Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shopping war stories

You've probably heard the stories about Ukrainian women being amazingly beautiful and kind and domestic and feminine and educated and blah blah blah. It really is true. But I don't care about any of that. When I think of Ukrainian women, I think "Thanks a lot, stork ladies!"
because these women are skiiiiiiiny. And tall. And when most women in your society are skiiiiiny and tall, pants run from size XXXXS to size XS. If you're lucky, there might be a S stashed away somewhere, and that's a small S, not a regular S. But something like a size 6 in petite? Hahaha. Size 6 makes me the amazing hippo-woman hybrid here in Kharkov. I finally managed to squeeze into a pair of jeans today but if I gain even one pound.....

Speaking of clothes, most people here wear the same clothes over and over. As in, wear the exact same outfit to work the next day. I find this endlessly amusing. Yet oddly practical. I wonder if Ukrainians know that in the US, if you wear the same outfit to work the next day, it's a clear signal that you didn't go home last night (stayed out drinking or something worse). But since I can apparently get away with this here with no social stigmata, that's what I'm going to do.

I love the fashion here (sorry, Joyce). These clothes are what Barbie would wear if she was real. Everything is super-stylish and feminine and colorful (yet most people prefer black). There are lots of rhinestones and short skirts and high, high heels and tight jeans. I've bought 2 super-cool sweaters and a very sexy black skirt. The only thing that stops a massive shopping spree- aside from the usual obscene lack of customer service- is the fact that clothes are really expensive here. As in, minimum: $50 for a pair of jeans, $80 for a winter coat, $30 for a sweater. Ouch (on my little teaching salary). There are approx 50 billion "second-hand" stores on my block alone, filled with "clothes from Europe! Germany!" Denis is pretty sure this is humanitarian aid being illegally sold but I think he's wrong. Anyways, I haven't been impressed with the second hand shops here and I'm crazy about the US's Value Village, so I'm not that picky. #1)- there are no Barbie clothes at the second hand shops, and that is not why I came to Ukraine. I came to buy Barbie clothes. #2)- the clothes don't actually seem that much cheaper than they do in a regular store. But if you're not picky about your clothes, this is the place to shop. You can literally buy clothes by the kilo (they weigh the clothes and you pay a set price).

The stores here have a disproportionate number of sales staff (typically at least 3-5 people for a small store), who are usually gossiping loudly until you walk in....then they either eyeball you up and down in silence or follow you around the store, rearranging everything you touch. Shopping is a weird experience. I remember shopping in the states once with D's mom. I had a cart full of clothes to try on and when she saw it she staggered back in shock. D had to explain to her that I wasn't buying them but merely trying them on. D later told me that in her shopping experience (Ukraine), you look and look and look and only when you're 99% ready to buy something do you actually try it on. Now I understand her. Anyways, I've been pleasantly surprised that there are actual dressing rooms in most shops. Tonight, though, I guess one of the attendants thought I was taking too long because she ripped open the curtain with a "ну что, девушка?" (translation: well?) but haha to her- I was already dressed. When I told her "Nope, it's not my style" she gave a loud exasperated sigh and flounced off. Honestly, I hadn't even been in that store very long! But no wonder they were exhausted- the sales clerks followed me around the store and literally hoovered clothes out of my hands with "I'll hang this in the dressing room for you." Maybe I'm doing something wrong? Am I not allowed to carry clothes myself?

Oh, the final challenge? Size again. Not just that everything is in size XXS, but that companies go all cowboy about the actual sizes. It's like the wild west over here. Size 26 might be larger that a size 42, it just depends on the manufacturer. One shop assistant even took showed me how the same style pants made by the same company were actually slightly different sizes. When I asked her how people dealt with this, she just shrugged and advised me to keep trying things on.

Anyways, I'll have to keep shopping. Fashion is obviously very important here. I've seen people give me the evil eye for wearing the wrong shoes (black flats that have seen better days) or pants (ski pants. Hey, I ran out of other things to wear! There was a 23 kilo weight limit on my suitcase). I've got a mental list already of the shops with friendly people. Contact me and I'll tell you which shops to avoid.

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