Honestly, I am not trying to define genders here. But sometimes, in trying to translate from Romanian to English, I find holes in my own vocabulary. Do we even have a word for a man who sews for a living? Would that be a seamster? (Spell-check is saying no.)
I ask because a couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend found a hole in his jacket where a seam had come undone. Being a repair beyond my hand-sewing skills, he decided to go to a croitorie (sewing workshop). I also had a pair of khakis that I bought in the Spring, when I was a few kilos heavier, that I could no longer wear. He assured me that the croitor (sewing man) could take care of those, too, but I was skeptical. So we set off with his ripped jacket, my saggy khakis, and a pair of corduroy pants that were too long.
We parked in front of a sign that read exactly as follows:
Păsări Exotice și Pești Exotic Birds and Fish
Croitorie Sewing Workshop
In Romania, it's common for houses and even business to be located off the street in a courtyard with a gated entrance. This was one of those places, so I assumed there was one sign for multiple businesses in the same courtyard, as usual. Imagine my surprise upon finding that the "best" sewing man in town has his workshop in the front of an exotic pet store. The pungent smell of fish food filled our lungs as we stepped inside. To our right, a row of professional sewing machines. Straight ahead, fish tanks. To our left, a makeshift dressing room (a curtained-off corner, the norm here). I drew the curtain and insisted that my fella stand outside and hold it tightly against the wall, just barely covering a window with a view of the courtyard. Classy.
One thought kept going through my mind: Romania is so shady.
I have this thought often. For example, when I was walking to pick up my altered pants today, a man on the sidewalk mumbled "cigarettes" to me under his breath, which means they are black-market. Shady, right? Right. And then there is the fact that I left my pants with a man who was sewing them in the front of a pet store.
So today, I walked into the fish-bird-sewing paradise and handed the guy my claim ticket, which was actually a piece of cardboard with some illegible scribbling. He didn't even look at it because he remembered me, so he went straight to searching through the stack of plastic shopping bags behind his sewing machine. Oh, no alphabetized racks or anything visibly organized here. Just sacks. Lots of sacks. And quickly enough, I traded 26 Lei for my 2 pairs of pants in a Walgreens bag and was on my way home. So ended my first experience of visiting a Romanian croitorie. Kind of anti-climactic, but that's how it went.
Let me close by saying that my pants are perfect. They also smell like fish food, but that can be fixed, too.