Monday, February 21, 2011


Remember all that lovely blue sky yesterday? This is the view I woke to today. It snowed lightly all day. Not much of it actually stuck, but the little flakes blew into my face and hair. I learned that it is socially acceptable in Zagreb to use an umbrella when it snows. Nebraskans look askance at such a thing, even though snow will get you wet. As in Nebraska, however, silly hats are also completely acceptable. I saw a man in a tall furry one today.
So now that we've been here 3 weeks (well, counting our Spanish excursion) I have learned some things.
  • Living in a new place where you don't speak the language is exhausting. Learning to do even the simple things you do at home takes a lot of effort. Things like paying bills and grocery shopping. I've sort of figured out the post office, for example--I know where to pick up packages and where to buy stamps. But today when I tried to mail one letter and buy additional stamps I couldn't make myself understood, so I ended up just mailing the letter and giving up on the extra stamps. Then there are all the conversions: currency, metric, etc.
  • I've also really come to appreciate the value of social cues. Despite my language impediment, I've learned to do things like ride trams and buy groceries and go to theatres and cinemas, all without major embarrassments. I learn a lot by following what others do. And in shops and so forth, I've been able to communicate pretty well with pointing, various hand gestures, and a few shared words.
  • I've also learned that if I do look like an idiot for not being able to follow basic directions (like understanding a cashier or knowing when a door says push instead of pull) I won't die from it. People have been forgiving.
  • And also, sometimes when I am confused it has nothing to do with being a stranger. Many people seem to wander around the post office in confusion (the postal employees are very pleasant) because there are lots of places to go for various purposes. At the theatre the other day, I found our seats right away, while others didn't. And when an old lady came and insisted (in English) that my seat was hers, another lady sitting nearby informed her in Croatian that the old lady was mistaken, and let me know that I was in the right place (she was a very nice lady).
  • Sometimes I have moments when I can't believe I'm here. Had one today while waiting for the tram near campus. I thought, What a strange chain of decisions had led to me standing in the snow by tram tracks in Zagreb! It seems so unlikely when you think about it, and yet here I am!
  • I'm very pleased with myself for managing as well as I have.
  • I worry a lot about things that turn out to be no big deal. Like for some reason I was stressed about paying my gas and electric bills at the local grocery, Konzum. Turns out you hand the cashier your bill and your money and she gives you back your change and receipt. Couldn't be simpler. I tell myself to stop worrying so much but I rarely listen.
  • Allison worries that I will get us lost. I don't know why. I'm actually a pretty good navigator and I have yet to get lost.
  • Allison is a supremely adaptable kid. I'm so proud of how well she's doing with all her major life changes!
  • I've never lived right in the center of a big city before and I like it. It's so convenient and I haven't missed driving at all. It takes roughly 30 minutes for me to get to work by tram and bus, depending on how long I have to wait for each. I find it to be good thinking time. I catch the tram directly in front of my door. On the way back, it lets me off across the street--right in front of a drugstore, which was perfect when I needed to buy toilet paper today. And my afternoon errands--post office, ATM, buying an alarm clock, paying bills, buying groceries--all happened within 2 blocks of here. That said, when the weather's nice I've also been enjoying walking a lot. It's a diverting way to get more exercise. I expected more noise, but aside from the trams (which are close enough to actually shake the building; I've got used to it) there's very little noise. Our building is a quiet one.
  • I can live without TV, a dishwasher, garbage disposal, or microwave, or a clothes dryer. But I still need my Internet. And boy, Skype is a wonderful thing!


  1. Phyllis, I love these observations of yours..especially those about living in the middle of the City for the the first time. It's nice to see someone appreciate city living!

  2. I love this post, Phyllis. A nice summary of how things have been up to this point. I especially enjoyed: What a strange chain of decisions had led to me standing in the snow by tram tracks in Zagreb!

  3. What a great adventure for you both! And can you imagine what it's like to permanently move to a new country where you don't speak the language? I often wonder what it's like for people who come to Canada from countries like, say, Africa or southeast Asia...

  4. I think you managed your life and Allison's life and your time there very good!
    The thoughts you have I also have when I'm alone somewhere and don't get the things right.
    That was the reason why I started to learn Dutch because it annoyed me too often and too much when I didn't get what the Dutch people told me.
    How is Allison doing without TV?

  5. Thank you all!
    Dragon, I've always wanted to live in a city, at least for a while. In fact, Dennis and I are entertaining thoughts of a retirement condo in SF someday. :-)
    Karen, isn't it funny how a chain of decisions can lead us somewhere unexpected?
    Knat, you're absolutely right. This experience is really increasing my empathy for immigrants.
    Kirsten, I know what you mean! I feel so stupid when I don't understand! Allison's doing great without TV, actually. Thank goodness for the Internet!