Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Today was one of the big holidays in Ukraine, paying tribute to the amazing women of this country. I walked to my Russian lessons and was surprised to find that not only was this important, but it also was a vacation day across the country--nobody was out at 9 a.m. as I strolled up Pushkinskaya St. toward my classes. Usually, the metro and buses are crowded with people heading to work.

Ukraine remains very traditional in many ways, particularly in the patriarchal nature of family relationships. Men should provide the money; women do everything else. They cook and clean and work and take care of the kids, all while trying to look as impressive as they can. But they are not saints. They have learned how to wrest control in many ways, despite this traditional culture, with cunning and often not-too-subtle manipulation. They take boyfriends; they are very demanding; they know their stunning looks and provocative clothing have an impact. I don't wish to judge; the easiest way to fail in understanding a culture is to spend too much time applying our values on their culture. I will first try harder to understand. It is interesting, for sure, and disturbing in many ways.

A friend told me this joke, which has some truth to it:

A man watches his neighbor sit on his balcony every day, strumming his guitar and drinking vodka. In the morning, his wife brings him breakfast, prepares the kids for school, and heads off to work. The neighbor spends the morning playing guitar. At lunchtime, his wife returns home to fix him lunch and clean up after him. And at night, the man sits on his balcony playing the guitar until dinner is served, by his wife, and he goes to bed.

The man watches his neighbor do this for several days. One day, he leans over and asks, "Don't you feel guilty?"

"About what?" the neighbor replies, still playing his guitar.

"You let your wife cook and clean and take care of the kids and work, and the only thing you do all day is to play guitar."

"Ah," said the neighbor. "No, I don't feel guilty. Is it my fault she can't play the guitar?"

So on March 8, the men cook and clean and buy their wives and girlfriends flowers, purses, shoes, phones and the like. Everywhere, I saw men and women with huge bundles of flowers of all sorts. The women seem to love this day. I think I understand why. For once, their many jobs become only one.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Where does all the dirt come from? I am wandering around the city on a daily basis and noticing all the dirt that covers the streets and sidewalks. The remaining spring ice is so covered in dirt that I can't tell the difference between ice and schmuck.

The sole English the Adidas store today, where I bought a new pair of shoes, didn't actually make shopping easier, but it sure made me feel more welcome that somebody (a clerk who spent two years studying English in London) would bother to speak to me in English.

Loneliness is easier to accept when you blame it on the barrier of language.

XXL in Ukraine is barely large enough to cover my personal friends here want me to wear tighter clothing even though such tightens would be ridiculed in the USA. We try to hide any indication of the beer/vodka gut, but in Ukraine, they seem to accept it and not to mind.

Why do clerks in every store give you a receipt only after they rip it slightly?

The Russian language has a whole other layer of complexity that I haven't even begun to delve into....the next month of language study will be freakin' difficult!!!

New shoes make me happy, especially when they keep my feet from hurting so much.

This American Life is truly the most interesting podcast/PBS program ever...I've listened to three in a row and it makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile...

Be well!