Thursday, November 20, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds

Yesterday I went to meet a friend for coffee. When I arrived at the metro stop, I was surprised to find it full of "young people."

I looked at my watch. It was 11:15am. Kids didn't leave school for lunch break until 1pm. And besides, most of these people looked too old to be in high school. College maybe, but certainly not high school.

I walked up the stairs to the street level only to find another 80+ gathered on the sidewalk.

They all looked quite normal to me. Most wore blue jeans, tshirts, hoodies or jackets, and tennis shoes. The vast majority were guys, with a few girls thrown in for good measure. There seemed to be an over abundance of glasses, but I didn't think much of it. They were chatting in gender segregated groups, laughing and looking at their watches with a sense of anticipation.

In hindsight, I would have to say that in the eyes of a local this group of "normal" looking guys was actually quite nerdy.

I didn't see a single mullet, mohawk, or even fauxhawk.

Nor was there a facial piercing in sight.

Nobody was wearing skinny jeans with Converse All-Stars, nor expensive designer clothes.

Yeah...I guess they were pretty dorky.

I decided to ask what was going on so I turned to a group of three guys standing nearby.

(Translated version):

Me: "Excuse me, why are all these people here?"

Him: "We're having a protest."

Me: "Oh...about what?"

Him: "Computer science."

I laughed and looked around at the crowd. I was starting to understand.

Him: "Why are you laughing?" (said with a smile and a laugh that makes it obvious he knows exactly why I'm laughing).

Me: "It's just....uh...why are you protesting? Are you mad about something?"

Him: "Yeah, at the government."

Me: "Why?"

Him: "Because they aren't regulating the field."

Me: "Oh. Where is the protest at?"

Him: (chuckles) "At some government office, but nobody knows where it is!"

I kind of wish I could have waited around and followed them to the protest. They didn't look like a very intimidating bunch, nor did anybody have picket signs or angry looks on their faces. I think it would have been quite a show, and who knows? I bet I could have made some new friends among the bunch.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

She Forgot to Take Her Pills Today...

Sometimes I forget that I'm in public.

Does that ever happen to you?

It happens to me every day.

I'm walking down the street and I'm thinking about something. I'm reliving a conversation that I had, whether recent or ancient history, perhaps thinking about what could have been said. I'm recreating an experience I once had and feeling all of the same sensations I felt back then. Or I'm preparing for an upcoming conversation and reviewing what I should and shouldn't say or do. Or, and this is what really gets me in trouble, I'm imagining a completely made up situation and all the things that could be said if that highly improbable situation were to ever come about.

I get so involved in my imagination that the next thing I know I'm walking down the street making faces and gestures in accordance with the action taking place in my mind.

If it's funny, I laugh or giggle silently.

If it's painfully awkward, I inhale through my teeth making a subtle hissing sound, or else exhale with puffed cheeks.

If it upsets me, I furrow my brow, or sometimes sigh heavily and roll my eyes.

If it's serious, I nod my head, purse my lips, or scratch my chin.

If I like the boy in my imaginary conversation (and let's face it, I usually do, or why else would I be having an imaginary conversation with him?), I blush, smile shyly and bite my lip.

The only problem is:

It's in my mind.

Nobody else can see or hear my mental dramatization so all they see is a girl walking down the street making all sorts of faces completely unaware that she's making those faces at the people in the street.

They probably think to themselves, "sure, she may look relatively normal now, but in 10 years, she'll be the bag lady with 6 cats who talks to light posts."

But they're wrong.

I hate cats.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Outstanding Experience

This morning I had an appointment at the US Embassy to get some pages added to my passport, seeing as how I only had two blank pages left and I'll be traveling for Christmas.

The only problem was that I had the page with my appointment information marked on my laptop, which I currently can't use since my power cord is broken.

And in typical Bruner fashion, I didn't write down the time or date of my appointment.

So I thought, "well...I think that 3 weeks ago when I made the appointment it was for Nov 13 or something like that. I guess I'll just show up and see what happens."

Now keep in mind that usually the way things work in this country when you have an appointment at any official gov't office is quite...inefficient, to say the least.

Usually even if your appointment is at 10:30am and you get there at 10:15 you still have to wait inline until 10:45 or 11.

Usually you have to make an appointment to go wait in line so that they can give you another appointment on another day at an inconvenient hour in an inconvenient location to give somebody your papers and then wait for a letter to come in the mail telling you that you had an appointment yesterday to pick up the papers and take them to another office, but since you missed that appointment you have to go make another appointment to wait in line so that they can give you another appointment to go pick up the papers you see where I'm going with this??

And I'm not even exaggerating. No lie.

So since I didn't even know when my appointment was supposed to be, I was expecting to show up, wait in a long line, and then have them tell me I need to go home and make another appointment through the website. OR at best, wait in a long line for a few hours until they could attend to me, and then leave them my passport and pick it up in 2 weeks.

What actually happened was far beyond AWESOME.

I walked up to the gate and a security guard asked me what I needed. I told her how I *thought* I had an appointment but wasn't sure. She let me in.

Somebody gave me a ticket with a number on it, and I sat down to watch Sarah Palin on CNN until my number appeared on the screen.

After only TWO minutes my number popped up on the screen.

Just two minutes? Cool!

I walked up to the desk and was greeted by, "Hi, how are you?"

I just about FLIPPED.

Somebody asked me how I am??? And she seemed genuinely interested??? A complete stranger actually cares??

I told her about my phantom appointment.

She looked at a list and saw that my appointment was for 9:15am. It was then 11am.

She said, "okay, just fill out this form and hand it to me when you're done."

When I finished she said, "Do you mind sticking around for half an hour and we can do it for you right now?"

Do I mind if you do it now??? Of course not!! Only half an hour??? AWESOME!!

So I sat down and read a chapter of Harry Potter until they called my number again.

This time a kind gentleman handed my passport back to me, and he said very sincerely, "We're sorry it took so long."

I assured him that it was completely okay. Seriously. I only read one chapter. It wasn't that long.

Not once in the past year have I experienced such a combined effort of efficiency and sincere courtesy, with the exception of my friends at the local Starbucks (however it probably helps that I'm a repeat customer and I bake for them).

Not only were they there to do their jobs and do them well, but they did them with smiles on their faces and the well-being of the "customer" in mind.

It was incredible. It's almost tempting to lose my passport just so I can go back there.

Untimely death and natural disasters aside, nothing can ruin my day after a morning like that.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Goodbye, Canon Powershot Digital Elph

Tonight I dropped my camera on the kitchen floor. It wasn't a long drop (I was already crouched down to take a picture of the fresh out the oven chicken and veggies my roommate and I cooked) but it was a mighty drop.

My poor, sad little camera no longer functions. I'm going to try to find her some help, but at the moment, it's not looking good.

My camera accompanied me nearly everywhere I went for the past three years. I've taken thousands of pictures with her. I've shared so many special memories with her. She's helped me remember good times with my friends, family...and I was hoping with my mom on my upcoming trip to see her at Christmas.

Alas, she is no more.

I think I would have cried if it weren't for the fact that my power cord to my laptop is broken and I'll most likely have to buy a new one this week, so the timing of it was just too comical to let tears fall.

Yet another reminder that they're just things. Stuff. Meaningless.

Yeah, it stinks. But after breaking my camera, I enjoyed a delicious dinner of roasted chicken and vegetables, while I know that just a few blocks away three little girls I met last Friday are having nothing bread with butter and nutella for dinner.

And I'm quite sure that in the same apartment building as those three girls, other families are going without food.

How can I complain over luxuries such as laptops and cameras breaking knowing that down the street there are families with no meat, and maybe even no food, on the table? When last night I took a friend to sign up for my church's food distribution, because their money ran out, they have no jobs, and she doesn't know where next week's meals are going to come from? When I know that two blocks to the East there are homeless men sleeping on park benches, one block to the North sleeping on the sidewalk by the train station, and two blocks to the South in another park?

All while I eat my roast chicken and vegetables.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

McCain, Obama, and Some Italians

Tonight I was going home on the metro after Bible study when a rowdy group of Italian guys got on. As there was a seat open next to me, one of them sat down, but in the process he ended up sitting on me.

He said, "perdón."

I very much wanted to respond with, "that's okay, I'm used to guys trying to sit in my lap" but I don't know how to say "lap" so instead I just nodded okay.**

He and his friends were all settled in their seats for a few stops when a few American girls got on, speaking very loudly in typical American fashion saying lots of things like "OMG" and "no way!"

Immediately one of the Italians looked down at his friend (sitting about 6 seats down) with a devilish grin of evil delight and they started yelling "McCain! Obama! McCain! Obama! Oh my gosh!" Apparently they had been planning that for a while.

I couldn't help but laugh.

I was also slightly giddy.

Apparently they didn't realize that I'm an American!

My super-white face usually calls me out as a foreigner, and when I open my mouth most suspicions are confirmed, however in recent months people have not been guessing "American" as my nationality (a good sign, I think..) and twice a local has told me they thought I was a local as well.

But Saturday somebody asked me where I was from and when I said "guess!" he responded with, "it has to be somewhere cold."

I said "why?"

And he said "because you're so white."

Well poo.

So when the Italian guys seemed oblivious to my American nationality, I took that as a compliment.

I got off at the same stop as the Italians and the Americans and listened as the Italians in broken English tried to taunt the American girl, with a little more bounce in my step for having slipped past their radar.


**Was that bad of me?

Monday, November 3, 2008

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

I know I've posted about this before, but it seems to be a continual theme in my life lately.

You see, greeting people here can sometimes get very confusing. People greet each other with two kisses here - one on each cheek, starting with the right cheek. You kiss to say hello, and then you kiss to say goodbye. Occasionally with a close friend you might hug. But you'll still probably kiss.

North African women greet with three kisses: one on the right cheek and two on the left.

Americans greet friends with hugs, and strangers with handshakes.

French and Italians kiss too, but I haven't figured out the "rules" to their greetings yet.

Then you mix it all together and nobody really knows what to do.

Some Americans take on the local tradition and greet with two kisses. Others prefer hugs. Others still, persist in handshakes. North Africans, French, Italians, and all the rest of the world also pick and choose what kind of greeting to give, but it's easier with the "kissers" because at least you can expect a kiss, however you may not know how many (or on what cheek!).

So lately, any time I meet a new person, I go for the kisses. If they happen to be an American who's been here for a while, it's not so weird because they're used to it.

But if it's an American with whom you're actually friends, then they'll probably want to hug. But hugging and kissing both involve leaning towards the other, and sometimes I forget what I'm supposed to be doing.

Some people hug AND kiss. Do you kiss on the side you're hugging at the beginning or the end of the hug? How long does the hug last before you kiss the other cheek? Do you hug again when you kiss the other cheek?

Then there are the Americans who are fresh off the boat. They're usually aware that you're supposed to kiss people, but it's still slightly uncomfortable for them, so they're hesitant to kiss another American. They'll usually try to follow your lead, but when you're already as awkward as I am, it can be quite messy. Girls seem to adjust faster than guys, who stay stuck somewhere between side hugs, kisses, and handshakes for a bit longer.

Then there's the "American man living in Spain that I'm sort of friends with but only see once a month" situation. That's REALLY confusing. You don't hug him the same way you would hug a close friend, if you were to hug him. But you're not sure if you should kiss him because it's always kind of weird kissing American men, since we don't typically kiss the opposite gender unless they're a significant other or a family member. But he's too good of a friend to shake hands with.

And what do you do with an American when your hands are full? You can't adequately hug with shopping bags or your guitar or baked goods in your hands, yet you're not sure how this person has adjusted to the kissing culture. Is it a friend or a stranger? A close friend or a new friend? The first time you're meeting or the 32nd? All of this affects what you should do. But what actually happens is a different story.

What's a girl to do?

To make it worse, get a whole bunch of Americans together for lunch one day, and when it's time to go everybody goes around hugging, kissing, shaking hands, but each with their own style, a mix of American and foreign customs. What a mess!

A few weeks ago I kissed a guy when I shouldn't have. We had chatted a few times over the course of the evening and then he leaned in to say something in my ear (it was really loud) and I, out of habit, kissed his cheek.

He jumped back and said, "thanks!"

Trust me bud, it wasn't on purpose.

But I'm quite sure I blushed and he probably thought I was way into him.*

Then the other day the same thing happened - it's loud, a guy leans in to tell me something and I, thinking he was saying goodbye, kissed him. This guy, however, completely ignored it and continued on with what he was saying. Apparently he wasn't as flattered as the first guy.

I'm not sure if the situations would have been better or worse had it been a girl leaning in to tell me something.

All that to say, I never know what to do. Hug? Kiss? Handshake?

Sometimes it's just easier to say "I'm going to give you a hug," but then that can be just as awkward in it's own way.

When I went back to the States for Lissy's wedding I was relieved in part to know that all I had to do was hug everybody, but at the same time frustrated because I kept wanting to kiss people, but knowing that it would freak them all out (especially my guy friends) I had to hold back what had become natural to me.

When I first arrived here a year ago I thought that all of this confusion would clear up with time, but it appears I was wrong. Each day, each new acquaintance, each greeting seems more confusing than the last.

I think I've just resigned myself to the fact that I'll never know just how to greet each person, so all I can do is laugh at myself and move on to the next victim.

*Tim once told me that if I hadn't told him flat out I wasn't into him, he would have thought I was. Despite my lack of flirting skills, my friendly nature apparently comes across as flirting, leading to much confusion on the part of many.