Friday, March 20, 2009

Six Months in . . . #1

I've realized that I've been here in Macedonia for more than half a year. As with my other experience living abroad, it both feels like I've been here far longer than six months, and that my friends, my graduation from DePauw, are all only a few months back. It's odd, to say the least.

So, in the interests of innumerable, meaningless, pop-psychology buzzwords, I thought I'd write about how I've changed since moving to Macedonia. I'll start out with a big one:

My lungs are probably as black as coal.

Almost everyone here smokes. I've spent a good deal of time around smokers, in numerous bars where such a barbaric practice is still allowed, and I thought I could handle it. Honestly, though, I don't think anybody born after the Surgeon General went crazy on smokers understands how much of a non-smoking nation the United States really is. When people smoke, you tend to notice it. You can smell the tobacco.

It didn't take me long to adapt here, mostly because I was saturated with cigarette smoke from the moment I arrived. Cheap cigarettes cost about a dollar a pack, and if anyone runs out, there's no problem bumming on off anyone nearby. 'Non-smoking' sections in restaurants - even the university - are only for show, because people smoke right next to the signs. Non-smoking areas in cafes or bars are nonexistent. I don't notice it, it doesn't bother me, and I can't usually smell tobacco smoke. There are times, usually at clubs, where there's so much smoke that the smokers themselves complain, in between puffs, and I go to sleep hacking and coughing afterwards.

And the most interesting thing is that, despite my being in the tiny minority here, everyone is incredibly gracious. I can be sitting in a smoke-filled bar, the only non-smoker at a table, and without fail everyone asks me whether I mind if they smoke. Guests in my apartment always ask to smoke on the balcony. It's a small courtesy, but it's appreciated.

Add to that the really terrible, hazy pollution that rests over Skopje for most of the year,and the creaking, exhaust spewing 70's Zastava cars, I'm probably cutting off a few years just by going outside.

But I'll be damned if I don't enjoy it.

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