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Without a fur coat Without a fur coat
by Valerie Sartor
2016-07-06 10:58:01
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“You’re nothing in Russia without a fur coat; you’re simply not a woman,” Nastya said casually, sipping her tea. This willowy young mother with silvery blonde hair could easily have been a professional fur model.  I was sitting in the kitchen alcove chatting with my friend, and trying to understand Russian culture from a female perspective.  “Really, your American bosses need to emphasize that women from the USA must come to Russia prepared,” Nastya continued. “Women and men expect to see female co-workers dressed up, wearing expensive jewelry, high quality clothing, and of course, a fur coat in the winter.”
 
fur01_400Her statement made me cringe, as I had envisioned Siberia as a drab, grim place where locals endured the cold and isolation in primitive style. For me, staying warm and well fed was a higher priority than looking like something out of Vogue. “Why is that? I thought you Russians had a crisis going on? Who has money to be stylish?” I asked.
 
“Crisis or not, looking good is a must! Russians can live in a dump, but women had better present themselves to the outside world, the work world, as attractive, as winners. And please, go see my beauty consultant, because you could certainly fix your face a bit. Wear some makeup, get some Botox…take care of yourself,” Nastya said. “You can get your lips enhanced, like mine, it will make you a bit sensual looking.”
 
“But Nastya, I come from a tradition of feminine modesty. I am trying not to attract attention to myself here, because if people see me as the ‘rich’ American, they might become jealous,” I countered.
 
“All women are jealous! It’s part of our nature. In Russia, women sort each other out by appraising each other’s dress, hair, and jewelry. You want respect at work? Then dress well. Your colleagues will look up to you because they will think: She is a person who can afford to wear gold, who buys shoes from Italy. Certainly, they will be jealous, but they will respect you.”
 
“I guess you are right, Nastya, because my department head always comments when I wear my striped John Jones suit. Yesterday she said: ‘Today you look nice.’ Last week another teacher commented: ‘Today you look like one of us.’ Usually, most of the women say very little when I go to work in a simple blouse and slacks,” I replied.
 
“That’s right; they think you are either weird or tasteless. They think: Why is our rich American so shabby? Is it because she thinks we are not worthy of her dressing up to work? You are insulting them, in a way, by being casual,” Nastya replied.
 
“You may be right. My boss said to her colleague when I came back from vacation: ‘Our American was in Greece. Relaxing on the beaches, look how brown she has become.’ She was smiling at me, and I was mortified, because I didn’t want my colleagues to know I could afford to go to Crete while they were suffering under the sanctions,” I said.
 
Nastya replied: “She was helping you by giving you face. All year you have been the foreign church mouse. Now you are tanned from an expensive vacation abroad. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your colleagues invited you for coffee now. And please, wear your diamond ring to work! Show off a bit. No one will steal it, that ring adds value to you as a woman. Luxuries are for showing off – tans, rings, and Italian shoes. As for me, I can’t wait to make my friends jealous when George and I come back from Spain brown as berries.”  Nastya smiled and offered me more tea.


    
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