Sunday, August 26, 2007

Second Childhood

8/26/2007
Bucaresti
Sunday, 20:16:13 PM


It’s nearing the end of August and the first sweet, cool rain is lifting the wool blanket we’ve all been under for weeks and weeks. It got so bad that the pharmacy chain I am consulting for put notices on all the windows of their stores inviting people who need it, to come in for a cup of water and a blood pressure check.

I’m still translating Fahrenheit to Celsius, so I never quite know exactly how hot or cold it is. As with so much else, I just watch the faces on the natives who are complaining about the weather, to determine degrees of heat stroke or relief. “Ooooh 38!” (that must be bad. Wait, I’ll go look it up for us.)

I’ve added, in my list of web favorites, to the Romanian English Online Dictionary, and the Yahoo Currency Converter, the Insta-C2F charts.

Yup. It’s bad. 100.4 degrees in real temperature.

The city is filled with green spaces everywhere. Some because it is undeveloped. Some because it is beautiful. Some because it is where you take your walks. Some because it is where you take your dogs. The leaves are edging into browns and yellows. As sure a sign of summer’s wind down as the decreasing numbers of people in any given office who have taken off to the Mountains or the Seaside for their two week allotted gambol, just when you need to ask them a critical question, or finally learned how to pronounce their last names.

Thank heavens for the dog. Because I’ve been here before, I do know a few people, and that’s been an enormous help in acclimating having a few friends to go out to dinner with. But in the day to day accommodation, without the schnauzer, I think I’d sink into a completely reverted state with my knees under my chin and my thumb in my mouth. She keeps me in present time. With a cat you can go both Zen and catatonic, no pun intended, but I don’t think that word’s derivation is accidental. With a dog, when you walk in the door, there is clearly no other human as important on the face of the earth as you are. And when she decides it is time to go outside to visit that smells-familiar part of the nearby green space, she means now, and who gives a damn if you’re reading, in a funk, making gnocchi, planning the overthrow of a global competitor, or just curled up in your bed with your knees under your chin, and your thumb in your mouth.

You see, the thing about being an expat is that it makes you an infant again. EVERYTHING is a question. Probably not as embarrassing as the one my own child asked about in the feminine hygiene aisle in a crowded US supermarket when he was five. But close. In your field, you are a genius/expert/guru. But walking through the supermarket, you are an illiterate baby.

Here’s, for example, just a partial list of things I had to, have to, or will soon figure out how to ask about. I think it’s a pretty typical ex-pat list. And it doesn’t even include “How much is that in real money?”

In no particular order:

How do you flush this toilet?
Can you make a right turn on a red light?
What kind of meat is this?
How close were the fields these vegetables were grown in to Chernobyl?
How do you take the bus? No, not take the bus AWAY, you know, TAKE the bus, er,
ah, RIDE the bus?
Do I pay for this before or after?
Is this a gift? Or will you have me arrested if I walk out of the store with it.
You pronounce that like HOW!!? You’re kidding, right? Even a lesbian’s tongue would
have trouble pronouncing that correctly.
How do you turn on the oven without blowing up the building?
What kind of cheese is that yellow one?
Don’t you people believe in elevators?
What do the funny symbols on the washing machine mean?
Is it safe to drink the water?
Where’s the dryer? You’re kidding. From the balcony? OK, if you say so.
Does the power go out like this all the time? Or was it my current converter and the
iron?
How do you make a call from a pay phone?
Which taxis is it that I’m never supposed to hail on the street?

Yeah, but is it REAL Coca-Cola?
Is this shampoo, body cream or anti-fungal plant food?

Do I love it? Every second. Well, nearly every second. And maybe by this time next year I’ll be nearly fluent, know what time it is on a 24-hour clock, and have figured out how much it all was in real money.

3 comments:

inda_ardani said...

either i love it! if i were u, i'd be astonished too! keep share me your amazing experience

mitzoaca said...

hm..AND ARE YOU FLUENT NOW? :) in romanian, ofcourse...

Shelly said...

Da sigur. Bieninteles. Yup.

One year later and I know what time it is, how much it weighs, what size I am, how far it is, how tall it is, how much gasoline I've just invested my life's fortune in to fill the tank, and how much it is in real money.

Nearly fluent? Ha!I can converse like a ten year old. Just not a very smart one.

Thanks for asking.

Multumesc pentru intreb.....er ah asking.

-Shelly