Friday, August 22, 2008

Acclimating to the culture

Close to a year ago, I wrote about my experience going to the bazaar to buy a new pair of jeans. At the time, it was a rather traumatic (albeit amusing) event. It was the first time I had been faced with trying on clothing in such a public environment, since there are no changing rooms over here. Instead, the merchant might hold up a sheet to block you from view of others in the bazaar. Then again, the merchant might not offer such an amenity.

The first time I bought a pair of jeans, I bought the first pair that I tried on. Fortunately, I liked them—because I did not want to go through that experience for quite some time! Today, I realized that the situation has changed significantly. I will soon be leaving Shymkent to travel around the country and do some fieldwork, and needed to find an outfit or two that were both professional in appearance and that would travel well. It is always challenging to find something appropriate at the bazaar, particularly since many of the outfits that are suitable for Kazakhstan are a bit over-the-top for the US. At home, most of the outfits that would be considered everyday wear in Kazakhstan would be worn only for special occasions—such as holiday parties and weddings.

It can certainly be a challenge to find appropriate dresses in Kazakhstan—and when you do, it is yet another challenge to ascertain whether the merchant has your size. There is nothing quite like being told repeatedly that “we don’t carry large sizes” or “that wouldn’t fit you/look good on you”! You quickly have to learn that these comments are not meant to be insulting—most (younger) Kazakh women have very slender builds and the majority of merchants carry the more common sizes.

When I eventually found some dresses that I liked and that appeared to be my size (you can’t tell by looking at the tag—I have tops that are 4X and others that are XS. Seriously!), I realized that none of the merchants offered the amenity of a sheet to change behind. Instead, trying on an outfit entails taking off your shirt and pulling the dress over your head—while groups of young teenaged boys observe. Any misplaced sense of modesty can result in buying an outfit that you later realize doesn’t fit properly or look that great when worn. On the bright side, it is easy to tell whether a dress looks good—and you don’t even need to look in the mirror!

I guess I have become accustomed to life in Kazakhstan—because I still need to buy one additional dress and will have no problem going back to the bazaar in a few days to see what else I can find. That is something I never would have done a year ago!