Monday, November 23, 2009

Cold Feet

 In my defense, it's been sunny and warm the past few days. [Come on, weather! I want to experience the natural evolution of the seasons! Give me some freaking snow already! I'm in Ukraine, not San Jose!]

Woah. Sorry. Back on track. But really, the past few days have been pushing 14 degrees (the high 50's, for all you Fahrenheit lovers) with brilliant blue skies. So I really do not think that breaking out my sandals one last time is such a crime. Besides, when a girl has a fresh coat of bright red polish on her toes, you just can't expect those toes to stay clammed up in shoes all the time. What a dreadful waste. School finally resumed today, after four weeks off, and I was having a hard time convincing my body to switch into Teacher gear. To make things a little easier on myself, I picked out my favorite outfit. That outfit happens to correspond with only one pair of shoes--my sandals. So, considering the warm weather we've been having, I figured it would be acceptable to venture out with exposed feet. And it really was fine. I'm only outside for about 10 minutes of my 45-minute commute, and it wasn't raining or cold or anything.

But then I got to school. I'm usually the first one there, and I'm alone for an hour or two before Jill and Lynsie show up. The school coordinator, Larisa, doesn't even arrive until the kids do (she just sits in the office and is basically our language liaison with the parents). So I was a bit surprised to find the school unlocked. I went inside and froze, recognizing the silhouette of Tania--the native coordinator for our entire group, and ILP's head person in Ukraine. Tania is a very concerned person. She is concerned for our health, safety, and all the big things. Unfortunately, she is also concerned with the little things, like what kind of tape is allowed on the floor, and the unspeakable evils of air-conditioning. Do you get what I'm trying not to say here?

I stood in the doorway and knew that, despite the warm weather, I was busted. Completely, totally, wholly, utterly, entirely, absolutely busted. I stood there, racking my brains for an excuse for my feet. Could I get away with saying that I wore shoes on my way, and then changed into sandals once I got here? No, it was too late. She was coming towards me. I braced myself.

"Alena! Did you wear those shoes on your way here? Did you?"
"Yes, Tania."
"Why!? What were you thinking? That is not okay, not okay at all. Why would you do that?"
"It's been sunny and warm the past few days. My feet were too hot in closed shoes."
"I cannot believe this. That is totally inappropriate. It does not matter what the weather is like, that is totally inappropriate of you. So inappropriate. I can't believe you went out in public like that. People will think you are [taps head] crazy."
"Well, it's a good thing I don't talk to people."
"It doesn't matter! It's not okay. At least wear socks! You must promise me that you'll never do this again. Do you understand me? Never again! You cannot be seen like that. Totally inappropriate."
"Tania? Tania! It's ok. I can hear you. It's not a big deal. I won't do it again."

Later that day, I went to a church activity and nearly forgot about my exposed feet until I was about to leave. Three Ukrainian girls (about my age), who I'd just started to get to know, finally summoned the courage to ask me about my footwear. Giggling, they pointed to my feet but I stopped them before they could say anything, "I know, I know! I'm not crazy, I promise. It's just been so warm recently, don't you agree?" At first they refused to acknowlege how lovely the weather was, but they finally gave in and admitted that it had been pretty nice. They still shook their heads and smiled knowingly to themselves as I walked past.

Leaving my house this morning, I knew full well that the babushkas would give me crazy looks, well deserved for a young rascal like myself. I knew that. And I enjoyed watching the younger Ukrainian women in their high-heeled patent-leather knee-high boots look me up and down, and then look away as I returned their stares. (One of my favorite Ukrainian cultural quirks is the eye-contact dance--they'll stare unashamedly, even rudely, at your body for as long as they please, but not into your eyes. I love watching people look me up and down, but quickly look away when they realize that I am prepared to stare right back. I feel like the undefeated Staring Game champion, because they just won't hold anybody's gaze.)

So there you have it. I am a creature quite beyond Ukrainian comprehension. Even though they admitted that my sandals were not entirely unfit for the weather, I was still labeled "inappropriate," several times over (thanks, Tania). It was quite amusing to defiantly stare back at strangers on the metro and on the bus, but it was also something of an awakening. Our culture basically embraces a don't-worry-too-much-about-what-people-think attitude. Not to be taken to the extreme, of course, but we're taught not to overly-conform to others' expectations, merely to gain acceptance or impress others (or to be considered "appropriate"). We're taught not to judge a book by its cover; here, the opposite is not only true, but demanded. Today, the librarian demanded that I fix my cover. Ouch.

I just realized that I dedicated several significant paragraphs, and a substantial amount of time, to a story about my feet. I have an infamous story about a favorite pair of socks that makes my friends roll their eyes, "Wow Alena, great story!" So, recently I've been a bit paranoid about the lame-level of the stories I tell. Obviously, I haven't been paranoid enough, because I just posted this.

But really, it's been such pleasant weather.


  1. Are you kidding? The length (and boringness) of my posts totally trumps yours!!

    I heart your posts. Like a lot. You make me laugh. I even read them aloud to Traci. She loves them too...

  2. Can you possibly imagine the looks (and tongue lashings) if you had worn SHORTS to school that day? We'd probably be hearing about your deportation on CNN!


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