Friday, May 27, 2005

Oodles of Woodles

It was the Woodles that did me in.

English is widely spoken in Sarajevo. However, most native English speakers in the area are involved in diplomacy, aid organizations, or the consumption of cheap Heinekens and meat pies. This leaves the locals to translate restaurant menus into English, with occasionally hilarious results.

At our local café, Cappuccino’s, the menu can make me giggle for hours. Local dishes are listed under a section called “Offer of National Cooking.” Entrée translations are often a little odd, but the all-time winner had to be Woodles with Tunny. I assume it’s Noodles with Tuna, but I wasn’t daring enough to find out. All I do know is that I collapsed into hysterics right there at the table, to the bemusement of the locals and the perplexed concern of my husband. I think that moment was when I finally realized that I am very, very far from home.

Culture shock is a lot like a whirlwind romance. For the first few weeks, you’re madly in love with your new home. It’s handsome, fascinating, and every quirk is adorable. They really do drive Yugo hatchbacks here! After a couple of weeks, every quirk becomes maddening. Maybe your new city pees with the door open, or answers his cell phone in upscale restaurants. (In case any of you wondered, Bogotá never could learn to chew with his mouth closed.) Sarajevo has choppy sidewalks, and I’ve never been so sick of watching teenagers devour one another’s tonsils on park benches.

Culture shock is a process, and it’s a tricky one. Matt seems to be doing much better adjusting than I am, but he’s always done better with change. I lived in the same apartment for years on end, not necessarily because I liked it, but because it was home.

That apartment has been out of my hands for almost two years. Instead I have a new home where everything is unfamiliar. The appliances are European and scaled more for Oompa-Loompas than actual human beings. You can fit four cups, two plates, and a colander in the dishwasher. The washer and dryer don’t have normal settings; instead everything is done by pictures. However, Gorenje needs to hire some new artists. As far as I can tell, my washer settings are Leaf, T-Shirt, T-Shirt with Squiggles, Capricorn, Celsius Cauliflower, and Circle E. The dryer settings include Sunshine, Half Sunshine, One Teardrop, Two Teardrops, and Three Teardrops. So far, we’ve had the most luck with the Leaf and Half-Sunshine settings.

Like everything else in Sarajevo, the appliances were adorable until yesterday. Now I want giant American energy sucking, environment-destroying mega-gadgets, and I’m done with this hippie European crap. I want big cars, smooth sidewalks and the Gap.

But as I know from my time in Bogotá, this time soon comes to an end. Next time you hear about me, I’ll be thrilled with cheap organic vegetables, the endless generosity of the Bosnians, and the shrapnel holes in the balcony. Real change doesn’t come cheap, and neither does happiness.

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