Slowly, but surely, I’m being transformed by this culture, when it comes to many things, but surely when it comes to my feet! There is a clear distinction in my home now between inside shoes and outside shoes. And I find #1: my feet are more toasty, and #2, we have a cleaner floor! Sometimes the fear of the Baka is my motivator to not go outside in freezing cold weather in my flip flops, something I would’ve completely done in the states without anyone saying anything about it. Once Dave shoveled snow for hours in the states in just his shorts. And nobody said a thing. But the fact that a Baka would yell at me if I were to walk to my car on a freezing day wearing only my flip flops, is something I would NOT trade about this culture. Truthfully, I love that part of the culture I live in. In the states, we are so trained to think individualistically: that you can wear whatever you want whenever you want because it’s “your” body, that you can raise your kids however you want, after all, they are “your” kids. But I live in a collectivist culture. On a culture profile survey, Croatia receives a low score when it comes to the category of “Individualism”, which basically means that there is generally a long-term commitment to the “member group”, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships, and in that category can also fall “neighbor”. It also means that loyalty in a collectivist culture is extremely important, and even over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. For example, in the States (which is my passport culture), the value of privacy and the fear of not seeming polite would stop someone from yelling at someone else because their kid wasn’t dressed properly for the cold weather. That would be perceived as overstepping one’s boundaries and launch them directly into the realm of the individual's world, and into their right to exist separate from another in whatever way they want or choose. In a collectivist culture the society stresses and nurtures strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.
So, someone yelling at me, while it doesn’t always feel good, means I am part of the group. In a collectivist culture, everyone is looking out for each other.
My team leader, Teanna, once told me that she embraced the Bakas (ooopss, I forgot to tell you “Baka” means “Grandma”, but you probably gathered that) in Bulgaria, whether they were pinching her side to see how much weight she had gained or not gained, or telling her that her children were not dressed properly, etc… She came to realize that it was an endearing part of the culture. She imparted this piece of wisdom to me upon my arrival, and it has been very beneficial for me to remember it every time I have been “yelled at”. The longer I live here (we just passed our 4th year anniversary), the more I realize that IT is VERY MUCH an endearing part of this culture. What is that “IT” I’m talking about? Once a phrase was over played, but it still rings true for me in my context, and that is that it really does take a village to raise a child. I wouldn’t want that part of this culture to go away, even if it seems like an inconvenience to dress my kids culturally appropriate or that I have to swallow my individualistic pride or bite my lip when getting “spoken” to. The truth is, they are doing it because they care. They care enough about my child to say something, out of a desire to protect them, to care for them, and to (insert GASP) maybe even help me parent. And year after year I have had to shed my outer shield of individualism and not only accept that this is part of life here, but embrace it as a beautiful part of life here.
So, flip flops…you will have to wait until the calendar says it is time for you to arrive publicly, and I believe that will be June 1st. For now, you will be kept hidden on my feet in my apartment. It will be our little secret!