Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lots of Love in Istanbul

Beth and I loved Istanbul. We were very fortunate to have friends there to not only give us a place to stay, but also take time out of their busy schedule to show us around. We were able to see so much.

But as much as we loved Istanbul, it didn't even come close to the love Liam was receiving all the time. ALL THE TIME.

People there love babies. Maybe it was the whole blonde-hair/blue-eyes combination, but he was just adored. I can't even count the times random people would come up to take a picture of him with their cell phones, or ask to hold him, or try to feed him things. In Starbucks, a mother and her teenage daughter played with him, took pictures, video, and held him. And even after all of that, the daughter didn't take her eyes off him until we left the place. I'm not exaggerating. She just stared at him.

Now this wasn't just women or girls. One time after taking the ferry, Beth felt an odd presence behind her while holding Liam. She turned around to see a young 20-something couple and the guy was holding Liam's hand and smiling. And not that creepy smile or sarcastic smile, but one of those infatuated smiles.

It was definitely strange. But as parents who already think our kid is the best thing since sliced bread, we ate it up. As odd as everything was, we never turned anybody down. Frankly, it didn't even seem that odd. Why wouldn't total strangers want to take a picture of our child to have on their phone forever even though they have no clue who this kid is??


Like Rome, Florence, St. Petersburg, and other cities we've visited, Istanbul was another on our list of places to see. But just saying that, the way that sounds, like it's just another city to scratch off our notepad, just doesn't honor it the way a place like this should. I know this goes without saying, but each city we've visited carries an immense depth historically and culturally that we couldn't wait to experience. Istanbul is a truly amazing city.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

kcohS erutluC

Reverse Culture Shock is something you hear about (and almost prepare for) while living overseas. It's the basic idea that the difficulty you had adjusting to a new culture (in our case, Moscow) will be somewhat similar when returning and re-acclimating to your native culture.

Surprisingly, we didn't have as much difficulty as we were worried about. It took less than a day to get used to driving again (we didn't have or drive a car the entire duration of our time in Moscow). In fact, things didn't seem that foreign at all. Most of our reverse culture shock experiences could be summed into one-sentence shouts of exclamation:

"This washing machine is HUGE!"

"Wait, you can get another drink with the same cup -- FOR FREE??"

"There's a whole aisle for cereal at the grocery store?!"

"Wait, I can wash my clothes and wear them again in the same day??"

I could go on.

But there is definitely another side to reverse culture shock. It's this feeling of displacement. Not only have we left this incredible group of friends and colleagues back in Moscow, but we are entering back into life in America as if it were two years ago. People have moved on. It's that tightrope feeling that probably feels the strangest. Not belonging to either world.

I know that sounds pretty pathetic, but I don't mean it that way at all. It's life. It happens. The tension will go away eventually.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lost in Tra[i]nslation

About a year ago, Beth had to return to the states to renew her visa. She was gone about three weeks, and during that time I was pretty busy. But for one of those weeks I was able to make a trip to our friends the Friersons and Wilhelms in Izhevsk.

You probably remember posts previously about trips to visit them-- it's a lengthy 18-hour train ride from Moscow. And this particular time I was a little nervous. Not only would I be riding alone, but I purchased the cheapest tickets available, the плацкарт (platskart) -- in which the rooms are open and beds are everywhere.

Here's an image as an example:

I'm not so nervous because of the space issue-- Russia helped me get over my personal bubble a long time ago. I was simply nervous about the language aspect of it and not really having anyone else with me to chat with that I knew.

At the same time I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to really put my language to the test-- we had been living in Moscow for right at a year. Although my skills were far from where I wanted them to be, I figured this would help give me a better picture as to how I was doing.

I'm sure I've mentioned on previous blogs before, but I have this desire-- maybe it's normal, maybe odd-- whenever I'm in another country (in this case of course, living in Moscow), I want to blend in as much as possible. I don't want to appear foreign or American. I don't want anybody to notice me. I am still not sure why I have this strange aspiration.

Finally the day comes. I arrive at the train station and find my bunk. I find myself in a little compartment with a kind elderly couple and a larger man in his 30s. We all greet each other, prepare our beds and change as needed, and the train takes off. It's the moment of no return.

The first 2 hours seemed to go perfect. I was getting pretty impressed with myself. Like most conversations between complete strangers, everything began small. My strong suit. We talked about where we were going, the train, the weather, and so on. Everything appeared completely normal. I could not believe how well things were going.

Finally the elderly lady asked if she lay down on the bed she and I were sitting on. I graciously moved over and crammed on the other side with the man and younger guy. He begins to talk to me, one on one. We were close, and everything was very deliberate. Slowly but surely I was unable to understand a word here, a phrase there. Finally he asked me something, and I have no idea what he said. At all.

I had finally hit that point. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I knew I had to admit to him my true identity. I told him in Russian "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. I don't speak Russian very well [and then I always say this even though it's completely and utterly unnecessary except to make me seem better] but I am studying the language in Moscow."

The man looked at me as if something had finally clicked in his brain.

He said to me, in Russian and laughing, "It all makes sense now! This whole time I thought you were just stupid!"

And those thoughts of self-satisfaction and success were all gone. This entire time I thought I was mastering the Russian language, I just sounded mentally ill to those that actually spoke it.