Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Svaki Početak je Težak

“Every beginning is difficult”

It was my first time flying internationally. I boarded the Croatian Airways flight from London’s Heathrow airport, found my seat and began to relax my body, anticipating the ascent of the plane and descent of my seatback. As soon as the seatbelt light switched off I found the small button, gripped my arm rests and pushed against the back of my seat. I immediately felt resistance. Again, and with more strength I tried to lower my seat. My strength however was matched by the person behind me who was keeping my seatback in its upright position.

Newton’s 3rd law of motion came to mind - “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

I thought about trying again - then thought about politely asking the person behind me if I could lower my seat back. But I quickly realized that two attempts were enough to know that they didn’t want me to lean back. So I stayed upright and uptight.

I thought about the fact that I had never experienced this kind of behavior before. It was rude but honest – improper but genuine. And if you’ll allow me to generalize (while understanding that there are many exceptions) I can tell you that this sort of behavior – both for better and for worse – is typical in Croatia if not all of Eastern Europe.

I’ve been in line and had grown adults cut right in front of me. My wife has had a store clerk tell her to leave after Petra admitted she was “just looking”. At the end of the aforementioned flight I was pushed back in my seat by someone who must have been in more of a hurry than I while I was trying to locate my carry-on baggage.

But we’ve also been invited to live with a family rent-free for a year. They never asked for anything in return or hinted that we were an inconvenience. I’ve been showered with generosity by people who have less and been thanked by people who have done more. There is a genuine hospitality that I never experienced in my life before Croatia.

And so while the beginning was difficult, and the transition continues to be a challenge, the culture shock has had a profound effect on my life.

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