those two are Americans.”

Within minutes he seated himself at their table and commenced to charm them with his patter.

Marsha and I talked about this many times in the days and weeks that followed. How did he know they were Americans?

It was their weird foreign threads.

Yes, perhaps they did not sit or hold a glass or even make eye contact in the manner of a young Spanish woman who had been socializing at these tables since she was 15. But clothes give one away immediately.

People are most comfortable in their own culture and their own clothes. When they move, they usually take both with them because it feels right.

Our elderly neighbors also resist change and are likely to dress the way they did 40 years before.

In 1953, old folks who showed up at the St. George High School reunion were dressed like old people. The same was true when you saw them at Grange. At church, my grandmother and the other old women wore tiny hats with veils. They probably wore the same veils when they were fashionable for young folks back in 1910. They would have been uncomfortable dressing in any other way.

Men who have been single for 40 years often have no idea of what they are wearing or the effect it has on other people. Thirty years ago, I once showed up on the doorstep of a lady friend to be greeted with, “Here he is. All dressed up in his rags.” I have never forgotten it.

The top paid women on television squeeze their toes into spiked heels that are guaranteed to destroy their feet. Should we dress for our own personal comfort or to please the social whims of others?

If I were in London, I would feel like a fool rigged out in a bowler hat and clothes that fit me.

I’d even feel uncomfortable in Portland in clothes that fit me.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html


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