Why are Snakes Feminine and Airplanes Masculine?

I am a logical person.

Order is Queen in my life. Most things I own serve a function. My closet could be on the cover of Organized Living, with every item in its place depending on its frequency of use. A favorite book of mine is entitled “The Reason of Things”. So you can imagine my frustration when I discovered that the Serbian language is completely void of my favorite virtue: Logic.

This is one of those languages where every word is assigned a gender. The idea of this makes me want to fold my arms and stomp my feet like a child and scream “No! I will not do it. I refuse to accept a language that is this illogical.” Yes, I know, very many other languages have this exact same protocol, but does that make it any better? Now I’ll have to not only learn each new vocabulary word, but also learn its gender. The work is doubled. But it’s not about the extra work, it’s about the Why. Why is it like this? Why would an inanimate object such as a table or a chair be assigned a gender when it is not a male or female? Why would a school be “she” instead of “it”? And more importantly, Why would a brain be male and a soul be female? Do the Serbs subconsciously think that women are more soulful and men are more brainy? If you talk about a woman’s mind, why must it be manly? And to reference a man’s soul, are you referencing a female part? This is nonsensical! Is it backward, old fashion, chauvinistic? Or is it simply arbitrary, such as a watch being a male, and a coffeepot a female. Why would a coffeepot be a female? Does it have curves? Look good in heels? Can it give birth? Why is a watch a male? Is it good at manual labor? Can it mate with the coffeepot? These are questions that bother me to no end. Why is a backpack a male? Why? And how should I derive the gender of the backpack, from what source, for what reason, is the backpack a male? Should we give it a name and humanize it since it indeed has been given a gender too? Why would a holiday be male? And a glass of wine a female? And then there’s words like zena, which mean both wife and woman, why is this? Are all women wives? If you reference your mother or sister, who is a woman, are you calling her your wife? Why is the word for husband, muz, different than the word for man, covek, and why is the word for baby gender neutral, when indeed babies have genders and coffee pots do not. I could go on forever! It’s infuriating!

Many of you are saying, oh, the English language is illogical too, take our spelling for instance, it too can be nonsensical! I know, I know, but at least we have patterns and norms and it does have some logic. In English you know that a cell phone is an “it”, it just is! It’s not a male or a female, it’s an object for crying out loud, and only items with life have gender. Only people and animals have something about them that defines their gender, and so why then would we give genders to placemats and pianos and paintings and things? It’s madness!

This frustration rises within me whenever I allow myself to dwell on it, and I know that to make progress I need to accept it. It’s like advanced mathematics, sometimes you get to a point where you just can’t wrap your mind around a complex equation, but you know that It Is So, so you must just accept it for what it is, and move forward. So I will apply this mathematical truth to the illogical Serbian language and move forward, eagerly asking my teachers about each inanimate object, “Is this a he or a she?”

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“You just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, Honey!”

Belgrade

“You just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, honey!” seems to be the general mentality of the Serbian crowd here in SoCal, when it comes to my Belgrade trip. For some reason, these Serbs tend to think that I’m going to be lost, overwhelmed, and completely clueless when I get to the White City. I’m not sure where this attitude comes from. Do they really think I’m clueless? naive? weak? That I’ll not be able to handle myself in a foreign country on my own for a month? Or is Belgrade such a mad zoo that anyone would lose it over there? People who actually know me, know that I’m well traveled, independent and resourceful, and incredibly low maintenance when it comes to travel. In fact, my husband would prefer to be comfortable in an all inclusive 5 star resort, whereas I’d be happier crashing in a hammock or shack on some local beach, riding by bus from town to town.

I’ve been around Europe on my own as a teenager. I’ve stayed in hostels, random places, I’ve jump seated across the country here in the US. I’ve moved on my own many times, sleeping out of my Toyota, packing nothing but my dog and my life’s belongings into my old car, driving like a snail, home on my back, from place to place, setting up my life for myself all over again each time. I’d find my own place to live, knowing no one each time, setting up all my services, fixing my own plumbing, doing maintenance on my own car, and generally relying solely on myself for pretty much everything. I tried not to depend on anyone unless absolutely necessary and I was definitely paying my own bills, and supporting myself, not leaning on a man or anyone else to take care of me. And I haven’t lived at home since I was 17. I’ve worked hard, put blood, sweat, and tears into my career. I’ve learned to fly airplanes, compete in aerobatics, even teach people to fly them, deal with emergencies, and severe weather, and shoulder deadly serious responsibility. And frankly, I’ve had decent success.

So for the record, here’s exactly what I think I’m getting myself into:
Simply a gray European city, not white, as the name Beograd implies, but a gray city. A dirty, ugly, city, with a certain charm that takes a lot of digging to unearth. I expect cinder block style buildings with grey concrete walls. Typical European architecture, old like a museum, bursting with history, churches, and cathedrals. The cars will be smaller, the streets narrower, and the women will be tall and beautiful and the men will be stylish and attractive. I expect streets where people walk everywhere, endless cafes, and smoke filled restaurants. Young people will be spending hours sipping espressos and smoking while talking loudly and gesturing to each other day after day after day. Night after night after night will be spent at the dance clubs, people partying like they have no ambition other than to dance all night and drink coffee all day.

I expect cold weather. Possibly snow. Definitely some rain. Well dressed people. People who spend what little money that have on clothes, looking good, carefully concealed poverty. Open air markets, lack of every day conveniences. They will have cell phones but no Laundromats. Washers but no dryers. Clotheslines strung up all around. Chauvinism. Hedonism. Immorality. Book shops and pirated CDs and definitely no Wal-Marts. Although they will have at least 1 McDonalds. I expect people will want to tell me what they think of America. They may want to tell me how they think it is over here, what we are doing wrong, what went wrong, and how we, or possibly even I, contributed to all of that.

I expect them to have strong liquor and strong opinions, and loud voices, and good leather shoes. They’ll probably be drinking wine, eating rich cheeses, and stinky dairy products, and cured meats, and lots of raw salads with no lettuce, and they will be fit. They won’t work out, or exercise, but they will definitely be in shape. I expect that a fair number of them will speak some English, and may want to practice with me, and I need to not encourage this, but to instead force myself to practice Serbian.

Maybe I’ll see some old monasteries, maybe I’ll get to ride the train, maybe I’ll have a few family style dinners, and maybe I’ll even get to hear some gypsy trumpet players. I expect to stay in a hostel, with other random travelers, mostly European, but from all over the world, mostly young, mostly aimless, mostly well traveled, and always looking to have a good time. I expect there to be remnants of war, scars of struggle, and definitely graffiti.

These are all things that I expect when I go to Belgrade. I expect to be jet lagged and disoriented and thrown right into the thick of it, and I expect to love almost all of it, learning about the people, the culture, the language, the history, and the lifestyle. I expect to be surprised, and sometimes confused, and elated, and fascinated, and amused, and maybe even disgusted. I expect the language school to be frustrating and rewarding, and to learn more about the Serbian way than about how to conjugate verbs and put together sentences. So maybe I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but I think I have an OK idea so far. And I know I’ll be just fine. Can’t wait for the journey to begin.

Personal Hygiene and Conspiracy Theories

Cleans your Body, Mind, Soul, and Spirit!

So, being that this is the first time in my adult life that I’ve not been working or going to school full time, and being that because of that track record, I feel I may have missed out on a few crazy summers, wild spring breaks, snowboard trips with friends, backpacking trips through Europe, and overseas exchange programs…I felt that this down time was the perfect time to catch up on all those missed opportunities while I still can,which is exactly why I’m going on a solo trip to a cold, grey, forgotten Eastern European city to study the language of my husband. What, you don’t see the comparison? They don’t equal each other? No? Ok.
Well anyway, since I have so much time to prepare for my trip, I’ve been doing a little research on what to expect over there and what to pack. I’ll need to pack as light as possible to avoid paying exorbitant baggage fees, so I’ve tried to make sure everything I bring is multi-functional. I may have gone a bit far when I discovered this product called Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Supposedly, it has 18 uses, it’s all organic, and the bottle claims that it will also cleanse your body, mind, soul, spirit, instantly uniting One! Wow, that’s pretty magical stuff. So after extensive home testing, I decided to toss my toothpaste, body wash, face wash, lotion, and laundry detergent, and I’m just bringing this instead. More room for souvenirs! Score!
Another fun product I found to bring was the Packtowl Ultralite, which is one of those travel towels that is basically a giant Shamwow and absorbs like 1 billion times its weight in water, dries in 30 seconds, and fits in your pocket. Why bring these things you say, aren’t you going to a civilized city with readily available necessities and consumer products? Hear this: My husband has been trained to transport giant oversized jars of multi-vitamins to his dad, and drug store brand hair colors and shampoos to his mom when he makes the trip back to Serbia. Why? Because they’re afraid their local versions are pirated, diluted, inferior, or knockoffs. This goes along with the whole conspiracy theory mentality that is so prevalent in these people. I mean seriously, why would anyone dilute a bottle of head and shoulders? But with the Serbs, conspiracy theories are widely accepted as fact, on every topic you could imagine, from old favorites like the moon landing and Kennedy assassination, to nearly every war, government body, politician death, and everything in between. So to avoid getting avoid getting scammed out of toiletries, or more likely, face the difficult challenge of finding a decent moisturizer while mentally converting Euros to Dinars to Dollars with a cashier, I decided to bring my own products. At least this way I know what I’m getting.