Today as I was walking along the side of the road hauling a large plastic bag full of garbage, I realized as one person after another gawked at me from their passing cars, that I have become the foreign girl who carries weird things. I’ve never really thought twice about carrying situationally abnormal objects around. I’ve worked for a long time in an environment where people can carry around just about anything and not attract much attention. At a high school, people carry weird stuff all of the time—paper mache donkey heads, DNA models made of gummy bears, bags of flour dressed as babies—and nobody bats an eye. But in another country where people will stare at you just because you are a foreigner, it doesn’t help to draw more attention to oneself by carrying a garbage bag or several rolls of toilet paper or a giant box of frozen pretzels down the street. But I also realized that I don’t really care if people stare at me. Yes, I may be walking down the street at five in the morning wearing a backpack as big as me and a headlamp, but so what?
And that was precisely what I was doing that Saturday morning. Adam and I left the house begrudgingly at 5:20 AM. I say begrudgingly not only because it was dark and we should have been asleep still, but also because we had adopted a rather proprietary attitude towards “our house” and hated to leave it to someone else. Nevertheless we strapped on our packs and headlamps and headed out to the bus stop.
One of the things I’m most pleased about regarding our time in Croatia is that both of us made it out of the country without being turned into road flapjacks by an oncoming Daihatsu. Apparently they don’t believe in sidewalks in Croatia. Sidewalks are for sissies. So although we had been risking our lives daily, our most dangerous feat was walking in the dark along the very narrow strip of pavement separated from the narrow, windy road by…a painted line. What vehicle would dare to cross a painted line? We made it unscathed to the bus stop, but the next hurdle was seeing if the bus was actually going to arrive. We were making serious plans to hitchhike to the train station when the bus finally showed up. We should have learned in our time there that times for transportation are merely suggestions.
The bus driver dealt with us in the same manner that all of the bus drivers, retail clerks, and train ticket sellers did. Much like he was brushing away a fly. At first I thought that we were being given the cold shoulder because we were tourists, and I can’t say that I would blame them for that. Tourists disrupt the flow of things. They don’t know how things work. It’s like that Visa commercial where everything is going along smoothly until some dimwit pulls out some cash and everything goes all to hell. Tourists don’t know how the bus works. They don’t know how to mark the produce before they take it to the check-out counter. They don’t know which trains require reservations. I completely understand how annoying it would be to deal with that all of the time. But then I observed that everyone, not just the tourists, were getting pretty much the same treatment, so I guess it wasn’t so much a loathing of foreigners, but a loathing of selling train tickets which is also understandable.
But as I said before, we met some very warm people who did their best to help us through a country where the language may as well be written in wingdings for all we could understand. There is much I will miss about Croatia, mostly the stunning scenery. What I won’t miss about Croatia is the wine which was fairly horrid. The only redeeming quality of Croatian wine is that it comes in 1 liter bottles, so you may not enjoy the taste, but you’ll certainly get drunk.
We took the train from Split back to Zagreb and had a couple of hours before we boarded the train to Budapest. Walking around the city I was slightly disturbed by the American culture that we had exported. A radio station broadcasting from the square blared “Funky Cold Medina” (Really? Tone Loc?) and 50 Cent. A teenage girl in line in front of me wore a sweatshirt rife with gangsta images that proclaimed, “It’s not a game. Time is money.” It was all a little depressing. I freely admit that the fact that so many people in other countries speak English makes things ever so much easier for us. But obviously that convenience comes with a price.
We got on the train to Budapest (in the nearly barren first class section) and almost immediately there was a man knocking on the window beckoning to me. I sighed because I knew I was about to be embroiled in a language showdown. He asked me something in Croatian. I performed my patented “I have no idea what you just said” series of blinks and forehead crinkles. “English?” I asked.
“French,” he demanded.
We were now in a language negotiation. “No, English,” I countered.
“French,” he insisted.
This could have gone on all day. Fine. “French,” I consented, not having any idea why I had done so.
He only wanted to know where the train was going which was easy since I didn’t have to say any actual French words. Whew. Even the anticipation of a language showdown makes my forehead perspire.
The train ride was long, but by 10:30 that night we were in bed in Budapest, another one of my favorite cities.