Fitting In – Experience From An XL

My clothes buying has been quite the experience here.  While Forbesgunge is considered a city by Bihar standards, it is a big village by India standards.  I have heard that there are very nice, posh shopping malls in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata which rival the American shopping experience.  But here in Forbesgunge, one steps back in time in many different ways, not the least of which occurs in the realm of acquiring clothing.  Poorly lit big stalls open to the street and the incumbent noise, dust, bugs, etc., Forbesgunge clothing shops  have one long counter that spans the length of the stall.  Behind this counter are floor-to-ceiling shelves of individually packaged shirts, tops, and pants.  In order to see anything, it is required to tell the shop clerk what is preferred (long or short shirt length; cotton, poly, or mix for material type; short- or long-sleeved; size).  The clerk then goes and selects a collection that is bundled by size, which in the case of this American is XL.  The clerk then goes through the bundle and pulls out samples which he (I’ve seen no women shopkeepers or clerks) thinks would be liked and what they want me to buy (not unlike American car salespeople).  There is no such thing as browsing as I know it.  A few times I’ve taken matters into my own hands out of shear frustration, to the surprise of the shopkeep and my Apne Aap escort.  Additionally, the salesclerk inevitably lies about what kind of material the item is made; I’ll have requested cotton, but time and again I’ve been proffered garments with an avalanche of assurances such as “100 percent cotton, Madam.  You like.  Guarantee.”  There are no fitting rooms, so I’ve had to buy the item just by holding it up to me for size.  And, as I’ve found out after the fact, there is no ‘return’ policy, only an ‘exchange’ policy.  Nice racket.

It was my intent not to bring clothes to India but to buy them here, for several reasons:  1) reduce the amount of stuff to pack and carry; 2) support local business; and, 3) buy culturally appropriate clothing.  But what I did not consider:  my body type.  I am HUGE by Indian standards, although in the States I am a 6 – 8.

So I found it very comical that the ladies, old and young, at KGBV were so concerned with my garb.  I need to have not only an appropriate kurta (tunic) or t-shirt (loose fitting) and pants, but also a dupatta (long scarf) to finish the outfit.  When I refused the dupatta on the grounds it makes me very hot and sweaty, I was perceived as being unfinished and in danger of sticking out.  Well, LOL.  As if a scarf will hide the fact that I am five to six inches taller than most women here, that I have light colored skin not seen in this area, and that I have almost platinum blonde hair seen only on old people here.

So I am learning to embrace my different-ness; it does afford me a freedom that is rare for me in my current surroundings.  I say “hello”, wave, and smile at the strangers that sit down to gawk at me in train stations, at market stalls, and along village roads.  I have yet to be greeted back by anything more ominous than downcast glances (usually children), but am mostly responded to with smiles or astonished looks that I could possibly see and acknowledge that individual.  It is a truly unnerving experience, that just my smile can give someone such validation.

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