(Macedonian folk dancing at the Skopje Wine Festival . . . I have no clue what's going on.)
I wandered down to the post office to pay my utilities bill today, aided by a man named Bratislav. I had told him that I needed to pay my utilities bill in Macedonian, though I'm sure what he heard was "bill to me is needed I pay where water electricity". As gave him my thanks, he slapped me on the back and said, "What are you doing here? You must find a beautiful woman, to teach you Macedonian!" This is the most recent in a long string of conversations that all center around the theme "Macedonia has the most beautiful women in the world".
This is very interesting, because in many respects, it is the only consistent source of national pride. People will go on and on about how the government is corrupt, only the mafia gets rich, no one has a job, they are oppressed by everyone, Albanian issues, etc. Casual conversation often brings out a terrible series of complaints that make Macedonia sound like the worst place in the world. Perhaps I hear this more than most, because nobody in Macedonia understands why I would ever want to come here. "What, you study here? Why did you come from America to study here?" This is usually followed by a suspicious glance, because I must have more sinister motives. No one could ever possibly want to come to Macedonia to study. But I think they would nod approvingly and give me the names of villages and families if I said I were "bride-shopping" or some equivalent.
Because at the end of every tirade, they will say, "Yes, but we do have beautiful women. The most beautiful." The most professional, official people I know have made statements like, "My got, Set. Have you a woman yet? What? You must! Deese Macedonian women, my got, Set." Cab drivers tend to only know the English for "American Good!" and "Here Women Beautiful!".
I need to clarify that this is not the same as talking about beautiful women in America. I'm not trying to convey some sort of lewd, high-fiving frat-boy sentiment about, say, a bar where the hottest chics hang out. When a Macedonian tells me that the women are beautiful, it's like an Indiana University fan talking about having the best basketball team. The Greeks have the Parthenon, Italians have pizza, the French have wine . . . and, according to the locals, Macedonia has women. It's a national pride type of thing.
I'm sure there are numerous anthropological and sociological reasons behind this relating to all sorts of horrendous practices like bride-theft and such. I'll leave that to the feminist scholars at my Institute. But with the convoluted politics of this tiny patch of Europe, it is nice to know that there's one thing that everyone agrees on.