Monday, August 07, 2006

Harping on Harper's

Before I left for Ukraine last fall, I sent a query letter to Harper's magazine, describing the research trip I was embarking upon and asking if they would be interested in reading something based on my findings. I thought they'd at least respond to me, if not because of the credentials of my Fulbright, then because, as I noted in my letter, their fiction editor had recently praised my work. Still, I never did get an answer to my query. Which isn't to say that the editors weren't interested. A feature on "The Great Ukrainian Bride Hunt," by Kristoffer A. Garin, ran in the June issue.

Not surprisingly, the feature focuses on a romance tour, which introduces a large number of Ukrainian women to a small group of western men at socials in one, two or a handful of cities. Some Americans I met in Ukraine said they'd never been on one (or only one) because they'd learned it was closer to sex tourism than anything that might help them find a wife. (One American said this while also singing the praises of that one tour.) In short, the great majority of people who go on these tours, at least these days, after the publication of many salacious articles, know what they're signing up for, and it doesn't even lead to a paper anniversary.

Still, rather than looking at something more mainstream and representative -- the men who drop into Ukraine or Russia by themselves -- the romance tour does have its obvious editorial advantages: it brings the greatest hue of yellow to the page, and it is also very convenient, in that it allows a journalist to parachute into the country, bounce between two or three cities, and then leave with the ability to say he is an authority on his subject.

I'm not going to get into a drip-by-drip analysis of Mr. Garin's article. He's written a book about the evils of the cruise industry, which means we think alike in some ways. But his Ukraine piece is predictably condescending to the men who look to the internet to find a wife, if only because he starts it by saying it's surprising that this is not a "fringe" movement. I'm not alone in finding something wrong with his tone:

"He writes nasty and surreptitious notes about folks who are involved in that most difficult of endeavours: looking for love. He holds out their weaknesses and says, Look, aren't we lucky we're not them?"


Beyond that, Garin's insights seemed to go no deeper than the index cards he no doubt prepared before his trip ("This, then, was globalization’s answer to the mail-order brides of the Old West") while his comments on Ukrainian women ("I had the distinct impression that many were wearing their one nice outfit for the occasion") can only be read as being as informative as his stay in the country was long (two weeks).

But then again, I am the guy who wrote the query to Harper's, not the article, so I'm obviously biased.

As for the agency profiled in the article, A Foreign Affair, I think it operates like all the other big agencies, Anastasia Web, for instance, in that it makes its money by selling high-priced tours to men who know little about Ukraine (or are repeat-customers uninterested in marriage, only the possibility of a sex spree). Those interested in actually meeting a woman and pursuing a marriage would be better suited finding a small, privately-owned company which has an American owner-operator living in Ukraine. I won't go so far as to recommend any agencies (several readers have written to me asking for just that, but I don't think it's my place), though I will say that I met two people who impressed me with their honesty and friendliness.

The first is Allen at Beauty Abroad, in Lugansk. The first thing that impressed me about his agency were the photos. You see women, young and old, captured in normal, everyday-life. Take a look at this one. Just a girl, off the street, interested in trying something new. You only have to look to A Foreign Affair to see the difference. Look at this girl and her Leave it to Beaver-era pornography poses. Say Cheese? No, the guy behind the camera said, "Now stick out your butt a little more and arch the small of your back -- that's it."

While in Odessa, I actually met a man who dated the girl in the photo above -- and right off, this man said, he could tell she was only interested in being a professional dater, getting the dinners and nights out, the presents, but not the wedding ring at the end of it all. Not surprisingly, this young beauty, a true fisher of men, appears on the front page of the Foreign Affair website, just like another Odessa-based stunner that the man I met dated while on his first visit to Ukraine.

If this man had gone to Lugansk, I'm sure Allen and his staffers would have helped him find someone more suitable, as they know all the women who use their agency's services (they're local to Lugansk) and seem genuinely intersted in making good matches, rather than just throwing people together.

Kevin at Kherson Girls was equally friendly and open, and his work with the homeless and impoverished children in Kherson (he budgets $10 a day to feed those who come to his office, and works closely with an area orphanage) was something only the cynical could find fault in.



I mean to write more about Kevin and my visit to his part-time home of Kherson in the coming weeks, though his mother-in-law and wife, both from the city and active in the day-to-day operations of the agency, will probably hope I can't read whatever notes I made while addressing their treatment of me. Both were cynical about my visit, perhaps because Kherson Girls has hosted several other "journalists" in the last three or four years, all of whom have promised -- and failed -- to produce word one about Kherson Girls. Repeatedly, the mother-in-law wanted to know what I really wanted -- dates with their girls? Even after I assured her I was engaged to be married, she still seemed unwilling to accept the fact that I was simply interested in stories, in learning about Kherson and Kevin. So yes, if this is a recommendation -- or Word One, if you will -- it is one that says Kevin was a good guy, one who does his best to eliminate the scammers from his agency, while also mentioning that the leaders of his support staff left a lot be desired. I'm sure not all of his customers get treated like journalists approaching the Politburo for an on-the-record interview about the horrors of the 20th century, but if one or two don't get banged up along the way, I'd truly be surprised.

7 Comments:

Richard said...

I remember when Harper's was a well-written magazine with surprising and fresh content. All the editors should be fired these days; Harper's has become a sad, shallow shadow of its former glorious self.

Anonymous said...

Stephen
Great to see your blog. I am still working on getting my Director to trust reporters. We get "fake" reporters and producers so often in Kherson that are just here to meet the ladies. That when a legit ones come our way it sometimes hard for the staff to tell the difference.

Anyway if you are any of your readers need help let me know.

thanks
Kevin Hayes
www.khersongirls.com

Anonymous said...

Hi. I can not comment on Kherson Girls but I did have the opportunity to meet Alan from Lugansk (luhansk) and whilst I am normally a sceptic when it comes to marriages agencies and "bride hunters" I also formed the opinion, as you did, that Alan and his agency was the real thing.

A great guy fall of facts and knowledge on Ukraine and the "bride hunting" industry.

The agency is a side line for him, something his partner wanted to do to help genuine girls meet their match in life. You hear this storey over and over but as you and I found out he is one to trust.

I am still of the view that most agencies are scammers. I see "Bride Hunters" come and go, hoping to find a wife in two week tour, some are sincere some just looking for a good time. Most are rejects from the social factory. They have no idea of the culture and history of Ukraine let alone the women they meet. (By the way the girl frm odessa refered to in your link is no longer on line - they have removed or moved her profile)

One guy I met, who works in the Airline industry as a cheif steward, had no money (his credit card would not work in Ukraine). I took pity on him and loaned him $210.00 which he promised to pay me back. Eight months later I am still trying to chase him up for the money. He flies back to Ukraine every six weeks or so (courtesy of "unlimited free flights" from his airline's associated partners). If he doesn't pay up soon I will have to send out black list "letters of bad credit" to all the bride hunting agencies. You help someone out in a time of need and this is what happens.

All the best, love your writing

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Gentleman let me tell your differences. Compare my
experience in Lugansk to Kherson.

Kherson--Met at the airport and taken to the agency,
met Kevin. No greeting in the office by the ladies.
Later, I shown my apartment and that's it.

Lugansk--A gentleman meets the SUV carrying me and my
friend. I am given water and a map of the city. I
taken to my apartment and ask if it meets my approval.
He comes by later and drops off a few videos for me
to watch. Later, in the day I am given a tour of the
city and I am invited for lunch.

The next day, I am called by the gentleman on the
phone and asked if everything is okay. Would i like
to join him for lunch and bolwing.

The next day, would I like to meet some other girls?
I say no because I am only seeing the one woman in the
town.

Over the course, of the next 4 days I see almost all
of the city. I have been invited to several
restaurants and experienced true hospitality. He
never askes for any money. I pay for the cost of gas
and the restaurants charges.

Kherson no ever asked if I need any help. I am never
shown the city and no ever ask if I need any help. I
am never given any introduction to any lady. This
before I ever complained to anyone.

I go on the Yatch in the river. The agency arranges
for 2 hour trip, but the ship manager decides to take
4 hours. I have not anticipated money for 4 hours.
So, the translator calls the agency. Yana claims they
have no money in the office. It's not true but we go
there to exchange money because the banks are all
closed. Yana exchanges money and we go back to the
Yatch and pay the man. I come back in the office and
the lovely office manager starts yelling at me because
I took her translator out for an extended amount of
time.

I decided to take yatch trip because it's very boring
sitting in the office and hearing the wonderful office
manager yell or make negative comments.

I bring the ladies juice one morning, I hear no Thank
You's or anything pleasant.

When I go to leave, I am not sure what time the girl
from Lugansk is going to pick me up, so I can not give
an exact time. The wonderful office manager starts
yelling at me again. Brett, you got to leave by noon!
Then, I relize she is coming very early, i get she
yelling at me again, Brett, you can't leave then.

Same trip--a wonderful difference in hospitality and
plesantries.

Gentleman is it me or the agency? and Kevin wonders
why so few men return.

Now do you understand why generally I don't say too
many bad things about Lugansk. Although, the general
world has it as the scammer capital of the world.

Brett Winnefeld, CFA

Anonymous said...

There are hundreds of these fake agencies in kherson. khersongirls.com keep changing the names and getting new people to pose as the managers because they old managers' names have appeared on blacklists. khersongirls SCAM!

Joe

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see how very young Russian or Ukrainian girls swarm around an American "grandpa"...

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