I’m writing under the heading, MAK v. USA. I plan to continue, because the differences and similarities have been interesting to note.
But America is a big place. I don’t presume to represent the whole nation, or female America or white America or any other label that fits me. All I represent is Rebekah America. And I’m only observing my corner of Macedonia. These are things that I’ve found familiar and things that are new to me. With that in mind, enjoy.
1. Shoes outside: Mr. Rogers would have loved Macedonia. His idea of indoor and outdoor shoes is everywhere. I wear slippers inside. I wear other shoes outside. So far, I’ve left the outdoor shoes outside the door. I’m sure that will change when it rains or snows, but for now, no shoes inside.
2. Smiling: I like smiling. Smiling’s my favorite. I was surprised that walking down the street feels more like a NYC sidewalk than a small town in the country in one regard: not a lot of smiling. (Save from the Babas who are surprised when we greet them in Macedonian.) When people do smile, there are no teeth. (Clarification: They have teeth. They just don’t smile with them.) I took a photo with my host family the first weekend and the only visible incisors were mine. I chalked it up to the heat, but the family photo album had the same smiles. They are same smiles I’ve seen all over the country.
3. Laundry: On Sundays, we do laundry. (Can’t turn off the Mean Girls references.) Electricity costs less (like 50 percent less) after 10 p.m. each day and all day Sunday. (I keep thinking of 90s gimmick phone plans.)
There is a washing machine, but it doesn’t look like one I’ve ever operated. The soap goes in some sort of drawer, I think. There is no dryer, so everything dries on lines behind the house. All the neighbors have seen my undies. So there’s that.
4. Light switches: It’s just a different style, but these threw me off at first.
Light switches and door bells.
5. Locks: I swear I know how to work a lock and key, but I battled with this. You lift the handle, then turn, then lower handle. It’s the little things.
Step one: raise handle.
6. Family living style: My host grandparents live two blocks away. They walk over in the evening to watch Turkish soap operas. In a traditional Macedonian home, daughters live at home until they marry. Then they move in with their husband and his family. It’s not uncommon for multiple generations in a home. We also eat family style. My host family smirks when I serve myself on my own plate. They just reach in the serving bowl when they want a bite.
7. No tipping: No one tips. Waiters don’t expect it and if we even leave 10 percent, which is not usually more than one American dollar, they’re surprised and pleased.
8. Smoke alarms: I haven’t seen one yet. Our language teacher said there are regulations, but they aren’t strictly enforced. We meet for classes in Sveti at a volunteer fire department. The fire lane is always blocked, but they’re there if we need them.
1. Little girls: Little girls will be little girls. I grew up with brothers and boys, so my host sisters are a new experience. They bicker and have little tiffs. They argue about who gets the seashell necklace that came in the snack bag of hotdog flavored chips. (I know. I’ll report more on snacks soon.) They play teacher, to each other and me. They’re infinitely curious about what their host big sister is up to, every second. There are moments when they drive me crazy, but they’re also hilarious and sweet. They’re also a great reminder that someone is always looking to me to be an example. I’m the new American on the block, but I’m also the new host sister.
2. Veggies: For the most part, I’ve been able to name the veggies I’ve been eating. Only one fruit has stumped me so far: Дуња (dune-yah). It has a sort of peach fuzz on the outside, but you aren’t supposed to eat the skin. The texture is like pineapple, but the taste is sour. Apparently it’s great in compote. We sampled one that another host mom gave me after a visit and my sisters were not impressed.
3. Loving family photos: I love taking photos. I love sharing photos. It’s no different here. I bonded with my host mom over her wedding album and anytime I pull up photos on my phone my whole host family crowds around to examine them, even if they’ve seen them a dozen times before. I think that’s also because family is the top priority here. The first question they ask a new person pertains to family, whereas in America, the first question is typically related to what you do for a living.
4. Sweats: After school or work, we get home and we put sweats on. I know I’ve already mentioned the glory of track suits, but it had to be noted again. I even saw a Phillies hoodie last week. (As in the US, I thought to myself, “sorry to hear that.”) If I ever find the job where sweats are business casual, sign me up.
5. TV: Television is the focal point of the house. The living room connects to a small kitchen and that is the area where 90 percent of the living takes place. (Okay room namers. I see what you did there.) The TV is always on. Turkish soap operas, dubbed in Macedonian, are a big hit, but if not them, then something. It doesn’t get turned off for meals and I know that in the US, my roommates and I commonly had dinner in front of the TV. (By the way, no spoilers on Scandal for the next two years guys. Thanks.) I don’t understand most of what’s going on, but my fellow trainees and I have found the soaps to be surprisingly helpful in our language learning.
6. Getting a drink: As a former college student/teacher/journalist, I’ve haunted my fair share of coffee shops. Getting coffee is a huge part of the culture here. What’s different is I haven’t seen a single laptop or person working. The people here get coffee to socialize. Sometimes we stop after class. There haven’t been many women so far, but we’ve been told that varies by community. Some shops will only have male patrons. Sveti is a larger community, so we haven’t seen a lot of that yet.
7. Getting gas is confusing: My host dad borrowed a friend’s car last weekend when we went to go see the new grandbaby. We stopped to get gas and he had to crane his head out the window to see which side the gas cap was on. (I know we’ve all been there.) There was also a gas station attendant, which reminded me of New Jersey. It was a very familiar experience, until a tractor pulled in behind us to get a few liters.