While Macedonia struggles to form a government two months after the parliamentary elections and while every day articles with headlines like “Macedonia in Crisis” fill my Facebook feed with drama, I am sitting lethargically in the sun during my lunch breaks and wrinkle my forehead.
I have settled into Macedonia, no doubt, and it was easier than expected, but after one month in the country I am going through a moment of frustration.
I would not call it a culture shock – that would go too far. I am not shocked – I don’t think anything can shock me here anymore – and I am not desperate, homesick or full of rejection towards the country and its people. I am a bit sullen though.
Culture Shock, Cultural Frustration or nothing with culture at all?
All globetrotters know the U-curve of the culture shock, a term which was minted by the anthropologist Cora DuBois. According to this people who move abroad experience at first the rosy “honeymoon phase”, followed by a drop of emotions -the culture shock, the ultimate low point. Slowly, but steadily, people will find their way out of this crisis until they begin to adapt the culture.
I don’t know if there are graphs or scientifically based concepts about culture frustration. Still, it describes my personal emotions much better, definitely here in Macedonia. Or does it though? It is not an easy field. Therefore, I’ll give you a little introduction to it based on real experiences during the short period I have been here for.
Step 1: Arrival. I leave the plane. Somebody I know is waiting for me at the airport. The first couple of nights I stay in a hostel I also know. A lot of people promise me a bunch of cool things. “Easy”, I think. “When does my adventure begin?”
Step 2: The adventure begins. Considering that I am in Europe things go very differently here. Apartments are either too cold (no heater) or too hot (central heating), the law is not too strictly followed and blankets are oddly strange. Air pollution is so high that I cannot leave the apartment; the look out the window is depressing. “This sucks”, I think. “Who the hell said she wanted an adventure? I want my kitchen.”
Step 3: I am settling in. I get to know new people every day. Everyone is delighted to meet me – a German, exciting. I am delighted to get to know everyone. The people around me are smart and politically involved; great critical minds. They might not represent the Macedonian majority, but they are the most impressive minority I have met – I am in heaven. My roommate is the coolest woman on earth, my colleagues are great and I managed to find a really good friend already. And even the oven is not that bad – no struggle with some butter cookies. Cafés on every corner, friendly waiters in all of them. I measure the greatness of a place with its cafés, Skopje is a winner. Macedonia might be dysfunctional on a lot of levels, but who cares? You should not measure a culture with its state system, this would not be fair towards the people. Euphoria is my motto, I see the potential in everything. On top of all that the sun breaks through polluted clouds, spring is coming. Awesome!
Step 4: Culture Frustration. Here we are. The sun is still shining, my roommate is the coolest woman and so on, everything’s good. I settled in, I know how to get what where. I can survive on my Macedonian. My friends, very kind and reliable people, are not always enthusiastic about their compatriots, and I think I start understanding why. Most of the cool things I was promised didn’t happen yet – we’re all busy people, global phenomenon. To come as a German to a country where arrangements are not too binding is not easy. I also start to see where the lack of trust comes from which is evident in all levels of society, my friends complain about it on a daily base. I cannot blame anybody for it, seems like the most natural thing here. Still, I am sitting in the sun and I am wrinkling my forehead. Men pass by and goggle at me. “How nice it’d be to be in Germany right now.”
Step 5: It’s going on! I am going home to bake; yay – it’s possible to make cupcakes with my oven if you’re not trusting the time in the recipe. The sun is truly amazing and this in the end of February. I don’t even need a jacket. I decide to stay a little bit careful, people told me that I’d need this here. It’s probably never a wrong advice, no matter where you are. I start to think “How would I ever think that Germany would be a more pleasant country to be in?” Because in the end of the day many of these things really don’t come down to the culture of the country, but more to the nature of individuals. Who am I to judge a culture after one month of experience with a much selected group of people? I would hate myself for doing it. I’m back to the enthusiasm, back to the potential-seeking. Life is just much more fun like this. I’ll get the cool things done by myself or with friends and spend time with less people – with a few cool people. Really cool. “Yes”, I think. “I’m happy here, I’ll stay.”
And who knows, maybe the Social Democrats and the Albanian Democrats for Integration will manage, as announced, to form a government – despite the protests the conservative party has announced. It’ll stay exciting!