When I was a child I spent a few summers (almost four months each visit) in Montenegro, and much of that time was spent with Marta and her family. She was three years older than me, but as an eight year old I looked up to her as one of the big girls, one of the older, self-possessed mature teenagers who I dreamed of being one day. Louis and I would play soccer with her and the other village kids on a large empty field that we set up improvised goals for. It was a five minute walk up the mountain from my grandma's house, one of the ten or so houses that dotted the small village of Fundina, a name spoken with great reverence among family. Her father was my mother's first cousin on my grandfather's side. Marta's grandma is Baba Luljah, a wonderful maternal woman who would make me scalloped potatoes (fried potatoes) whenever I ambled over to her house like a puppy sniffing around for a treat.
Marta grew up in Montenegro, and had never been to the US. She came over for the very first time this summer though! She was brought over on a tour by the Red Cross, her employer. She and about ten other European representatives took a tour of the United States, visiting Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., New York, and Cincinnati. She learned about how the Red Cross operates in America, and also learned about American culture. They visited police precincts, hospitals, schools, stayed in Beverley Hills with old rich people, just lived the good life for a few weeks! Cincinnati was the closest city for me to visit her, and Josh and I drove to meet her for dinner the other weekend.
Words can't describe the anticipation of seeing her, and of introducing her to America. It was fascinating talking to her about her perceptions of the USA before arriving, and her observations while here. It was hard not to talk about Trump- that came up fairly quickly in the evening. She said that people in Montenegro and Europe were confused about whether Trump was a joke, or someone to be taken seriously. "How can a man who has never spent one day in politics, who just sells things and is a business man try to take the most coveted political spot in America, and the world?" Regarding Hillary, she said, "she closes her eyes to some things", which is a fair statement. As we walked down the riverfront park we saw a large Amish family, which threw my cousin off guard. "People in America have freedom, they can choose any way to dress and behave, why are they putting themselves in a box like this?" I'm not sure how orthodox this Amish family was, but the women wore long sleeved buttoned down floor-length dresses and bonnets, and the men wore slacks with long-sleeved shirts with suspenders, and hats. The kids were the cutest, in their mini-adult clothes, and their chubby cheeks and faces ruddy from chasing each other and falling down. I'd say the Amish people were a highlight of the evening, in terms of culture shock : ).
Cultural Observations about America from the Montenegrin Perspective:
-In America, it is normal to ask for tap water at a bar/cafe/restaurant, but it is looked down on in Montenegro. There is an expectation to spend money, and those who try to be "cheap" by ordering just tap water are not appreciated.
- America talks loudly about how everyone is equal, how all races and genders are important, and yet it does not appear to be the case in person. Perhaps the first step is keeping the conversation going, being observant and speaking up, but there need to be actions to accompany all of this talking.
- Bars and restaurants close early. In Montenegro most bars are open until 3AM, whereas the restaurant/bar we were at closed at 11PM. Early!
- Smoking is not allowed in many places in America. That has yet to catch up with Montenegro, where many more people smoke, and where you can smoke in a lot more places.
- Children generally move out from their parents when they get married, whereas in America most people tend to move out when they turn 18 (for college, and then work). That being said, there is a trend for young adults to move back in with their parents after college.
- There are so many big chains in America, and with restaurants in particular servings tend to be much larger than their European counterparts, and much more salty/fatty/sweet- cloyingly so.
It was so great seeing Marta- it was a visit that I will cherish for a long time, both because we were childhood friends, and because she is such a wonderful, beautiful, and inspiring person (bonus that we're related, too!), but that I got to share with her my slice and perspective of America!