Two British women claim they were “humiliated” and “made to feel like criminals” for wearing burkinis round the pool of an Albufeira hotel.
It is a ‘shocking case’ that seared through UK and Portuguese media this week in another classic example of ‘churnalism’ versus journalism.
Even traditionally ‘reputable’ news sources (example: the Independent) repeated the story as if it was an undeniable fact.
It transpires that it may well all have been ‘a storm in a C-cup’.
The unmasking of the Algarve’s ‘burkini row’ was left to tabloid Jornal de Notícias, which interviewed Elidérico Viegas, president of the region’s hoteliers association, as the story kicked up a veritable dust cloud over social media.
Viegas told the paper that not only was there no official record of the upset ever having taken place, the whole thing could be “yet another example of British holidaymakers making complaints in the hope that they will receive compensation”.
In this case, however, as the ‘Albufeira hotel’ was not mentioned, it is not immediately clear what kind of compensation could have been sought.
Correio da Manhã however claims the chief complainant – named by British newspapers as Maryya Dean, but given the added name of ‘Rajkumar’ in the Portuguese press – has just released a book. The title: Psychotic imprisonment.
According to CM, the book describes the author’s struggle “since the age of 5” with a bipolar disorder and depression.
British press concentration on Ms Dean/ Rajkumar’s medical history was light, while emphasis on her “disgust” over the treatment meted out by an unidentified ‘maintenance worker’ at an unnamed holiday complex went into every kind of detail.
Ms Dean Rajkumar’s “embarrassing walk of shame” back to her apartment; the essentially ruined holiday due to her decision to no longer use the pool – despite the weather being “baking hot” – were all heavily loaded onto readers, with the erroneous message that visitors to Portugal are all bound by a form of ‘beach dress code’ that insists on bikinis and shorts.
To give a brief recap, this is how the story went:
The Mirror appears to have ‘broken’ it, explaining that Maryya Dean was on a week’s holiday in Albufeira with her four children “plus her sister-in-law and other relatives”.
She took her children down to the pool in the complex where they were staying, accompanied by sister-in-law Hina.
“Given my cultural background I was wearing a burkini”, she told the paper.
“I was approached by the building security manager as someone made a complaint that I was not wearing a bikini and therefore not appropriate to be in the pool.
“I was compared to my nine-year-old daughter who was told to stand up out of the pool to see what she was wearing which I found completely rude – I was told I should wear that to swim.
“I was not allowed to wear swimming gear that I am comfortable in and that was actually made for women like me to wear,” she added, stressing she asked to see a sign saying only bikinis could be worn round the pool, “but there were no signs in sight”.
The 36-year-old mum continued: “The man then started making cultural references and said that Portuguese people wear bikinis and so should we.
“We were embarrassed as we came out of the pool with four children and people were watching us like we’d committed a crime.”
Hina, 31, was wearing what the Mirror describes as a ‘covered swim suit’.
The pair was not wearing full burkinis, the paper stressed.
“Hina described her swim suit as three quarter length leggings with a top which had sleeves down to her elbows, but it was waterproof and designed for use in a pool”.
Hina too heard from the member of the pool’s maintenance team that they “had received a complaint from a resident about them using the pool”.
The young woman said she was told she and her family members “had to abide by Portuguese culture” if they were in the country.
Maryya told the Mirror that following the women’s “walk of shame” back to their apartment, they didn’t feel they could use the pool for the rest of the holiday.
“I keep thinking about it”, she told the paper. “We had to do a ‘walk of shame’ back to the apartment, it was disgusting.”
In the UK press, the word Muslim does not appear, though Portuguese reports are full of it.
The burkini, or burquini, is a form of modesty swimsuit designed 13 years ago by a dual nationality Lebanese-Australian of the faith after she realised the lack of sportswear available to women of her culture.
It hit the news in a big way last year when a number of French municipalities banned its use on the basis that it was not a new range of swimwear, rather the “expression of a political project, a counter society, based notably on the enslavement of women”.
Bizarrely, a burkini ban was in place in a number of tourist resorts in Morocco as far back as 2014, due to “hygiene reasons”.
But back to the Algarve, has this highly publicised ‘slap-in-the-face’ for Portugal’s image as a tolerant tourist destination done us any harm?
On the basis that it is entirely unverifiable, the short answer is ‘no’.
Tourism boss Desidério Silva told tabloid journalists: “The British press can write what it wants. A British tourist can go back to England and say whatever he or she wants. The image of the Algarve is not damaged in any way at all”.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]