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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dainty or Determined: What's With the Walk?

Once upon a time, in a teenage place and mindset, a friend of mine and I were watching a rerun of Alfred Hitchcock's gothic masterpiece, "The Birds," on television. The grackles and seagulls were not providing quite the thrill we had been hoping for, so instead we focused in on the trials of Tippi Hedren, the beleaguered but tidily dressed heroine. The birds were giving her a pretty hard time, to be sure, but she wouldn't have had it nearly so bad if she hadn't also spent all of her escape scenes tripping around in high heels and one of those early-'60s tight, knee-pinching skirts that not only made your hips look unappealingly wide but prohibited virtually the whole range of female motion.

Watching a flock of ferocious feathered beasts honing in on her as she frantically minced her way up a flight of stairs, we really had to laugh. Forget convention, Tippi! Put on some jeans and run! We heard a sudden squawk behind us, and then we learned what terror was really all about. My friend's mother, who had probably worn some similar skirts in her day, spoke up. "You girls laugh, but you don't know the first thing about what it means to be a lady," she said, with a murderous, haunted look. "Mark my words. Some day you'll be sorry you never learned how to walk like Tippi Hedren!"

I sincerely doubted it at the time, but now, it seems, this unfortunate prophecy has come true, for Russia is indeed the domain of dainty walkers.

It's not because of the skirts -- miniskirts can actually make for a much more liberated stride than the Tippi variety. But there is a definite difference between the contemporary Russian and Western female walk, one that is subtle but striking: I've spent years trying to pinpoint where exactly on the body the two types go their separate ways.

The Russian walk is definitely more condensed -- less arm sway, a shorter and more delicate stride, and a tighter waist-and-hip swing. The least amount of movement required to propel your body forward. Conservative. Dainty. The kind of walk that gets you in trouble when a bunch of birds decide they don't like you.

The Western female walk favors long steps, big black shoes, loose arm movement and a somewhat heavy, determined tread -- or, as one tactful Russian recently put it, "Hey, what are you trying to do, pound nails with your feet?"

No, we're not trying to pound nails with our feet. That would hurt. What are you trying to do, permanently damage your tendons? What's with the high heels, honey? And so on and so forth .... These kinds of debates can go on forever. Meanwhile, we pound, they mince, and eventually, everyone reaches her destination. I'd personally rather be able to outrun a bird, but then again, that probably wasn't the look Hitchcock was after.