Monday, October 02, 2006

The American Woman's burden

Consider it a form of Force Protection. For expat American females, there is a huge pressure to blend in when living in Europe. The reason is obvious to any American male having a beer in Paris, Rome, Seville or Madrid. The local women are drop dead easy on the eyes - and American women stand out like a sore thumb, and are about as attractive in comparison. Dale Fuchs gets it about right.
In Spain, I am a rebel. I go to the supermarket without makeup and have been spotted, repeatedly, wearing gray sweat pants and sneakers on a Madrid city bus.

But I wasn't always this daring. When I moved here eight years ago, at age 31, I tried to get with the Mediterranean program. The Spanish women looked so chic and feminine in their tight skirts and lipstick, dolled up to buy a head of lettuce. Why not shed my New York cynicism along with those shapeless hippie dresses and reach out to my inner Barbie?

The cute high-heeled mules lasted a month. They hit the back of the closet after a near spill on the cobblestones. The low-slung trousers became a lost cause, too. I grew tired of squeezing my hips into sizes that seemed cut for a child.

Barbie slipped away, the Birkenstocks returned, and I joined the ranks of expatriate women from sensible- shoe cultures who struggle to maintain their morale - or recognize themselves in the mirror - in a southern European world of ever-matching leather belts and bags.
Baggy sweat pants, messy pony-tail, and, ahem, a bit too "easy" with the locals. Yep, I can spot an American in Florence faster than I can smell their summer boyfriend.
Jennifer Marsella, a 32-year-old teacher from Rhode Island, lived in Rome and Siena, Italy, in her 20s, and she was so overwhelmed by the stylish women that she made a few uncharacteristic purchases: a pair of black satin Versace trousers, one size too small, and big black-and-gold Versace sunglasses.

She blames the costly shopping spree on the passeggiata, or traditional evening stroll, when Italian women show off their expertly knotted scarves and strappy gold sandals, making the rest of us feel scruffy.

"One day I was walking down the street with the paint-on pants and high heels," she said, "and I said to myself, 'Who am I kidding? This is so not me.'"
Yea, but it looks so good. The best way to tell an American from especially a French woman is one, simple, thing. The knot.
"I don't think American women ever get over the feeling of being less-than," Miller said, "but they resolve themselves that 'I will never be French, I will never be thin like that, I will never learn to tie a scarf like that.'"
I do ping on my European friends, but I will give credit where credit is due. This point is just about right.
"For some people, it feels like it's selling out to wear a miniskirt to work or high heels," she said. "They say, 'Isn't this what our mothers fought for?' - as though they were betraying the feminist movement."

Jasinski, an athletic 1.78 meters, 5 feet 8 inches, tall, has trouble fitting in herself.

She said stores carried such small sizes that she had to buy her clothes at a "big woman's shop." She was delighted by a recent government decision to keep anorexic-looking models off the Madrid catwalk during the town's fashion week.

But what is the alternative to the parade of wispy women in impossible shoes? A South Florida restaurant filled with overweight retirees in shiny pink warm-up suits, perhaps?

Lorraine Wise, a New Yorker who has lived in Madrid for 28 years, prefers chain-smoking Spaniards in high- heeled espadrilles to that.

"People really dress atrociously in the U.S.," she said. "Knit Bermuda shorts with a belly sticking out is not acceptable here, and maybe it's for the best."
I won a bet in Seville in the early 90s. Told a Shipmate I would give him $10 if he could spot an unattractive woman under 40 in the next 10 minutes. I know we were into hour 2 of drinking 6% beer - but still.

It's good to be a man. All you have to do is have a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, button up shirt, or crew neck sweater - throw a leather coat or sports coat on top - and you are a local. Oh, just no tennis shoes. Wear tennis or any athletic shoes over here and you have "Norte Americano" written all over you. That and your chubby mate will give you away every time.

(as Phibian sets Condition ZEBRA and runs for his hidey-hole)

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