Wednesday, September 04, 2013

"What to wear and how it get it"

Centre of attention

September 1 is “First Bell” - a day when the community marks the end of summer and celebrates the beginning of a new school year. This is a special day for those going into grade one and hearing the ringing of the bell.  I have been to several “First Bells” and am impressed with the idea that the community comes together to formally reinforce the value of education and implicitly affirm the  value they place on their children. “First Bell” events are deeply rooted in the Soviet past. Girls still wear a version of the Soviet uniform. However the “over the top” hair style with the excessively large bows appear to be somewhat more modest. The grade one boys on the other hand, are expected to have a black suit with a tie. They will wear this outfit for Christmas, Easter and  Women’s Day. “An unnecessary expense”, a mother complained to me. I’m sure no boy would want to be seen as the only one wearing a black suit, however there is security knowing you are not the only one having to listen to your mother. The only other dark suits to be seen as those worn by the politicians. That fact gives little comfort to these young lads. 

ringing the bell

Speaking of suits, on Saturday I drove into Tokmak to get a fine espresso and a short-sleeved dress shirt. The smart looking  young ladies working at the coffee shop already know  my preference for espresso, no sugar. In two weeks, that’s better service than Starbucks in Victoria gives after 16 years of ordering a “tall dark”.
I leave the coffee shop and reluctantly step into a “hole in the wall,” windowless building just off the market and upwind from the toilets. (Shopping for clothes is but a small step above blue cheese dressing and the Yankees in my ranking of dislikes).  I realized that I was the only man in the store and it felt akin to the awkwardness of walking into a women’s washroom.  No one seemed to notice me - a good sign, and then, as if by magic, right in front of me was a most presentable, short-sleeved shirt. I pulled it off the rack and handed it to the sales clerk who was standing beside a small calculator. Her face had the look of skepticism and maybe even a little suspicion. I had absolutely no interest entering the flimsy looking change area with this crowd of critics. “Skolka”,  how much? She takes the shirt and starts reading the labels. I thought she misunderstood, so I repeated “Skokla”. A woman behind me firmly says “wait” so I ask her if she speaks English. “Nyet, wait.” Soon all the women in the shop join in the discussion, looking at me, and then at the shirt. Did they want me to try it on, or were they all on commission, secretly calculating a rip-off price?  Every time I wanted to say something, I heard “wait”. Then the calculator lady wrote “75” on a piece of paper, so I gladly pulled out my 100 grievna note. She didn’t have change and soon purses were opened and I collected 25 grievna from two other ladies. That shirt cost me less than $10 and I was complimented at “First Bell” on my very fine choice, although Ukrainian women staff said I really had paid too much. They advised, “next time take me and keep quiet”.  Thank goodness that I only had to buy a short-sleeved shirt. Imagine if I had to buy a dark suit with that cast “helping” me.

A good deal


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