SeriesVol 2 Issue 2Writing


Nora Serban

Well, hello, hello! If you see me walking in my hood, you will definitely think I’m normal. Yet, this is NY, so normal is too much of a broad term.

Basically, we are all the same, but gosh, we do come from so many different places! Take me for an example. You grasp I’m from somewhere else the moment I joyfully greet you in the morning shouting “Pussy!” in a crowded coffee shop—that means “Kisses!” in Hungary, the country lying 15 miles away from my town.

You know I’m from far away when in the night you tell me,
“Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” and I’m sweet enough to respond back, “Good night. Sleep tight. May the fleas kiss you!” And I like you, really, since we are sleeping so close to each other.

Oh, are you the sales associate who helped me the other day at Bed, Bath and Beyond? Sorry, it wasn’t personal when I told my Romanian companion “fuck dousch,” but I actually looked at you while saying it. I was just trying to shop for a cool shower curtain, and that’s how we phrase “I take a shower” in Romanian. You shouldn’t have made a scene…I wasn’t trying to be nasty!

You figure I’m something else because you’re talking to me about blockbuster movies, and see zero intelligent sparkles in my eyes. I don’t get what you’re saying! As a matter of fact, what you call “The Departed” in U.S.A is “The Mole” in Romania. “Man on Fire” transforms into “Sitting on Hot Coals.” This one kind of makes sense. I sit on coal all day long. “Snatch” is “Where Do You Hit and Where Does It Break!?” And “Saw” is “A Deadly Puzzle.” (Possibly no Romanian ever finished a puzzle in their lifetime; we find them fatally boring. Usually we inherit unfinished puzzles from our parents, started in the 1940s by their own moms and pops).

So yeah, both you and I speak English, but that does nothing to the big picture. True, on occasions it can make conversations more vivid. My friend doesn’t really care what I enunciate at all times; she just asks me to pronounce random words, like “focus” (I say “fuckus”). I then mock her French back. There is nothing like the American’s French accent! But that’s what it is, accents are and will always be funny.

Besides having one, I sometimes don’t find my words. Today at work, someone bought an electric toothbrush. So I told her,
“Yeah, good choice, you gonna get some frisbees, too!”
Isn’t that exciting? She didn’t say much (not even waved her tail!) until few minutes later when I corrected myself.
“I meant freebies.”
Sorry, not too many freebies where I come from. And I always wanted to play frisbee as a child, but the fat made the slowest runner out of me. True, I was a fast eater, but you can’t have them both. Not these two.

I was pretty much a static kid, reading and dreaming a lot. At one point, I wanted a video game but never got one. I had a friend who was playing tennis on her TV set. A white dot jumping back and forth across a white line in the middle of the black screen. That was a sport I could have played. Was possible to have a damn snack in the same time too. But I ended up never owning one. This explains why today I spend more time on my Apple TV searching for movies, rather than watching them. I love to stare at the dark screen, while synchronizing white rapid moving letters with the very same sound from my childhood video games. Bop, bop, bop.

You and me, we both grew up in temperate climate, four seasons year round. As a child, you wore sandals in May. My mom still had me wear boots and socks. I remember my cousin at the seaside when we were kids. I was chubby, hence less frail, and being allowed to run around freely completely naked—you can do it there, at least in the first five years of existence. My same age cousin was wearing sweat pants, a long sleeved jacket, a summer hat, and an inflated rafting tube around his waist, while silently building sand castles in the shadow of a tree. You don’t see very often trees on the shore, but my aunt wouldn’t let us stop driving until we found sand loving vegetation of sufficient height to keep the sun at a distance. (I don’t think beach umbrellas were readily available back then, so we had to go organic all the way.) Because he was skinny and pale, my aunt refused to expose him to the lethal combination given by the sun and the summer breeze. You know, just like gasoline on fire. Or beans on a date. (Cause once when I went dancing with a guy, we had an on and off weird smell chasing us around. True, the dance floor was pretty small, so I gave him the benefit of a doubt. Until he advertised himself as a great chef, who apparently had cooked the most delicious beans just hours before. Nope. Fail to beans and date!)

He was a foreigner too, but from a part of the world that loves beans. We adore pork in Romania and enjoy having it at home or at the restaurant. (None of my friends ever had a food allergy, by the way.) We eat whatever, drink, and never ask for anything but bottled water (besides adult beverages). Until I moved to U.S. I had no idea one can actually order tap water. It is still not to be done in Romania, and if you insist to do it, they’ll probably spit in it beforehand, making sure they have gotten their revenge, just in case. Cause a cheap bastard will never leave a tip, and that’s what you’ll pass for.

But this was years ago. Since then, my cousin became a fully developed adult, much chunkier than the male equivalent of what I am today. Who would have thought? The burning sun spared a life. Amen! He grew up, and few years back he called me asking for a favor. But sadly enough I didn’t pick up the phone. When I checked the voicemail, I heard the funniest thing ever. Him, frustrated, cursing me from the distance for having a voicemail:
“Why don’t you deactivate this shit? It eats up my money and my time. You jerk!”
True, Romanians think this is a fraudulent scheme made up by the phone companies.

scan0006Now let me go back to my other Eastern European traits. I never go to bed with damp hair, and every time I see a girl with wet hair on the train, I am sure it’s her very last day on Earth. Pneumonia and a slow death will get her soon. If my mom sees me walking in the middle of the summer with no slippers on the cold kitchen tiles, she’ll tell me for one last time (before next time) that I’ll never have kids. My ovaries are gonna catch a cold, shrink down and fall off.

You probably love air conditioning. I tolerate it, but I surely slept at 80 degrees with the A/C off when I went to Dominican Republic two weeks ago—my Lithuanian roommate and I. Different countries, but close enough to be the same thing. In Romania, the concept of A/C is relatively new. It all started 25 years ago, but it became accessible to the middle class maybe 10-15 years ago. When I was a child, if you had A/C something was wrong with your folks. Probably undercover mobster activity. My friend from Florida was shocked that the Lithuanian girl and I grew up without it. Moreover, in Romania we are intrinsically afraid of two open windows at the same time, or a door and a window. Or a fan and an open door. Basically, any draft generating form. And draft, if it doesn’t kill you through pneumonia, of course, can be the source for any aching, swollen, inflamed or tingling body parts. Your ear hurts? It’s from the draft. That’s why your eyes are red, too. And that’s why your cheek is swollen. Not cause you’ve got a rotten tooth. And by the way, I clearly got fillings done as a child with no anesthesia. Because anesthetics were for pussies back then. “Crazy,” you say? Maybe!

But you know what’s not? Us. Back there. People aren’t alcoholics; they just enjoy a good party and a drink every other day. You beat up your wife on a regular basis? You use your fists, feet and the thickest fakanal* in the house to gain her respect? Go to the priest and confess your sins. God and she will eventually forgive you.

(*Fakanal is another linguistic Hungarian influence! It means just a wooden kitchen spoon. So, if you like eating Goulash, don’t jump to conclusions!)

Years back, a guy who broke up with his girl told me how a shrink advised him to get her back by making love for one last time. And he did, but against her will. Never got her back. (Fail to rape and reconcile.) Possibly being a shrink is a career that is just not tailored to fit our mentality, on none of the two sides involved. It’s much different from U.S., where doctors tend to over medicate.
“You say you’re sad? How weird! Why don’t you pop some antidepressants for the next 15 years?”

So yeah, we don’t recycle our minds back home. What you have is what you get. And unfortunately, we don’t recycle our trash either. This is not even funny, but I want it to be mentioned here. Maybe some things will eventually change. Cause the accent stays.