Friday, September 30, 2005

Another great t-shirt...

"Stars and Strips Forever"
I'm thinking of starting a collection of "anguished English" shirts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

City Slickers

Today we had a field trip to Belgrade for orientation and registration at the US Embassy. The bus to the city was easy, although in the end it took close to two hours. Walking around Belgrade made me a little sad not to be posted there - I always have been a city girl.

A trip to the embassy is really something special, especially in a country with some security concerns. The first thing you see is the guards - solid, serious men with very big guns. You can't just hang out in front of the embassy, and they certainly won't let you take a picture.

Once you get in, you go through the metal detector, have your bags scanned, turn over any electronic devices (incuding phones), and hand over your passport. We got badges that said in bold letters "must be escorted at all times" and went to the waiting area for someone to pick us up and bring us to the Public Affairs conference room. While it really is very serious, and I appreciate the protections provided for the Americans (and Serbians) working at the embassy, I also felt completely like I was in a spy movie, and loved every minute.

The conference was for Dan (English Language Fellow or ELF) and a Fulbright Scholar working in Belgrade. We got some excellent information on topics ranging from the economic state of Serbia to what services the embassy provides for us to how we can keep safe while we're here. Apparently if we want to go further south than Nis (heading in the direction of Kosovo) we have to go in an armored car - of course this is only provided for us if we're on official business, and since we don't actually work for the State Department I don't expect that will happen. Which is very fine with me, as I have no plans to travel in that direction.

What really struck me during our briefing was just how involved the US is all over the world. We have projects to develop school systems (what we're here for), build the economy, provide cultural exchange for students, and so many other things I don't even know about. I'm excited to see this, because one of my first impressions upon arrival was the contrast of how strongly Serbians feel about Americans (resentment after 1999 NATO bombings) and how Americans don't really think about Serbians very much at all. This bothered me because we interfered enough to blow up their buildings ... I'm glad we sent in cutural diplomats after to help the country rebuild. I'm inspired by the work being done in the embassy, and love the idea that projects like this are happening in embassies all over the world. I'm having a love affair with cultural diplomacy.

Speaking of culture - on the bus ride home a Jay-Z song came on the radio. Surprisingly, all the swears were bleeped out. I guess US swears are universal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Inside the Fishbowl

We arrived in Serbia one week ago today. We just got internet at our house last night - this is a great relief, as I'm tired of watching the ticker on CNN World to find out if the Red Sox won. My husband Dan and I are here through a fellowship Dan has with the state department. He'll be teaching English at the local univeristy... I'll be, well, I'm not sure yet.

The strangest thing so far is definitely that we're The Americans. Everyone is very excited to have us, our welcome has been overwhelming, full of food and turkish coffee. We get small hints of what people assume about American culture. So far we've had coca-cola pushed on us at least three times. Our wonderful landlady, Milena, made sure there was some food in our fridge upon our arrival, including a two liter bottle of coke. When visiting the American cultural center, they brought us coke without even asking. And when Dan went to visit the faculty at the university, they appologized for not having coke and gave him whiskey instead (sljivovica - locally produced). All this soda pop in a country with award winning fruit juices. Please, no more coke, I'd just like to try the raspberry juice!

On our second or third day we were walking around the city center and I suggested that we might be the only Americans in the whole city. Ironically, less than ten minutes later we were doing our food shopping (the Maxi is the biggest store around, but maybe half the size of the bookstore I used to work at) and we met a man from Chicago. He's just on vacation, though. We're here for 10 months.

Favorite wrong English so far: A t-shirt proclaiming "I Love to Bee..."