Appearances may be deceiving…

As a Romanian, I have been told along the way that I look like other nationalities – French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and even Malaysian! (mostly Mediterranean) Therefore I was not surprised when people in Ukraine told me I look Ukrainean/Russian. I found it normal in a way, thinking we are all Eastern European, therefore we should share some traits. And then I thought maybe it’s something else, it is also a certain culture similarity that may make people believe I am Ukrainean. For example, as I don’t speak the language, I tend to talk little and in short sentences, and look shy and timid. But that is common for women in this culture. And as most of the time I understand what they mean through culture analogy, I guess it is hard for them to believe I don’t understand the language.

In my two weeks here, I have been stopped even twice a day and been asked for directions. At the beginning, I thought it was because I was with my baby, and therefore looked like a respectable and stable resident, but it also happened when I was alone, and carrying a map myself!

The other day I was struggling up a hill at Lavra Pacerska with the baby pushchair, when a man offered to help me. I gracefully accepted by saying „spasiba”, but then I noticed he was asking me something. I learnt how to say I don’t speak the language and proceeded in mumbling it. He looked puzzled, and told me in his basic English „But you look Russian!”. And then continued to explain something in Russian. And that amuses me, the way people assume that if you look Russian, you should somehow understand it too.

The other day, I was in a restaurant with my husband, and although his language abilities are better than mine, the waiter kept addressing me, as if the fact that I looked alike made him more comfortable.

I find it generally funny, the way people may fear the unknown under the smallest form, and feel reassured by similarity, but in the same time I can see the advantages. I have met a journalist having worked in the Middle East for a while, who said that she had returned to Europe, because in her line of work, it was fundamental ”to blend in”.

I may not become a journalist, but there is a certain sense of comfort in recognising cultural patterns. And I feel very at ease here from that point of view. Therefore, if locals feel more comfortable talking to me because I look like them, the feeling is mutual. I guess when you are an expat, you are looking for that ideal which is ”a home away from home”. And if the place you are allows you to feel that way, then you are a winner. And if you make local people feel at ease too, then it’s a win-win situation.

For a more visual effect of what I tried to express, please visit this page: Same face in different cultures – Copyright I do not own anything, just looking!


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