Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

After Economic Sanctions, Nothing Can Stop You From Enjoying Yourself

I read in the paper that Nepal is in (yet another) crisis, and cutting back electricity to just 10 hours per day. When my husband calls from his trek this morning, I say, "Does this cause any problems for you?" He starts to chuckle, "Honey, in Serbia, I lived when there were only four hours of electricity a day. I am Maestro for this!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Barbarians at the Ballet

Just got back from seeing the Nutcracker at Festival Ballet Providence. Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric is a former first soloist with the National Ballet Theatre in Belgrade -- which the program was careful to note as "Belgrade Yugoslavia" because he left in 1991. Actually about half the principal dancers are from other countries, including several each of Lithuanians, Russians and Venezuelans.

They were all fantastic, and the child dancers were, as always, terribly charming. There's even a company dog who appears on stage for the start of the first act; he did a great job but then this is his 31st Nutcracker performance since he joined in 2000, so he's had plenty of practice. The sets were also truly magical.

The audience wasn't. As you would expect, the theatre was jammed with children. I expected small noises and rustlings from them. What I didn't expect were the sheer bad manners of many parents. Mothers sitting all around us continually spoke with their children throughout the show. Also, instead of waiting for intermission, they dug into their purses bringing out snacks during the performance... the sound of plastic wrappers being taken off of sandwiches all around you is quite distracting. Then there were the parents who brought children far, far too young to be in a theatre. What stunned me the most was they seemed to think of it as if they were trapped in a 747 jet instead of a room with doors. Babies would start screaming and parents would continue to sit there. Mister, don't shush your child here, get up and go to the hallway outside already!

Finally, as the company prepared to take their bows, instead of clapping, many of the parents in the audience stood up, slapped their jackets on and hustled their children up the aisle to the exits. Hey, it's not a movie theatre! There are live people bowing on the stage! I clapped extra loudly to make up for it, but so many families were leaving early that the stage manager brought down the curtain abruptly far earlier than I've ever seen before.

The Providence Ballet is to be commended. They did a fine job and didn't deserve their audience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Problem With English Is...

I called my step-son this morning to get his new address now that he's moved out on his own. "I'll email it to you," he says. "Well, I've got the address book open right now and a pen in my hand. Can't you just tell me what it is?"

He can't. He gives it a valiant try though. "Brridgeheratone Road." "Brridgeheratone?" "Yes that's it." "Ok, you're going to have to email it to me." When his email arrives, it reads "Brighton."

I never really realized how very un-phonetic English spelling is. You know how when you're learning to read when you are little, and the teacher keeps saying, "Just sound it out." I thought that meant English was something a reasonable human being could sound out. It's just schoolteacher propaganda.

Due to the efforts of a 19th century spelling reformer, Serbian is a language you really truly can sound out. Everything is spelled precisely the way it sounds. This makes things much easier when you're trying to learn it. (That's the first and last thing that will be easy though -- otherwise learning Serbian is hellish.)

I think Serbs take this phonetic spelling thing too far though when they apply it to personal names. As far as I'm concerned, your name is your name is your name. Not in Serbia. If your name doesn't seem phonetic to them, they will automatically change the spelling. For example, when you read gossip about Hollywood stars in the newspaper, the names have been changed to work in Serbian spelling. For example, Jennifer Aniston's first name is spelled Dženifer.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Voice of America Seeks a US Serb for Job

I swear, if I spoke fluent, native Serbian, I would apply for this job. It just seems cool to work at a news service supporting better relations between the US and Serbia. It's based in DC, pays $69,000 year plus benefits, and does NOT require US citizenship (although I bet you need a green card) and some professional journalism background. Applications due by Tuesday Dec 9 2008.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Excessively Exuberant Hospitality: The Danger of Revisiting Nepal

My husband is seriously hung over. It's painful to hear, even through the crackly, echoing 7,500-mile phone line.

He's returned to Nepal to hike his beloved Annapurna Circuit again. I stayed back in the US this time, because after three months there last winter, I'm still Nepal-ed out. I don't like hiking in mountains - who's kidding, I loathe hiking in mountains. Nepal has outstanding natural beauty and great shopping; but if you're not a native, a mountain hiker or an aid worker, it gets pretty dull after awhile.

It's also lonelier for a woman to visit Nepal because local women are not social with outsiders unless you live there year-round. As in many countries, the men are out and about while the women stay at home. All of the friends and acquaintances we made last winter are male. Hence the hangover. So delighted were the old gang to see my husband return, that they've been celebrating for four solid days and nights. Although these men are in their 40s and 50s, they drink like American teenagers with a blithe disregard for mixing liquors. "First a glass of beer, then a whiskey, then a glass of wine, and then they start with the beer all over again," my husband sighed.

On the good side, my husband has now been to native Nepali nightclubs, complete with dancing girls, where regular tourists are rarely invited. "The whole room was just Nepalis. I was the only Westerner." There are so many clubs targeting tourists and rich locals in Nepal that we hadn't suspected the existence of separate clubs for the locals-only.

As soon as my husband woke up and could get his legs under him this morning, he headed out to start his trek. His liver just can't take much more of Nepali hospitality.

Donating to Serbian Orthodox Church Made Easy

The Serbian Orthodox Church is not very wealthy. Many churches are in pretty bad condition, especially those in Croatia where the remaining parishioners are often poor and elderly. In thanks for our good fortune this year, we're donating money to our local church, St Sava in Cambridge Mass. But, we also want to help out Orthodox churches in areas where my husband's family has lived for hundreds of years. The church nearest his father's house in Lika is missing a roof.

One tiny problem, my accountant says the IRS won't recognize donations to churches outside the US for tax deductions. (I know, I should not care if the right hand knows what the left is doing... but in this economy with a kid in college, etc., I'll take any financial break I can get.)

Luckily, St Sava's priest Father Aleksandar Vlajkovic has made this very easy. We can just donate the funds to the US church, who'll give us an IRS-worthy receipt, and then he'll arrange for the churches we earmarked in Croatia to receive funds. He needs the church name and location to do this, and a local priest name is also helpful but not required.

I was also delighted to discover that our US bank already has online bill pay set up for St Sava's. To donate, I just went into our account online and clicked a couple of buttons! Strangely though, when I tried to use the same online service to pay my New York Times subscription, that was harder. I guess church wins over state.