Thursday, August 24, 2006

Nedostajete mi

As time passes since my months in Serbia, I miss different things. Well, some of the same things, and some different things. For instance:

  • Juice is still a big one. I was in the supermarket yesterday and the only reasonably priced juices are like 25% actual juice. The rest is water, corn syrup, dyes, and fillers. To get good juice, you pay something in the $3.50-4.00 range. I had to walk right by the tempting bottles of blueberry and pomegranate and settle for cranberry, as usual.
  • I wrote to one Serbian friend about this: recently, I was walking by a restaurant on a beautiful day, and there were no tables outside. Something about this just seemed wrong to me. The next week, Meaghan and I were out to dinner and she was getting nostalgic for Serbia, although it hadn't come up in any way. When she thought about it, she realized that this was because we were sitting outside.
  • When Meaghan and I go out with our friends here, there's always a process of planning that happens first. There's a lag time, somewhere between a day and a week, to make sure they're free, we're free, when we're meeting, what we're doing, and so on. In Serbia, when I wanted to go out (at 10 PM, whatever) I would call someone up and we'd go out.
While I'm on the subject, I should mention this: on my current temp assignment, I work for a guy who makes coffee in the office a couple of times a day. Whenever he makes coffee, there's a pause of ten minutes or so before any work gets done. I wouldn't say this is Serbian style - he would need to take at least a half hour, and he doesn't smoke - but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Time wasters

What keeps me occupied when I'm not working or wandering around.


  • Epilepsy, David B
  • Uncommon Carriers, John McFee
  • Iron Council, China Mieville
  • A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson


  • Reruns of The District
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD
  • The Daily Show and The Colbert Report
  • Red Sox baseball games
  • Whatever's on*
* At this point, I should reiterate my belief that the downfall of Western civilization may be linked to our habit of watching "whatever's on."

Video games

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (I know, corruptor of our nation's youth)
  • Minesweeper (a sure sign of desperation)

While I am walking around, I listen to music. Out of thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of iPods in Boston, I wouldn't be surprised if mine were the only one to feature Haustor and Deca Loših Muzičara (hvala, Dončiće).


In case you didn't know about it, Pustolovina: Adventure in Serbian is a very cool expat-in-Belgrade blog, and its writer is so cool that I just had to try this too. Feel free to check the results yourself.

I'm sure I'd get more traffic if I posted more often .. Anyway, we'll see what happens.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Work work work

Despite a couple of strong possibilities, I still have no firm teaching job for the fall. To make a little money while filling my days with something better than video games, I've been taking small jobs here and there. I believe some of my Serbian friends know this situation well: the jobs that you have to take while you're waiting for the job that you want.

The main way I'm looking for small jobs is through a temporary employment agency. The first time I worked for them, I went into a central office where I took tests to prove that I'm skilled with Microsoft Office and can type fast. Since then, they've had my name on file, and I call and tell them when I'm available to work. Other companies will call in to ask them for short-term office help - my jobs have ranged from a day to a week, but some can go longer - and when their needs meet my skills and availability, I get a day's work.

I had one such job last Thursday at an office in Boston's Financial District. I spent the morning sorting old newspapers (getting black ink stains on my suit) and the afternoon typing names and telephone numbers into a computer spreadsheet. This sort of work, I realized, is an exercise in humility. When I go into the classroom, I carry a great deal of pride and confidence, and I expect to be given interesting, challenging work. My temp employers, on the other hand, were not looking for me in particular, but for some filing help for Thursday. They have to offer jobs that anyone could do. This makes them easy assignments that carry very little responsibility or interest; mostly I keep quiet and work fast.

Saturday's job was a little different: I went to work at the retirement community run by my father-in-law. I've worked for him in the past, so he knows me better and tends to assign me jobs that require thinking and writing, not just typing and knowing the alphabet. I spent the day writing letters to residents and their families addressing various social issues. I enjoy working on the best language to address these delicate situations: how to tell an 80-year-old to stop complaining about the neighbors? How to inform a child of their parent's progressing dementia?

This week, I have no temp assignments yet, so I may have to continue with my daily video games. In any case, this is the time of year when they hire teachers, so I expect to have a real job soon.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


A wedding report is in the works, just as soon as I get my photos in order.

Montana was great and I spent a nice week with my family afterward, but since then I've been pretty bored. To make matters worse (for me), Meaghan started work this week, leaving me with very little to do while I'm waiting for some resolution on the six or seven jobs I've applied for. Since she spent nine months in Serbia with no particular job, Meaghan sympathizes with me, but doesn't exactly feel sorry, if you know what I mean.

To fill my time, I've taken to walking around the city. Yesterday I spent about two hours walking around Boston (in blistering heat), rode the train back to Quincy, and then walked around Quincy for an hour, before returning home to watch television for a while.

Swimming through the humid summer fug made me thirsty, and being thirsty in the city really made me miss Serbia. You see, in Boston there is nowhere you can just sit down and order a drink. Belgrade has a great cafe culture and even a provincial town like Kragujevac has dozens of sidewalk cafes where you can stop for coffee, juice, lemonade, water, or whatever you want. Boston, on the other hand, has cheap restaurants and expensive restaurants. It's possible, but unusual, to sit down in a restaurant and order a drink, unless you're planning on eating. Remember the way I used to fantasize about ethnic restaurants? Well, on yesterday's walk, dying of thirst, I walked past a Mexican restaurant, Thai restaurant, sushi bar, Middle Eastern grill, and two or three American grills, all of which I found totally uninteresting.

Eventually I found a convenience store, something like a miniature supermarket that sells newspapers, snacks, cigarettes, and prefabricated sandwiches. In my wildest dreams, I was hoping for a real lemonade, containing only water, sugar, and lemon juice. Any drink made primarily out of fruit juice would have been acceptable. Sadly, this convenience store was poorly stocked and offered mostly Coca-Cola and such.

I continued down the street to the next convenience store, which had a wider selection. When I looked closer, though, it turned out to be a wide selection of crap. First came the soda drinks, which ranged from the familiar Coke, Pepsi, and 7-Up to the exotic chemical concoctions of caffeine-enhanced Sierra Mist and - I am not making this up - strawberries and cream flavored Diet Pepsi. Next came the masterpieces of chemical engineering known as energy drinks: Red Bull and its various clones. Then, "upscale" drinks like iced white tea, which include massive portions of corn syrup along with the snob appeal, making them so sweet as to be almost undrinkable. There was a selection of bottled water, which I avoided because I wanted something with electrolytes and flavor, and also because earlier in the week I bought something I thought was lemon water until it turned out to be essentially diet Sprite.

At the end of this marketing parade came a selection of drinks claiming to be juice. I chose one called "Dole 100% Juice Ruby Red Grapefruit," took it to the register, purchased it, and consumed all 15.4 ounces (45.5 cl) in two gulps. It tasted fruity enough, but when I looked at the label, I saw that despite its name, it contained a selection of artificial sugars and stabilizers, and more grape juice than grapefruit.

I'm frustrated with what I see as an American tendency to complicate everything for marketing purposes. The drinks aisle includes more chemistry than juice, and more gimmicks than anything, so companies like Coke and Pepsi can deny that they're producing the same thing. The snack aisle is even worse: one flavor of Doritos corn chips after another, each with aggressively garish packaging featuring at least one exclamation point. The overwhelming chemical-spice taste of the chips completes the sensory overload.

Probably being out of work leaves me with too much time to think about these things. Just the same, I'm reminded of a friend from Novi Sad who spent a year here in the U.S., and how frustrated she was with the scarcity of opportunities when she got home. She wasn't only talking about consumer choices - believe me, I'm grateful that I had six or seven relatively interesting job opportunities to apply for - but consumer choices were definitely part of it. In response, I'd point out that more choice isn't necessarily a good thing, and that the most satisfying thing is the availability of the one choice you really want.

I'll take a glass of cherry juice, please.