And the point of khaki is what, precisely?

I have a question: why do tourists to Africa wear khaki? 

I mean, I can understand the theory of khaki (so that you can creep through the undergrowth undetected, or render yourself invisible in the desert in a sort of khaki/sand blur if you’re member of poor allied forces in the Middle East).  I just can’t fathom why American and Italian and Japanese visitors going ‘on safari’ need wear it? 

Yesterday Mum and I – enjoying a sandwich in tourist hangout which is en route to school so handy place to enjoy a sandwich if you find yourself early for pick up but in time for lunch – witnessed the arrival of dozens and dozens of khaki coloured land cruisers which were disgorging dozens and dozens of matching khaki clad Americans, most quite fat and all talking – loudly – at the same time. If they purchased khaki garments in which they were attired for camouflage purposes, their strident tones – and acres of blindingly white flesh – was something of a give away. One of the fattest and loudest was wearing a khaki mini skirt. She’d have scared away the most daring of buffaloes; indeed she almost put me off my lunch. One of her companions was on the wrong continent altogether: she was sporting tiger stripes. 

See here’s a thing: if tourists believe that wearing khaki trousers/shorts/shirts/faintly ridiculous multi-pocketed/zipped waistcoats will mean they’ll see larger numbers of elusive game, they won’t – not only will the sound of a dozen voices all shrilly emanating from matching khaki coloured land cruisers at once scare any lurking game away, but also – like khaki coloured tourists – khaki coloured land cruisers are rather inclined to stick together and the roar of 17 4x4s and the dust they combine to throw heavenwards (not to mention energetic conversational outpouring) is a dead giveaway to a family of cheetah, say.  ‘Oh bugger’, that cats will grumble crossly, just as they’ve found a nice acacia for a siesta, ‘those bloody tourists who think we can’t see them are on the approach again. Sod it’. And they’ll push off. Occasionally, of course, they’re a little slow off the mark and are copped mid-escape to be exposed to khaki-clad paparazzi who still think they can’t be seen despite all popping out of roof hatches like meercats out of holes, wielding cameras that buzz and whirr and flash irritatingly. Every cheetah in Africa knows precisely how Kate Moss feels, believe me. 

And I can’t help wondering, when they get home, the tourists, to Loughborough or Slough or Colorado or Tokyo, what they do with safari ensemble. Once they’ve ticked off the Big Five will they feel compelled to return to Africa (which would give khaki pants the chance for a second outing)? Or will it be relegated to back of wardrobe along with all the clothes that used to fit them when they were 19 and which they – somewhat optimistically – believe they’ll get back into one day, despite being in their fifties.  I know it never gets worn ‘back home’: I mean have you ever seen a khaki attired shopper wearing a bush hat and sporting a pair of binoculars around his neck stalking the aisles of Tesco, pushing a trolley?

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9 Responses to “And the point of khaki is what, precisely?”

  1. Beaman Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. The humour was like a meercat popping its head out of a hole. Entertaining.

    I used to live in Berlin and was usually able to distinguish Americans from anyone else. Lovely people but their tourist fashion is very strange.

  2. Gorilla Bananas Says:

    They should make up their minds whether they want to socialise or watch the animals. I suspect the clothes are just a form of party dress.

  3. The Good Woman Says:

    Hee hee. The final irony is the footwear. Boots to their knees in searing heat in case… well… What? A snake falls in through their car window?

  4. Roberta Says:

    He-he! I suspect that we Americans have seen too many movies about Africa. I have to admit, I do wear a lot of khaki, but in my own defense it goes with everything and is easy to launder.

    If I ever come to Africa, dear Mem, I promise to wear that little red dress and speak in quiet tones.

  5. Primal Sneeze Says:

    Green is what the Yanks wear when they come here. And that goes into overdrive on St. Patrick’s day. You should see their completely baffled expressions when they realise Irish people don’t dress head to toe in green, even on this of all days.

    ps. Every cheetah in Africa knows precisely how Kate Moss feels, believe me. Killer line, M’sahib, killer line!

  6. Carolyn Says:

    Heehee! Very nicely written. The tourists used to do exactly the same in PNG. It’s just a pity that khaki doesn’t blend in with the jungle. They’d also add “tribal” jewellery, like pigtusk necklaces, to complete the “complete tosser, aka soft target” look. We would drink coffee at hotels and watch the hordes come in, all with their matching outfits and matching luggage, and laugh.

  7. Minx Says:

    American and Japanese tourists are the most entertaining!
    I once tried to give some Americans directions to a local beach. They stared stupidly at me, not saying a word. I asked if they had understood and they said “Oh yes, but can you say it again – your accent is just soooooooo cute”.

  8. Ju' Says:

    I know this is only about a year too late (but I’ve only just discovered your blog…sorry!) Hmmmph… someone has to stick up for Khaki…. I’m rather fond of it and if anyone should rootle about in the depths of my cupboards & wardrobes they would find many fine examples of the colour and a load of old tut that I’ve forgotten about (but they accept the challenge at their own risk and I hope they have up to date tetenus jabs). Having said that my mother and I rarely mention the K word and just refer to it as “cow pat” – as in “ooo J, that’s a nice cow pat shirt/jumper/pair of trousers – matches your eyes.” For those fashionista’s who fret about the different shades of CP – please note that these are designated by – oh, how can I put this – water content: cow pat’s start off as fairly wet and are therefore dark as they dry out they become lighter – easy!

    It’s sad I know but I’ll just have to resign myself to being seen as yet another Daktari (pl) casting reject as I occasionally stumble around Nairobi (maybe I could embroider “I’m only a part-time tourist” on the back of the shirts…)

    By the way – I’m really enjoying the your blog – please keep going! Between you and Africa Expat Wives Club you’re putting a smile on my face and giving me a bit of a clue as to things that I might have to contend with in the future – if I’m lucky.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    that’s really funny. Do embroider I’m not a tourist on the back of your shirts. then if i spot you on rare soujourn out I can say hello? my eldest daughter has a snobbish horror of being mistaken as a tourist. once, in a traffic jam of note in arusha, really of note: 6 hrs to do do the 35 mins home from school, the tourists stopped and gawped at the knots the town had tied itself into and eldest daughter shouted out the window, ”welcome to africa, welcome to africa”’. Specatating tourists were probably quite pleased she wasn’t one of them: she was clearly nuts.

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