The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for May, 2008

Race (or Shopping) Against the Rain

Posted by thearrow on May 31, 2008

I had a brilliant plan: walk one mile to the shoe-repair shop, drop a sandal that needs to be fixed, hop on the bus, and then on the metro to go shop for a new pair of jeans. All before the rain was supposed to start. I could see the threatening clouds in the distance and even a few impressive lightnings but was unabated. I get to the repair shop, drop the sandal, get to the bus stop, and it starts pouring :). I was lucky enough to be in the bus shelter already, but was drenched up to my thighs and the water kept coming down in buckets. That much for my brilliant plan. The bus came after some long five minutes and I got home.

Of course, the heavy rain has passed already as I’m writing this so I’m STILL thinking that I could go shopping. This is so uncharacteristic of me because I hate shopping. The minute I get into a store, which here are huge and bursting at the seams with merchandise, I feel overwhelmed and many times unable to distinguish any more between the good stuff and the crap they sell. “Shop till you drop” can have a more literal meaning that you think :). But one of my two pairs of jeans just died a natural death last week, bursting on my behind :)). I was wearing them at work and I noticed the hole only at the end of the day, so I wonder if I walked like that around the whole time. Yes, I did put on some weight recently, but not enough to justify this; I have a suspicion that it being the only pair of jeans for four years is a better bet for why it happened. And because my meager budget allows me to buy another pair now, I really want to get it.

In other shopping-gone-bad news, I also need a pair of everyday black sandals. I bought a great pair two summers ago, only to see the sole snap at the heel on both feet the same day, just as it was starting its second summer. Not to mention it was expensive. I usually buy things I like a lot and hope to wear them until the end of time, so it really bothers me that I have to spend money again so soon. Ugh…

Anyway, more than you wanted to know 🙂

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What You Don’t Do

Posted by thearrow on May 29, 2008

I’ve come to believe that what you don’t do is just as important as what you do. It kind of goes without saying that people who express their opinions or discontent are more likely to make enemies than those who don’t, but act their way quietly. It makes sense that we react to what we see, but we should be paying equal attention to what others don’t do or say. Those non-actions can be just as damaging or constructive as saying or doing something. How people react or don’t in certain situations is very telling. If someone is being abused and you witness it but don’t take any attitude, or if someone is provoking you but you choose to respond with calm and not lose your temper. Or if someone never acknowledges that you’re already working on something when they ask you to do something else (like, you guessed it, my boss), or always being upbeat, even when you’re down.

What I’m saying is there are patterns to what we don’t do and we’re better off if we try to spot those as well, in our own behavior and others’. These patterns of absent behavior can give us a more complete picture of how someone is like.

I think I’m defined by what I don’t do/say to a greater extent than others might realize and I’ve noticed it’s a problem because people sometimes wrongly assume certain things about me. I don’t have concrete examples in mind right now and I don’t think details really matter that much. But I noticed how in my relationships I’ve had a hard time explaining stuff that wasn’t obvious, that the other person had to notice but didn’t. Everyone is somewhere on this action-inaction continuum, but some people manifest themselves less than others. To avoid misunderstandings, those of us who are like this probably need to explain ourselves more, turn inaction into words, so that it does get expressed in some way. Something like, I’m not sure you noticed, but I don’t <insert inaction stuff here>. I think it’s important to create a map of yourself, like a user guide :).

I’ve always had a problem with setting boundaries, so that’s how I started thinking about this. Not only I loathe conflicts and confrontations, but I seem to have a lot of invisible behaviors, which makes everything even more complicated.

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Cold is Good

Posted by thearrow on May 29, 2008

Apparently, that’s something Queen Victoria said and I think it somehow transferred to the American psyche. In the summer, buses, trains, supermarkets, and pretty much any public spaces are frozen. I have to take a sweater when I go grocery shopping and on the bus (which means almost every day). At the slightest sign of warm weather, the A/C is cranked to the max. The hotter it is outside, the colder it’s going to be inside. But, because having to remember to carry a sweater with me in the heat of the summer, not to mention carrying it, the possibility of losing it, etc., is too much of a hassle, sometimes I just endure the cold.

Why can’t there be some balance? With the excruciating humidity we get, I can understand people need A/C, but this much? Being the tree hugger that I am, it makes me cringe when I think of how much greenhouse gas we spew in the air unnecessarily. It’s a beautiful May weather these days, with perfect temperature and humidity. A colleague who came back from NY by train, dressed up very warmly in sweatpants and a sports jacket, complained that she froze in her flip-flops because of the A/C.

And when I try to explain that it’s too cold, I get these stares as if I’m from Mars. I never thought that communicating something as simple as “we need to turn the A/C off” would be so complicated.

Posted in American culture | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

The State of In-Between

Posted by thearrow on May 23, 2008

If anything is clear for me by now, it’s that living in another country is an exercise in self-analysis. Or at least that’s what it should be, among other things, if you are to gain anything of character-building value from the experience. When you’re plunged in a different culture, you’re bound to ask yourself a lot more questions about who you are, how you are, which one of your personality traits are yours only, and which ones can be traced to your native country’s culture than you’ve ever imagined. I’m not saying you can’t wonder or rationalize about these things if you don’t immigrate; just that this experience forces these questions onto you whether you like it or not and to a more extensive degree; kind of puts a mirror in front of you.

And sometimes what you see is not pretty :). In every culture there are behaviors that are not acceptable in other cultures but when you’re trying to function as seamlessly as possible (which is my loose definition of becoming integrated in a society) you have to adjust some of those behaviors. Take, for instance, snapping. This is a survival tool in Bucharest, where almost everyone is in an angry mood all the time, ready to jump at someone’s throat if paths cross. And they cross fairly frequently. We, Romanians, have a very short fuse. I do have friends who are nice and calm as if they weren’t living in that total chaos, but they’re fewer than the fingers on one hand. For the most part, as soon as someone does something slightly inconvenient, tempers flare. The acidity of ironies spewed in such situations is hard to imagine for an American. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but I’m happy that I managed to get that under control here, where you will never ever see someone utter more than a three-word understated sentence expressing discontent. People just don’t allow themselves to blow up. I’m a true believer now in keeping your temper to yourself; once you’ve given free rein to the horses, conflict is bound to escalate and nothing good can come out of it.

You acquire new behaviors anyway, whether you’re aware of it or not, until at some point you’re a hybrid. When that happens, you’ll never be 100 percent at home anywhere any more. The sooner you’re aware of this, the better; it will save you a lot of pain. At least I know for me things are easier to bear if I know what to expect.

From then on, you will always be in-between. It will inevitably mean more effort in communicating when/if you return home, but I think it makes you a stronger person because you become more aware of your circumstances and surroundings. You think more before you act. At least that’s how I’m trying to encourage myself when I panic at the thought that I might return :). I honestly think reintegration would be very difficult for me (I’m trying hard not to say “will” and to express this in most tentative words), even though by now I know enough to expect some culture shock. Things have changed dramatically since I left seven years ago. But I try to have faith that my experience, far from a walk in the park, would somehow enable me to navigate those choppy waters.

When I feel disconnected from people here I take comfort in thinking that the same kind of disconnect probably exists even between people who never left. Experiences and life trajectories can become so divergent that maybe the kind of idyllic connection that I used to have with my friends was probably not going to survive even if I stayed or not with all of them; now the only place where it exists is in my head :). I might have felt hurt, whereas now I think it’s inevitable because I left and we stopped sharing the same reality.

All this — the disconnect, the inevitable loneliness, the state of in-between — have taught me to make my happiness depend a lot less on others. Back in Arcadia it depended on my friends and they were always there to deliver. Now I live almost the life of a monk (I’ve seen three friends maybe twice this year, although we do talk on the phone every week) and I only hope that at some point it will be a bit less extreme than it is now, but I’m otherwise enjoying it. Although I like to have company, solitude has never really scared me.

And I think my in-betweenness will help me stay centered no matter what happens. I like to think that I’ll be anchored in two worlds for the rest of my life.

Posted in immigration | Tagged: | 13 Comments »

Rain and a Day Off

Posted by thearrow on May 20, 2008

It rained again overnight and the drops’ soft tap on my window made it impossible for me to open more than half an eye this morning. I woke up at probably 4:30 or so again, tossing and turning with worry, but I decided that I HAVE to sleep/stay in bed until I felt rested. That happened around 9:00, so I took advantage of having a slow time at work and called in sick. It’s a perfect day for it: overcast sky, cold (11 degrees Celsius). I’m so grateful I didn’t have to feel too guilty about skipping work, since there’s not a lot going on right now (for a change).

Ah, there’s nothing like taking a day off in the middle of the week or on Monday! I already have a long list of important things I need to do for myself (such as buying mascara), so I’m going to savor every minute of it 🙂

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Tiny Trees

Posted by thearrow on May 18, 2008

I had another nice pic-taking weekend, so I checked one more place off my list: the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum. You can see all the pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/simonne.c/NationalArboretumDC. I just want to post the pic of the oldest bonsai in the States, which has been “in training” since 1625. Bonsai can be started from seeds or collected from nature, so some trees can easily be one-hundred-years old or even more when they start their training. So when they say that the oldest bonsai has been in training since 1625, I wonder how much older it actually is 🙂 Oh, and I forgot to mention that it survived the Hiroshima bombing; it was very close to ground zero, but it was untouched…

No one really knows how long a bonsai can live. It’s clear by now that they live longer than their counterparts in nature because they are so well taken care of and don’t encounter any of the environmental hardships out there (pests, storms, extreme temperatures). For now, this little guy is 383-years-old and counting :).

The most spectacular bonsai (for me) are the forest-like or landscape-like arrangements.

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On the Other Side of the Fence

Posted by thearrow on May 16, 2008

Back in the 1990s, my organization worked in Romania as a USAID contractor. I worked with a few of these contractors as a freelance translator (although never with my org.), then moved on to communications with another contractor in my last job before leaving. Back then, in the pre-Internet-as-we-know-it era, I thought that kind of technical assistance was all my organization was doing. So it never ceases to amuse me that, not only most of its work is on domestic U.S. policies, but my job focuses entirely on them :). While quite technical itself, it’s been a great chance for me to understand the U.S. public policy landscape, which at times makes me scared :). Let me tell you: They called this country the Wild West for a reason. It still is the Wild West from so many points of view it’s incredible. But more about that another time.

While 99 percent domestic, there is a tiny international component to my work: arranging meetings for foreign visitors. The part that makes me nervous is saying a few words about my organization and the speakers. My poor public speaking skills are in great need of a brush up :). Leaving that aside though, these encounters put me on the other side of yet another fence: working with an interpreter. I was one myself for many years and I absolutely loved it so my heart always sends special vibes to the interpreters. I know it’s not easy to find the right words on the spot. But I never realized that it’s not easy to adjust your speech in working with an interpreter either 🙂 . It’s hard to follow your train of thought while someone else is talking. You have to do that AND carefully choose your own words, which isn’t easy, since we use a lot of redundant words when speaking. So, when in tandem with an interpreter, you have to speak as clearly as if you’re writing, if you will. For some reason, it was never hard for me to do that as an interpreter but it’s a bit challenging on the other side.  After I finished my somewhat stumbled spiel, I watched in awe how the first speaker delivered a flawless presentation, in seamless sync with the interpreter. And it was all just a naturally flowing, relaxed conversation. Yes, he has some decades of speaking experience more than I do, but you could see he also has a lot of experience in working with interpreters. Once you’ve worked with all kinds of speakers, you know a pro when you see one.

Funny how I’ve come full circle in a way, without necessarily intending to.

Posted in about, translation, work | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »