Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pool

His expression changed completely when I told him about the pool.  The toys, friends and comfort of the house which had satisfied him just seconds ago were quickly forgotten when prompted to search for a container of liquid refreshment.

As we began, he led himself - despite the fact that the path was new.  The first obstacle was a steep incline. It proved difficult, but his anticipation pulled him up and the stronger hand behind him pushed when he needed it. 

There was no time to look behind him once he accomplished the climb, though he was proud.  “I did it daddy!” he said with his eyes fully focused ahead and his legs renewed with a simpler plane to walk on. 

He did not seem surprised that he didn’t need a leader, despite the fact he had never walked the path before.  His feet automatically followed the shape of the way and though there were rough spots and rocks his forward gaze smoothed over the effect they had on his stride. He walked confidently.

“What’s that?”  A new sound was the first interruption of our expedition.  It even caused him to stop. 

“It’s the cars driving on the road ahead of us.” I responded.

“But I can’t see the cars.”

“Can you hear them?” I asked.

“Yes”, he said with resolution and began walking again.

“Soon enough you will see them.  After you see them, you will see ours.  Then we will get in the car and drive to the place where they sell the pool.”

“Pool?” he said excitedly, “I see the cars!”

We drove without any talk of the prize.  Though it had been used as a legitimate motivation for leaving the house without complaining, the fact that I had no idea what kind of pool we would find led me to believe it would be better not to bring it up.  And there was no need to.

“Water!” he exclaimed as we descended on a scene of aqua clear sea.   The palm trees in the foreground were like fat exclamation marks punctuating the mood change that came with the new view.  
“I wanna see more!”

“Would you like to take a walk next to the water?” I asked, happy that the subject of the pool had been forgotten. 


I was convinced there would be plenty of pools at the store as soon as I saw the number of people along the water.  Beachgoers of all ages drank in everything that accompanies a hot day by the Adriatic.  We took a way that would lead us to the store.

The children splashing in the water made it hard for my son to remember that he didn’t have any swimwear.  We hadn’t come prepared to indulge in the temptation that was all around us.  The need for keys and a wallet had convinced me of the benefit of changing out of my trunks before we left. 

A tinge of irony set in as our view changed from that of the sparkling sea to a row of stores.  My son’s tone changed too.  Whining began.  He liked the thought of cooling off now.  He had witnessed the fulfillment others found and he couldn’t stand to leave.  Maybe he found something in common with the Adriatic – the fact that the rocks lining the sea could no more hold back the waves than his three year old body could contain his energy. 

As his cries filled the air, my reminders of the pool no longer satisfied him.  It had become just a symbol now – an inadequate symbol at that. 

He had seen the real thing.  There was no going back.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Line Dance

This is one of those obvious ones.  The sort of thing that would lead one to start a Culture Shock weblog in the first place.  I'm surprised it's taken me this long to bring it up.

Lines in Croatia are like government; you know they were designed to make life more orderly for the average citizen, but when all is said and done you often feel like you've been put through the wringer.

To begin with, you rarely hear the phrase "excuse me" here in Croatia.  The Croatian phrasebook I learned from inexplicably left out all forms of "excuse me" . If an American wants to learn the correct way to say "excuse me" in Croatian they won't find it in the introduction, the "practical" section, or the dictionary.  In this case, the omission will teach you step 1 of how to pass someone who is in your way:

Don't say anything at all.

Just move the limb that's obstructing your path.  Or simply squeeze around them.  If worse comes to worse, move the entire person.  If a body isn't in your way, then more power to you - the spot is yours.

The other day, my wife came storming back to our car and told me how an older guy simply tried to step in front of her while she was waiting in line.  She sort of manipulated her body to keep him from passing (a pregnant belly helps) but that didn't do any good.  As he blatantly passed her, she put her arm on his chest and held him back.  

Her experience, though a bit extreme, is not out of the ordinary.  There is a very important protocal to follow if you're in line in this country.

1. Stand as close to the person in front of you as you possibly can.  Remember, there's really no such thing as personal space here, so your spot will only be safe if your body is pressed up against the person in front of you. 

2. Don't focus on anything but the prize.  Reading a book, playing with your cell or simply daydreaming will give the person behind you the impression that you don't really care about your place in line.  This sort of lacksidasical effort will get you eliminated immediately - unless you're as good as my wife is at recovering. 

3. Finish strong.  Just because you're next, and the teller is waiting for you doesn't mean you're done.  Line thieves are keen on the transition periods.  You have to start talking to the teller before the previous person leaves their spot.  Giving your predecessor a little nudge when you think they're done is a great way to show them it's your turn.  Don't give up until you've accomplished your mission.

You think I'm joking.  Before posting this, I decided to wait.   I needed to make sure I was giving Croatia a fair shake.  Turns out I am. 

The other day Petra and I went to a new movie theater.  Unfortunately, neither one of us had reviewed the guidelines listed above before we stepped in line.  As the person ahead of us finished and moved on to buy popcorn, the phantom ticket purchaser swooped in.  No explanation, no apology, no nothing. 

Fortunately, the lady at the counter pointed our her iniquity.  "A jooooj!" the accused exclaimed as if the 20 person line had been previously invisible to her.  "My children are waiting for me, I don't have time to stand in line."  (The look on my wife's face was priceless after that gem.) 

But then the teller did something even more amazing.  "Let's ask this couple if you can buy tickets before them."  Stunned, we just stood there and motioned for her to get her tickets.  Later, I felt bad.  We should've taken a vote.  Just because we were next didn't mean that we had the right to let her transgression keep other people from getting to the previews on time. 

But as I looked back, I saw no one cared.  They'd all been here before.  It's normal and should be expected. 

It was time to post this.