Monday, November 14, 2011

Culture Shock

In my 6 years of playing professional basketball, each season brings new experiences and surprises. My travels have taken me to 19 different countries and there has been something surprising in everyone I have been too. I can remember asking for ranch dressing at a restaurant in Lugano, Switzerland during my first year. The look on the waitress' face was priceless as she just stared back at me. I can also remember my disappoint my first year when I couldn't find Lucky Charms in the cereal aisle. I didn't know if I would be able to survive without marshmallows in my milk. Also, most shocking of all, no Mountain Dew in Europe.

I learned to bring my own ranch dressing and of course I eventually got used to no marshmallows in my cereal. I still haven't gotten used to the no Mountain Dew. Those little things are nothing compared to the culture shock I have had here in Macedonia though. I am not saying it is bad, I am just saying that it is different.

The language is probably the biggest culture shock in any country that I have been too. I can study a language all I want but when I get around native speakers it is completely different. In my other travels I have been to countries with Latin based languages and my years of studying Spanish helped me understand a few things here and there. I have also made it a point to take classes or learn the language where I am so I can communicate at the store or with the fans. Last year I became pretty good with French and the year before with Italian. Here in Macedonia, they speak Macedonian which is a south Slavic language. It just sounds like white noise to me when I hear people talk. I understand absolutely nothing and that makes it really hard to tell a cab driver who doesn't speak English where I need to go. It is also impossible to read because they use the Cyrillic alphabet. Thankfully a lot of the people here in Skopje speak English.

There are a ton of stray dogs here in Macedonia. When the city catches a stray, they don't put it down but instead have the dog spayed or neutered so it can't reproduce. You can tell the dogs that are fixed because they have a yellow tag on their ears. I guess that's a good policy but it is really difficult for me to see all of these random dogs. The Grimm family always had a dog when I was growing up and we even had three dogs at one point so dogs hold a big place in my heart. My teammate and I were walking home one night and we actually had three dogs follow us home. It broke my heart when we had to shut the door on them when they were just sitting there wagging their tails.

Another thing that tugs at me is the people that are constantly picking through the trash. I can't take a short walk without seeing at least one person going through the trash. It is just tragic to see so many people doing it. I don't really want to say more on this subject.

Apparently a horse and cart are still an acceptable means of transportation here in Macedonia. This was the most surprising thing I have seen here. The Amish are the only people I have seen driving a horse and a cart back at home. I think it is even more surprising because of how urban Skopje is. This is the capital city of Macedonia and there are people riding horses around it. I asked my teammate what it was all about and he said that is just how it is here in the Balkans. So, I guess it is not just unique to Macedonia.

These are just a few of the things that I have encountered in my time here in Macedonia. I'm sure I will see more things on my travels and I will just learn to live with them.

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