Wry Exchange

Wearing a Sari
09-15-08, 12:02 am
Filed under: Culture, Home | Tags: , ,

I wore a sari last week for the first time.  I offered to help someone share her Indian culture at an event.  (International Night at a conference.  Different cultures each had a room with food and decorations.)

I was a greeter, and spent my time welcoming guests by sprinkling rosewater, applying sandalwood oil, and ‘bindi-ing.’ (not all at once.)  I was also supposed to put my hands together and tip my head while greeting them with a “Namaste,” but I couldn’t figure out how to hold my gift and put my hands together at the same time.  I tried to be graceful.  Next to the two Indian women, I felt like the klutzy ‘gringa.’

  • ‘Bindi-ing’-I offered bindis to women, and applied them to their foreheads.  If they asked what the ‘dot’ was called, I replied “Bindi, just like the Crocodile Hunter’s daughter.”  We had the traditional red dots, and fancy, sparkly ones.  They were all self-adhesive.  It was fun sticking them on people.  (A handful of men wanted them as well.)
  • Rosewater-The rosewater was in a beautiful sterling container that looked like a cross between a perfume bottle and salt shaker.  I shook it on people like priests do at Easter. 
  • Sandalwood oil-A blueberry sized drop of oil lasted for 3 hours.  The oil was in solid form, and was held in a gorgeous sterling cup and saucer with the tiniest little spoon.  I dabbed the back of the spoon in the oil, and rubbed the oil on the back of the guests’ hand.  They were supposed to rub the tops of their hands together to warm up the oil.  It smelled really good and earthy.

Back to the sari.  It was so pretty.  I didn’t expect to wear a sari; it’s not my culture.  I had a plain black wrap dress to wear. ( I just wanted to help set up, and blend into the background.  Duh.  Black isn’t going to blend in an Indian room.) When my friend asked me if I wanted to wear a sari, I hesitated.   She brought several with her for women to wear.  She pulled one out that matched my hair and complexion, and unfolded it.  I didn’t realize how long the fabrics were.  Wow!  She wrapped it around me, over my capris.  I walked back to my hotel room, and unwrapped it in front of the mirror. 

A sari outfit has three parts.  The sari, a small shirt called a ‘choli,’ and an underslip. The sari is tucked into the petticoat.  The underslip closes with a string tie, and is ankle-length.  I had a short Spanx slip in my room, so I pulled that on.  I thought the Spanx slip was strong enough to hold up a zillion yards of fabric, and thankfully, I was right.   The choli that was with my sari was way too small, and I didn’t want to wear a midriff muffintopbaring shirt.  I brought a Ralph Lauren stretchy wide neck shirt that looked like a choli-purely by accident.  It also matched.  Score!  I got dressed, and went back downstairs to the Indian room.

My friends were so amazed that I dressed myself!  They were so proud of me.  I guess it’s not easy to correctly wrap a sari, and I did it all by myself.  I felt like a little kid who remembered to put my underwear on under my clothes.  Husband told me I looked pretty, and I received a ton of compliments.  I felt pretty.  My friend let me keep the sari as a gift.  It was so generous and unexpected.  It was a night to remember.

Lots of inf on Wiki, including 11 different ways of draping the sari fabric.  Here is a blog about fashionable saris called Saree Dreams.


FES Underwear
03-16-08, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

 Last month, I wrote about the basic FES wardrobe, but I didn’t include underwear.  Underwear deserves it’s own post.
My experience with men’s underwear around the world is mostly by washing it as a hostmom.  🙂   I do purchase ladies panties when on vacation.  They’re like useful souvenirs.  Underwear can be quite different in other countries.  As always, do your own research.  Look at websites of stores in your new country.  Ask people from that country if you can without looking like a pervert.
Boys-As far as I can tell, boxer-wearing teens are only in the US.  They seem to be old man underwear in the rest of the world.  A lot of boys arrive in August with pajamas, and it’s hot and humid here.  I’ll buy them a funny pair of boxers and suggest they may like to sleep in them.   After that, they seem to all want more, and end up wearing boxers at least half the time.    The underwear FES boys bring from home include tighty-whiteys, boxer briefs, low rise briefs, and bikini.  No thongs (yet.)   The underwear the boys bring with them look tiny, they must wear them very tight.  They look like kids’ sizes. 
GirlsBras are different.  Who knew?  The first time I went to Chile, I stared at women’s chests.  I couldn’t quite understand why, until I realized their bosoms were shaped differently.  My husband and exchange sons said they didn’t see any difference. (not sure if they told me the truth.)  Cups can push breasts together or keep them way apart.  Bra cups can shape breasts into points, push them up, change their shape or form a uni-boob.   In some cultures, girls and young women start out wearing underwire bras.  The idea is to keep breasts from sagging as they age.  Girls may also sleep in their bras.    Panties-A few places still have only white cotton panties.  How boring!  Girls coming here seem to love Victoria’s Secret, but not the panties so much.   A lot of them think they’re granny panties, even the low-rise bikinis.  The problem seems to be too much of butt cheek is covered by the panty.  Many of the girls wear thongs, and a lot wear undies that are wider than a thong, but cover less than half of their butt.  I’m not sure how that’s comfy, but I don’t have to wear them.  I’ve heard plenty of bitching about how we have weird underwear here, so you’ll be the one whining in their countries. 

Packing-Take 10 pairs of underwear with you.  Take at least 10 pairs of socks with you.   You can always buy more or have mom send you some.  Socks have a way of walking off, so take multiples of the same style.  If you have to wear a uniform, see what socks you need to wear.  Girls may need navy or black knee socks.   Use those ziplock bags that you vacuum out the air so they don’t take up much packing space.
Washing-Socks and underwear may not be washed with the other laundry in your new home.  Ask when you first arrive.  You may be responsible for handwashing them.  We’ve hosted Argentines who wash socks and undies along with themselves in the shower daily.   We’ve had many students from around the world who don’t want anyone to see their underwear.  I don’t know why, but ask your host family or the maid the proper procedure.  You don’t want to be rude.

Basic Exchange Student Wardrobe
02-26-08, 1:41 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

Classic. Timeless. Versatile. Uniform. Ubiquitous.    I think there are some basics that all exchange students should take with them.  This list isn’t complete, students need more than what I’ve listed.  This clothing should be appropriate for  Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Jacket-basic jean jacket
Shoes-Converse Chuck Taylors, flipflops.  The flipflops can be used as slippers or house shoes as well as Summer wear.
Dressy-Black suit
Jeans-Pair of dark blue basic jeans
Pants-Black slacks-Dockers wrinkle resistant, Ralph Lauren, or other brand that wears well.   Don’t buy a cheap, flimsy pair that won’t hold up. 
Shirt/Blouse-white dress shirt, long sleeved.  Useful for uniforms, costumes, photos, weddings, funerals, etc.
Cargo shorts
Lounge pants in heavy t-shirt material for sleeping, lounging or as warm coverups in blue, grey, or basic black.  A plain color is more versatile than plaid flannel, Adidas stripes, or a college team.
Hoody-again, plain and dark.

Just for Girls
Pants-Black yoga pants-for exercise, sleep, lounging, or outerwear.
Skort-A skort is a skirt with attached shorts underneath. Buy one that looks like a skirt from the back, too.  Some just have a flap in the front, and look like shorts in the rear. ick.   A skort is good for hot travel days where you’ll be hiking and touring a church the same day.   It’s also appropriate for many different occasions if you’re unsure what to wear.  It’s great if you pass out fall asleep without worrying about the skirt riding up.  Buy a sturdy skort in either denim or cargo style.

EDIT to add: White t-shirt, black or white polo shirt. 
I think black and white is the most versatile, but you may prefer navy and khaki, browns, or all greys.   Whatever you take with you has to mix and match with as much as possible.  Stay in one color family to get the most out of a limited wardrobe.

Clothing, duh
01-24-08, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students, Home, hosting | Tags: , ,

Our temporary FES is going to the Homecoming Dance on Saturday.  FES doesn’t have appropriate clothing.  FES just brought jeans and sweats from home, no nice clothes.  I send the kids emails-extensive emails- before they arrive.  One of the ‘Welcome to Appalachia’  emails is in English and translated into Spanish so there are no misunderstandings.  Including the italic sentences.    Clothing: You will need one dressy or formal outfit in addition to your uniform jacket. Many of the students own black suits. That is perfect, and appropriate for many occasions. The remainder of your clothing should just be casual.  Jeans are appropriate for school. Don’t bring your entire wardrobe; clothing is inexpensive here, and most students purchase a lot of clothing throughout the year. You will need warm clothing for part of the year, from October through April. We can have subzero winter weather (including snow) anytime from November to March, changeable weather in October and April; and warm weather May through September with daily high Summer temperatures of 28-38ºC.  Really, isn’t that clear?  I only ask for one nice outfit.  ONE.   For weddings, funerals, banquets, and dances. 

I probably shouldn’t be surprised though.  I’ve shovelled the walk twice today.  FES went to school today, the tonsillitis is getting better.  As I waited to pick up FES after school, a girl walked past me wearing flipflops, miniskirt, and belly shirt.  Several boys wore shorts today, and many students only had hoodies for a winter coat.  It wasn’t sunny, and the high was about 20 degrees. 

Husband finally looked at the tank today.  I was really worried; he didn’t want to see it yesterday.  I watched him go over it from an upstairs window.  I was too chicken to go out.  He told me it looks worse than it is.  The old girl ‘only’ needs a radiator, front grille, and the passenger headlight assembly.  The bumper and front quarter-panel weren’t touched, and the hood can be pounded flat.  ~sigh of relief~

FES’s new hostparents are due to return from vacation tonight.  Is it really evil of me to let them deal with the clothing issue?   Yes, I know it is. I’m going upstairs to see if we have something to pull together an outfit.  We have lots of spare sweaters, hoodies, and coats for students, but not too many good clothes.  Except ties for boys.  Hah!  The guys need to wear ties for one dinner, and about half of them ‘forget’ to bring a tie with them.  Husband takes about 10 ties with him, and tells them to pick a color.  Their little faces just fall.   Old age and treachery beat youth and beauty again. Then Husband ties their ties for them.

Denim and Diamonds
10-26-07, 12:09 am
Filed under: Home | Tags: ,

 I volunteered for a Cattle Baron’s Ball fundraiser.  Dress codes like ‘Denim and Diamonds’ or ‘Fabulous Western’ are tricky.  This is what I saw, and my suggestions for the midwest.  
Denim & Diamonds

  • Women-dark dressy jeans, great blouse or top, and fabulous sandals or shoes-  Pile on the good jewelry.
  • Men-jeans, dress shirt, blazer.  Try for a little flair somewhere in your outfit.  A great shirt, fun pocket square, or a pin.
  • Denim & Diamonds, Western Style

  • Women-Any combination of the following:  jeans, denim skirt, or flowy black skirt.  Cowboy or riding boots. Western shirt, vest, or jacket.  Big, chunky silver and turquoise jewelry, concha belt,  cowboy hat.  I wore dark jeans, white cotton shirt, circle-braided belt that looks like a whip with silver tips,  black gaucho hat, and Cole-Haan Drivers.  (Hey, I had to stand all night.)  One of the best dressed women had a calf-length black skirt, loose black tank top with a low slung concha belt and flat boots.  No’s-t-shirts, cutesy sweatshirt with cowboy motif, embroidered denim jumper, sneakers
  • Men-jeans, cowboy boots, and one or more of the following: denim, dress, or western shirt, bolo tie, leather vest, cowboy hat, blazer or western jacket.

  • The All-important Interview
    10-03-07, 12:27 pm
    Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: , , , , , , ,

    Students are usually interviewed by a team consisting of program volunteers, experienced exchange parents, and former exchange students.  The interview teams have a prepared list of questions, but are free to deviate at any time.  Students should expect to be interviewed for 30-40 minutes, and parents are interviewed for approximately 10 minutes.  What are the interviewers looking for?

    Student: First impression, attitude/demeanor during interview, appealing personality, thoughtfulness of answers, answers relevant to questions asked, ability to express self, ability to think under pressure, intelligence, flexible, adaptable, tolerant, leadership activities, service activities, maturity level, potential, be a great US youth ambassador? Does student have or had a job? What do you think are the student’s strengths and weaknesses?
    Parents:How does the family interact?  Why do the parents think their child will be a good FES?  Why do they think their child wants to be a FES?  Do both parents support the student?
    Interviewer: Do you think the student should be a FES?  Where do you think the student should go? Shouldn’t go?  Do you have any reservations?

    Practice at home in front of a mirror.  Look at your face as different thoughts cross your mind.  Remember-EVERYTHING is a test.  The interviewers may try to see how you react to stress by asking tough questions.  How you answer is as important as what you say.  You will be observed from the time you enter the building.  People will watch how you interact with your parents, how and if you interact with other students, if you pay attention during group discussions, and how well you comply with instructions.

    What to wear:  Dress to respect the interview.  This is important, so take care of yourself.  Wear khakis or nice pants/skirt/dress with a non t-shirt top.  A suit is nice, but not necessary.  If you aren’t sure, ask!  The person scheduling you will be happy to answer your questions.  What is appropriate in Appalachia may not be appropriate for the West coast.   I used to say “Wear what you’d wear to church or for a job interview.”  Kids would show up in ratty jeans and dirty flip-flops.
    What not to wear: Anything wrinkled or stained.  Anything with sequins, rhinestones, or sparkles.  We’ve interviewed girls who look like they are on their way to a school dance.  Don’t wear evening clothes.  The interviewers don’t want to see bare tummys, cleavage, tattoos, or facial piercings.  PLAY THE GAME.  The interview isn’t really the place to express yourself.  Get accepted, then put your piercings back in, and take the makeup off your tattoos.   You are going to represent the US abroad as a youth ambassador.   Dress as you would on your first day teaching at a Catholic school, or interning for John McCain.

    Edit to add personal note: This was my 100th entry.

    Inbound Update & Meeting
    10-01-07, 7:32 pm
    Filed under: Exchange Students, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: , , ,

    We had our second meeting over the weekend.  It was a glorious, sunny day, and we spent much of it outside.  Eli was the final student to arrive, and he fit comfortably into the group.  Eli’s host-mom wants him to be more outgoing, but I didn’t see any shyness in him at all.  He teased and joked around all day.  Che chose not to attend the meeting, preferring to stay here for Homecoming.  (He said he had fun.)  Almost all of the students were at the meeting, including Eli’s host-brother.  Hostbro fit in well, too.  Maybe we’ll get him as an outbound student in a few years.   Ian is doing well, and is very happy with life in the states.  His Homecoming was last week, and he told me he danced the entire time. 
    Mia is still a fluff.  She may turn into a problem for me.  I think she’s a problem for her host-parents now, but they are too polite to tell me.  She doesn’t have much money, but likes shopping.  She also wants to buy the best brands.   She bought a super expensive camera, but doesn’t have a winter coat.   I don’t want her to use her host-parents, they’re nice people who don’t deserve a spoiled brat.   Sometimes (bad) former exchange students tell the new ones to ‘let the gringos pay for everything.’  These aren’t the typical exchange student, and it’s an uncomfortable situation.  I hope she’s not like that. 
    The kids all have cameras now.  Only a few had cameras at our orientation.  I take tons of photos, and put them on-line so they can share their year with their families and friends back home.  The host-parents and counselors enjoy looking at the photos, too.  I try to take one close-up of each student and many group shots.  Some of the kids don’t share their photos with their host families. They just don’t think anyone would be interested.  The photos go from memory card to pen drive; no one prints photos anymore.  It’s interesting to look at the background action once I put them on my computer.  I can see who is standing alone, who makes bored faces, and a lot I miss in real life.
    Modesty seems to be a forgotten virtue.  One of the girls had a short skirt on, and I placed her hand on her leg before I took photos.  She doesn’t understand English well enough yet for me to joke ‘You don’t want a Britney moment.’   A guy had baggy shorts with boxers and accidentally flashed people.  Ick!  I don’t think I’ll stand below anyone while they are on bleachers anymore.  I asked another girl to put on different top or bra, as everyone could look straight down her skimpy, clingy  camisole.  No one wants to tell the kids, so they tell me to tell them, knowing I’ll say “put ’em away,” and give them a little talk.