If there’s one item of clothing that’s praised far beyond its use, it must be a Buff. Or maybe a shrug, which for a long time I thought was a Gallic expression of indifference. If you don’t know what a Buff is, think of a seamless cylinder of polyester material. Of limited use, you might think, and you’d be right. Not according to the canny marketing department at Buff Ltd.
Invented in 1991 in Catalonia, possibly to wrap around a leg of jamon to keep it cool, the Buff has exploded across the outdoor clothing scene as if it was more than just a neck warmer. Well, it does have some uses, I’ll admit. If it’s hot, dunk it in a stream and put it back on; if it’s dusty, pull it over your nose and mouth. If you’re a female entering a mosque, stretch it over your head & shoulders.
The basic scarf configuration
So far, so achievable by any neckerchief/bandana. This is where Buff marketing parts way with reality – the packaging lists about 20 possible ways to wear this thing, most of which are slight variations on the neck gaiter: balaclava, ear band, face mask, hood, beanie etc. Four of them (do rag, foulard, sahariene & pirate) are pretty much exactly the same. You see the pattern here? They all just wrap around your face, people! I won’t even go into the number and outlandishness of the available designs, although that is surely part of the appeal.
Now, I’m sure diehard Buff fans across the world have come up with myriad extra uses to which this simple tube could be put. Here’s a few I came up with after only a few minutes thought: dachshund boob tube; bongo cosy; horse blinder; mouse trampoline; mini skirt; colander; tent laundry chute; particle accelerator (requires several sewn together); emergency underwear; gift for the man who has everything etc.
One of the many similar bandana configurations
At this point I’d usually segue into an anecdote based on a time I used, or could have used one of these, but there really are no such times. Going back to the gift theme though, I am reminded of a little town in Egypt I like to call Port Said. A long time ago, myself and a female companion were hanging around PS with dreams of hitching a lift through the Suez Canal. We’d already spent a couple of days in Suez, at the opposite end of the Canal, asking around in shipping agencies but had had no luck. We heard the situation might be better in PS so we took a hair-raising 3-hr Peugeot ride north.
At our hotel we were befriended by a civil engineer in his fifties who insisted on taking us out for tea. I don’t think many tourists go to Port Said (and with good reason) and he was a bit over-enthusiastic in his attempts to be our best friend, but he seemed harmless so we indulged him. By the end of the day though, he got seriously creepy.
He called us down to the lobby and presented us with gifts, a tie for me and a hideous plastic ornament for my lady friend that looked exactly like the one in our hotel room. In fact, I saw the confusion in the receptionist’s eyes when he spotted it; he started to say something but our friend shushed him. The presents were ugly and we’d never use them but we were touched nonetheless and thanked him profusely. A couple of minutes went by before he said “Don’t you have something for me?”
“Oh, right, of course,” I said, embarrassed that I hadn’t realised what was expected. How rude of me. Thinking furiously, I rushed up to our room. What could I give him? An inspiration particle struck – a t-shirt that he had admired earlier. It was a bit riffy but hopefully he’d appreciate it. Wrong! “No, Dan,” he said, turning up his nose at the garment, “I don’t want that.” But it was a gift! I didn’t want his tie but I would never have said so. "Something else?" he urged.
Then another thought struck me – maybe I wasn’t being rude or committing some cultural gaffe. Maybe Mr. Nice Guy was actually trying to take advantage of us, giving us crap in the expectation of something better in return. But what? Surely he didn’t expect money. I looked at him helplessly until he enlightened me. “Don’t you have some other clothing, from your wife?” he whispered. My gf was out of the room. “Maybe some ... underwear?” he hinted, pointing at his crotch. The penny dropped - he wanted a pair of knickers.
The dirty bastard! Having instantly had all our stereotypes of Egyptian men reinforced, I refused outright and told him where to go. Our ‘friend’ took back his tie and ornament in disgust and disappeared upstairs. The moral? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, or something. We were rid of him anyway, plus my companion wouldn’t now have to walk around in the Buff! Ta-dah!