What’s so funny?
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?