“This how we do it where I’m from…”

27 Jan

Ways I Fight & Embrace My American-ness in Ukraine #1; “Opah!”

I own the most hated jeans in Ukraine.  Perhaps an exaggeration, but not as much as you’re doubtlessly thinking.  Bear with me.

My relationship with jeans is tenuous at best.  Even stateside where jeans monopolize the social scene, I would frequently wear tights with skirts or dresses rather than these monsters of discomfort.  I wish I could abrogate the social rule of wearing jeans in public when not work-related.  Swishing around town in my silk-lined dress pants is something I find a luscious joy in – they make me feel prepared, organized, and experienced…ok ok, and snazzy.  America is ruled by a temporally visual culture, which begs the question, if we concern ourselves with the appearance of things to such a vast extent, why do we choose to always look at jeans?  I’ll save my diatribe of this American classic, and suffice it to say, I would be perfectly happy alternating between professional or dress attire, and slouchy, bejeweled sweatpants.

Part of my dislike for this section of America’s closet admittedly comes from the fact that I cannot find a pair that fits to save my life.  Not only do I have to hunt out the extreme inseam measurements hidden in the seemingly endless rows at places like The Buckle which actually bother to carry jeans by inseam, I also fight a losing battle against my accumulated swimming and water polo experience when in the dressing rooms (read: swimmer’s muscular thighs).

All of which leads me to being here in Ukraine with merely one pair of jeans that feature a massive hole over my right knee.  Ukrainian jeans differ from American in two fundamental ways; 1. for girls they are all tight (when I say tight, I mean skin tight), and 2. there are pristine in a hole-less way.  Granted, some of their jeans have so many decorations on the back pockets they spill over, down the leg of the wearer.  Still, not a hole in sight.  Coming from a country where we pay extra to buy the jeans that come pre-damaged, this is a little off putting to me.  Just as off putting to them, it seems, is my thoroughly American pair of jeans.

Shortly after I first wore said jeans around Drohobych while running my errands, an odd thing started happening.  A prickle of strange outside attention would slowly build until I’d look up to find an old lady staring at me…or rather, staring at my exposed knee.  The stares I’ve encountered have ranged from confusion to worry, curiousity to pure disapproval.  I was growing accustomed to these glances at my knee until an older man stopped me on the street and asked, «Не замерзла?» («You’re not cold?») in response to which I donned my sweetest smile possible, and in a way I hoped would impart an appreciation for his concern responded «Hi» («No») before carrying on my way with my groceries.  Since then I’ve been stopped frequently with the same question, or the variation «Не холодна?»

Tickled by what I perceived as an overabundance of concern, you can imagine my surprise when, walking to the bus stop on my way to work one day, I lost my footing on one of the many ice patches scattered throughout town and an older gentleman very calmly looked at me and said «Opah!» before carrying on his way.  I couldn’t hide my confusion as I stared up at him from the snow bank in which I had landed.  More amused than concerned by my spill, his reaction had thrown a wrench in my whole theory about Ukrainian concern for strangers.

Although, in all fairness, my pants were hole-less that day.

*Music: “This Is How We Do” -Big Tymers


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