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What’s so funny?

October 29, 2010

In the seven months that I have been here (on man, has it already been seven months?) I have noticed that I get laughed at a lot.

I get laughed at when I try to speak, whether it is Ukrainian or Russian. Or people look at me as if I have dropped in from outer space. One person even went so far as to laugh and then to say “she’s struggling” because I was speaking Ukrainian but throwing in a Russian word (I was pretty mad at him for that. I mean, I don’t laugh at his terrible English). If people don’t laugh and don’t look at me as if I am completely insane, or some large bug, they just sit and stare at me, as if they don’t understand me. Now, I know that my pronounciation is not perfect (though I am often told how well I speak Ukrainian, I think these kind people are just surprised that I speak it at all), but seriously?

I get laughed at when people see my shoes. I wear “sensible” shoes – that is, they are not pointed-toed, four-inch high heels. I wear shoes in which I can walk, and some distance that. My shoes are not ugly – they are just not completely unsuited for the terrible roads and sidewalks that are here, or for being worn more than 10 minutes. They are actually Danskos (and a couple of pair of Clarks), which are very nice shoes, and much better for walking than the ones I have seen people wearing here. In other words, I do not suffer in pain just to have “cute” shoes (or boots). And that term is relative anyway.

I get laughed at when people see that I am wearing sunglasses at the end of October. I have been walking to work lately, taking advantage of it before the weather gets too cold (I went from a 20 minute walk to the center of the city to a 45 minute walk to the center of the city). You see, I hate taking marshrutkas – they are crowded (and sometimes smelly), and if I can avoid them, I do. So I am walking for now. As the center of the city is east from where I live, I walk toward the sun – thus the sunglasses. Is it because of the season that I get laughed at for wearing them? I do not view sunglasses as a seasonal item, but a necessary one – in fact, I attribute part of the reason that I do not have wrinkles to my protecting my eyes from the sun, no matter what the season.

I get laughed at for wearing a hat. Yes, I have started to wear a hat because it is cold, especially in the mornings and in the evenings, after it gets dark. Also because I just cut off most of my hair, so I do not have that to protect me from the cold any longer. So right now in the mornings, I walk down the sidewalk in my “fall” coat (actually not really warm enough for this weather but I am not ready to bust out the coat I will be wearing in -20 weather, so I layer), wearing my Danskos, my fleece hat, my sunglasses, and my headphones. This morning I passed many people who were amused at my appearance. I don’t understand why.

Luckily (for them), people have not laughed at me when they find out my age. Generally they are surprised, and complementary about how I look. But some people laugh when they think of the fact that I am over here as a volunteer, as in no salary (living allowance does not count as a salary).

And no one has laughed when they learn that I don’t eat fish, mayonnaise, or sour cream (but they are usually shocked. After all, they put mayo on EVERYTHING – no lie). However, I have many times heard “I don’t understand why you don’t eat (X).” Well, because I don’t. I never have (and if you don’t believe me, ask my family).

Yes, I know I am different, but seriously, getting laughed at starts to get old after a while. I mean, I have seen things here that would (and do) cause many Americans to laugh, but I do not. I also do not laugh at people who try to speak English – it is a difficult language to learn (Russian and Ukrainian, though, according to people here, are “easy” because they are “similar”. Even when I point out that most every day words are different, they insist that they are similar).  I don’t laugh at the mullets and other hairstyles I see here, or the makeup that women wear. I realize that people are people no matter where you are, and they wear things that I would never consider wearing, but well, good for them.

So I will continue to wear my sunglasses year-round, and my sensible shoes, and continue to try to learn and speak Russian and Ukrainian. Maybe eventually people will stop laughing and start paying attention to what I am doing here and how we are the same, rather than how I am different, and start to see what I have to offer in cross-cultural experience and learning.

One can hope, right?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Heidi permalink
    October 29, 2010 1:11 am

    I think you should start focusing on how many people DON’T laugh at you. It will cheer you up.

    I used to get annoyed that people couldn’t understand how I pronounce danish words, seriously… I wasn’t WAY off, but they are used to hearing them in this small area a specific way and only foreigners and people from Sjæland could understand me… But, now it is fine and of course things will improve with you. And I am CERTAIN you are doing fantastic with both languages. 😀

    And if you weren’t so stressed out and a serious individual you probably would have laughed (at least chuckled in your mind) at some of the things people do and wear, there and in the US.


  2. Jennifer Janis permalink
    October 29, 2010 1:52 am

    I completely understand your frustration! After 3 years in Japan, I STILL was getting stared at and laughed at.

    But it does get better, and I agree with the previous comment: you HAVE to laugh at the crazy things that are different in other cultures/countries (well, crazy is relative of course!). It doesn’t mean you are demeaning or judging, it just means you have a sense of humor about things. And it helps you realize that the people that laugh at you are not judging you or demeaning you. It’s human nature to laugh at things that are strange or not “normal” to us. And let’s face it: there are plenty of things that ARE funny. I have several Czech friends….and I laugh at their english on many occasions. It’s OK- they understand. As long as I let them know that it’s OK to make mistakes, they keep on trying!! And when they laugh at me for my lame attempts at Czech? I laugh with them.

    And really, when I see someone walking down the street with acid washed jeans, leg warmers and a banana clip in the hair (and no, they are NOT going to a theme party or being nostalgic!), how can I not at least chuckle??!!

    So, keep wearing your danskos, sunglasses (which, btw, people in Japan used to wonder why I wore sunglasses when it wasn’t summer too!) and hat…and laugh with them when they laugh at you!! It will make you feel much better 🙂

  3. Mom permalink
    October 29, 2010 7:39 am

    C’mon now. I get stared at in this small town in Minnesota. If you look or act differently, some people stare. If they laugh, consider the source.
    And I wear my “shades” year ’round as well. It protects your eyes from glare so who cares what other people think. I even wear mine in stores with bright lighting because I have an eye condition and I prefer to protect my eyes.
    Let them stare! Or, if it bothers you that much, turn and stare back! (Of course a nice big smile–and yours is so nice–might just take care of it, too. And, they really wouldn’t know that you might be laughing at them as well.)

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