One of the things that has been most interesting about hanging out in Tetevo this week has been getting to see the new Macedonian things and the familiar U.S. things. I’m sure there are plenty more to come, especially when I learn about my homestay family and dig deeper into the culture. For now, here are some face value things I’ve noticed about my new country.
- No seat belts: We hopped in a van to go somewhere and seat belts were not necessary. When my host dad picked me up yesterday, he sort of smirked while I put my seat belt on. Today, we drove somewhere and my host sister sat on my lap. (Host family post coming soon! Spoiler: they’re the best.)
- Don’t throw toilet paper in toilet: There were signs in every bathroom at the Woodrow Wilson School and small trash cans near each toilet for all paper waste. This will take some getting used to for sure. (My hand washing regimen has redoubled.)
- Hot water heater: In order to enjoy a hot shower, we’ve been advised to preheat the hot water heater for about 30 minutes. In my new home, instead of a shower head like you’d think of in the US, it’s a detachable head that hangs on the wall at about my waist level. Hands free showers mean squats. Being clean in Macedonia will mean killer quads. Win/win, right?
- Salty/oily food: I touched on this in the food entry, but it’s true. The food has been generally yummy so far, but the chefs love the oil and salt so far. I’m told that these are two common cooking add-ins. It’s probably good that I run.
- Running: Speaking of which, running is considered a weird, American habit. We weren’t allowed to run in the street outside the school because cars fly by and there is no real shoulder, so it would be a safety issue. Instead, we ran laps around the school complex. I started late one morning and ended up running alongside van loads of kids arriving at school. They all stared out the window like I was out of my mind. I got a few waves when I walked in though.
- Prices: We had to pay $6 for carts in America at the airport to tote luggage from the curb to the counter. Upon arrival in Macedonia, they were all free. Overall, things are less expensive here so far. Some things cost more, but I spent 160 denar on my dinner Thursday night. That’s about $3.50 American. One of the current volunteers said an average teacher salary here is about 13,000 denar a month, or $300.
- Money: The money also looks different. I have to say, I feel likeaballer carrying around $1,000 bills.
- Music: I can’t say this is exactly the same, but I got in a taxi this week and heard, Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda.” There were also three Rihanna songs in a row in the grocery store, which led to me singing aloud. (That’s also the same in America.)
- Pizza: As you’ve already seen in the eating photos, pizza is alive and well in Macedonia. There were several dedicated places in Tetevo and I’m sure it will be different in villages, but it’s nice to know that in the bigger cities, I can indulge.
- English: We’ve been staying at a school, so we often cross paths with the students here when we’re moving between our rooms or sessions. I’ve seen at least a dozen shirts and clothing items with English words. (One guy had sweats that said #BRONX down the leg. NY everywhere.) You also see a mix of English and Cyrillic letters on the signs and store fronts.
- Cars: There has been a range of cars. I’ve seen smart cars, 80s/90s era Accords, one BMW and a variety of others. I even saw an old Beatle the first day. They also drive on the same side of the road. (Sometimes.)
- Celebrity culture: My host sister’s school notebookshaveRihanna and Justin Bieber on the cover. (Don’t worry. I’ll work on eradicatingthecountryofBeliebers as a side project.) There was a little café area in the cafeteria of the school in Tetevo and one wall had pictures of American celebrities. Some choices made me laugh. Other choices, like Beyoncé, made my heart smile.
- Looney Tunes: These cartoons aren’t so prevalent in the US in my life, but I’ve seen Minnie and Mickey Mouse and other cartoony things all over. One of our instructors had a Tweety Bird backpack. There are also several giant walls at the school covered in Disney and Looney Tunes characters.
- Coffee breaks: America runs on Dunkin. Macedonia runs on Turkish cafe. Coffee is everything here. We had regular coffee breaks during sessions (thank goodness) and we’ve been told that going to coffee is a large part of the culture. The trick: coffee can mean getting a drink, having a meal, or actually getting a coffee. It can also mean a three-hour chat, a business meeting, a date and possibly the first step toward marriage.
I arrived in my home for the next three months Saturday, and I’m thrilled with my host family, the generous accommodations, my sweet host sisters and the language immersion. I wanted to retreat to my room to tell you all about my first weekend, essentially sans English, but then Baba (host grandmother) stopped by for a na gosti (visit) and you know what happens when Baba stops by. Another blog another day.