same same but different
There were a couple of great Onion articles recently lampooning the modern-day societal obsession with our digital lives. We may not Instagram every meal we have, but we too are guilty of wasting more time than we should on Facebook and sharing snapshots of our life through this blog. And the more one shares, the greater grows the itch to keep doing it. What started simply as a way to stay in touch with friends and family while we served abroad has taken on a life of its own, with the number of strangers who follow our blog outnumbering our friends and relatives by a ten-to-one margin.
It’s silly, but the interest of people we have never met in our life’s little adventures is titillating — perhaps it tickles the part of our brain that craves recognition — and contributes in some degree to our urge to keep posting. On the other side of the spectrum, S has a close friend who has taken a moral stance against the self-indulgence of blogging and who refuses on principle to read anything we post, even if this means that it is harder for her and S to stay in touch.
While we recognize the public gratification aspect of our blogging, we don’t want to overestimate its influence either. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that words are the most powerful drug used by mankind. Other writers have remarked that writing is not merely their profession; they feel an actual need to write. D shares this sentiment. He started keeping a journal the day he graduated from college and has maintained the practice for the last decade. If he goes too long without putting his thoughts down on paper his brain begins to feel crowded. Also, blogging provides a creative outlet that the cut-and-dried writing D produces at work cannot offer.
Although we tend to focus our blog posts around specific trips or events, it is the details of everyday life that are sometimes the most noteworthy aspect of living abroad — and the reason D has been so persistent about journaling. The problem is that if one does not take note of them early on, these idiosyncrasies tend to stick out less and less over time, and eventually the mind assimilates them without a second thought.
Perhaps because so much of our socializing in Moldova takes place in restaurants, it is this country’s culinary oddities that most readily come to mind when we think of differences between here and home. For example, there is a Mexican restaurant that reportedly tops their tacos with shredded carrots in lieu of shredded cheese. It also apparently serves burritos with sweet whipped cream, despite the prevalence of excellent sour cream in Moldova. It’s as if the chefs had been shown pictures of Mexican food but had never actually sampled it, so they have recreated the dishes by guessing at their ingredients.
Another restaurant, noteworthy for its continuous soundtrack of classic Beatles and Rolling Stones songs performed by a breathless female pop vocalist, gives out frozen towels to guests. At restaurants in Africa, waiters would bring moist towels for guests to use in lieu of washing their hands. This made sense. The towels at this Moldovan restaurant are frozen so stiff that they potentially could serve as weapons to fend off purse-snatchers, but we cannot think of any more practical use for them.
Last week, while D traveled to Tiraspol for yet another soccer game, S joined several Embassy families at a Murder Mystery charity dinner. She made the mistake of ordering the vegetarian option. The first course consisted of a typical Moldovan salad: sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, cheese. There was not a hint of meat on the plate, but S was the only one who was not served. Instead, she waited fifteen minutes for a different salad to arrive. It also had cheese, so this was not an issue of the “vegetarian” option being vegan. It took even longer for the main course. Most people were done with their chicken kebabs and grilled vegetables when the waiter brought out S’s plate: the same grilled vegetables, but with a side of buttery rice in lieu of the kebabs.
The real kicker, however, was dessert. Everyone was served tiramisu, but when S asked for one also the waiter gave her a look of utter non-comprehension. As odd as it seemed for S to be served a different salad on account of having ordered the vegetarian option, the waiter seemed to be equally perplexed as to why someone professing to be a vegetarian would want to eat tiramisu. She said no and returned fifteen minutes later with a bowl of fruit.
Photo courtesy of Hospice Angelus, Moldova’s first provider of palliative care.