Posted by: seasin | August 15, 2009

The times when being a foreigner is hard

That's how my faraway village looks this time of the year

That's how my faraway village looks this time of the year

I haven’t been posting for a while, although I have a few reviews and some recipes to share-it’s because this past week I haven’t had the lightness of heart required for writing things that other people might enjoy reading.

You know, I’m one of those rather ridiculous people who need very very little to be happy. I take great pleasure in the small things that life has to offer, the bright sunshine of a morning, breathing in the air and knowing the sea is close by even if you can’t quite see it yet, the colors on a butterfly’s wings, the bubbles in a chilled glass of champagne, my bronze leather sandals with ridiculous high heels that also happen to be very, very comfortable besides making me feel like a greek goddess when I’m wearing them. You know, all this small crap that most people don’t even notice, let alone feel completely happy and content because it exists.

So when I started considering moving abroad, I knew I would miss a few things-my single life, my cat, my cramped little flat which was a shoe repository and where no one was allowed to come except when granted special permit, my job, oh my exciting fascinating job which had pretty much engulfed my whole life. Obviously, I knew I’d miss my family-but my father decided a few years ago that he’s had it with everything and just went on and died on us, losing a battle with aggressive cancer that he didn’t even know he was having-so I was going to miss him no matter where I was on this planet; and my mum and my sister, I was going to miss them too, but I wasn’t seeing them much even when I was living in Romania, anyway, so the phone calls and few visits back to Romania would take care of missing them-not to mention that I was only moving to Sofia, which is definitely within driving distance from Romania-so I wasn’t worried about that, either.

I knew I’d miss my friends, the few real good friends I have, but again, our friendship is such that, even before I moved, we wouldnt’ speak to each other or see each other for months, yet when we did, it was like we never had been apart-my friends are people who have other things besides friends going in their lifes, families, work, a LIFE, you know, and yet they would put everything on hold when either one of us was calling with and invitation to dinner or a party-although we sometimes lived in different towns-or different countries. Friends who are willing to put their life on hold for two weeks and travel with me in a weird far away country, where they had absolutely no business whatsoever, and would spend most of our stay there by themselves, just because I absolutely had to go on that trip-for work, and it was only two weeks after my father’s funeral and I was broken into little pieces so they were worried that I might forget some of the pieces at home, or maybe in that far away country, and then what would they do with a broken, incomplete Transilvanian for life? So with that kind of friends,  I pretty much figured that Bucharest or Sofia or Timbuktu, it won’t make much of a difference either.

After pondering on all that, and on all the positive aspects of moving, I decided to go ahead with it and become, more or less permanently and to most of the people I’d live and work with, or meet, a FOREIGNER. Well, for most of the time, it’s been really exciting. And interesting. And challenging. And I met some really nice people in the process, and some really weird ones, too.

I furthermore figured that I’m actually missing more things than I initially thought I would. Life in Bucharest-no, not the crazy traffic, or the derelict old comunist blocks of flats with laundry drying underneath the windows and people living there anonimously like sardines in grey concrete cans. But hell if Sofia didn’t make me miss…the Mall, people! The shops with things that you were actually interested in buying, all the services and convenience. I miss the restaurants, I miss the parks, I miss the fast, crazy pace of life, I miss the competition and the fact that everyone has or seems to have a purpose and a determination to do whatever it takes to achieve a better future. I miss the fact that people don’t feel defeated! I miss the bustling cultural life, the non stop events. I miss my gym, and my horse riding mornings, and oh, how I miss the football games 🙂

But besides all that, this week I finally realised that the thing that I strangely miss and that’s making me feel most like a foreigner, is the absence of my country’s traditions.

Let me explain. Like several other Eastern European countries, we celebrate name days. For those of you who never heard of it, it’s a partially religious tradition that makes people celebrate like a second birthday, on the Saint’s day who’s name they’re wearing. Like, for instance, if your name is Jane, you get parties, flowers, congratulatory phone calls from friends and family, presents and all sorts of slack from domestic chores, on whatever day it happens to be St. John. No one ignores you on that day-the tv stations and radio stations begin their programs by congratulating all those who celebrate their name day, the company that provides your mobile phone services sends you a text message congratulating you, and informs you that they’re offering you I don’t know how many free minutes just because you’re special. If you book a table at a restaurant to celebrate with friends, the restaurant will offer you flowers, or a cake, or a discount. It’s a tradition, and I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but it just is-and the whole country takes part in it. Of course, not every one is fortunate enough to have a Christian saint’s name-so they are a bit envious and they claim it’s an ancient tradition that’s not worth keeping, but a. that’s a topic for a different post; and b. in the end, because of all the cheer and the parties and the fun and celebrations that go on, they’ll eventually drop the sour face and join in the proceedings-because, even if your name is not John, you most certainly have a family member, a friend or a co-worker who’s name IS John, and that means that for the price on a phone call to say”Congratulations”, and maybe a bunch of flowers or some chocolates, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and full glasses and plates into the general fun.

So, to make a long story short-and bitter-, since I was born, besides Christmas and my birthday, I’ve always also had my name day to look forward to. Well, ladies and gentlemen, not anymore. Of course, I noticed a difference last year in August, but I was still all wrapped up in the excitement of moving and my new social life, so I wasn’t that bothered. Naturally, my family and friends called and some even sent flowers (!!!), but that was it.

At the begining of this week however, when I was investigating again ways of sending my mother, from afar, a little present and some flowers (we share a name day), I realised that the family, and many many friends, and her employees, and even people who don’t know her at all, the bank clerk, the traffic police agent that will stop her for breaking some ridiculous rule, a shop attendant who sees her name on her bank card when processing her transaction, all will smile and wish her a happy name day and cut her some slack and for once, on August 15, she will once again feel spoiled and special. You have no idea how important it is, that for one day you become visible for everyone around you-not just those who know you.

This year, for the second time in a row, no one, besides my mother, my sister, the rest of my family and some close friends, knows that this is a special day for me. And they’re far away and I can’t physically share the joy and the ligthness and brightness of the day, and that feeling that it’s a celebration that everyone acknowledges and is happy to participate in. I feel alone and I feel a stranger. And that’s tough, because it’s unexpected. I didn’t think it will matter for me-just because it was something I had every year since I was born, I was pretty much taking it for granted.

Well what do you know, I guess it does matter. Feeling lonely when you’re surrounded by people, even if most of them actually like you, pretty much sucks. It made me realise that we shouldn’t take ANYTHING for granted in our lifes, and also that no matter how much you like your life abroad, a little part of you will always feel a stranger.

For the moment, I’m having quite a hard time dealing with it-so if any of you Internet people out there have been in this bleak place I’m in now, drop a word of advice.

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