Why I Don’t Share Things

One of the girls at work tonight mentioned she was going to go see Fifty Shades of Grey with (a) her boyfriend and/or (b) her boyfriend’s parents, to which the rest of us replied “Aaaahhh uhhhhh hhmmmmm” for a variety of our own reasons

And we were trying to dissuade her with our own variety of reasons

And I chimed in with “Dude, if you want to get into erotica, there is better erotica out there.”

Which made everyone look at me funny.

Which feels a bit unfair, seeing as we were, I thought, having a conversation about paying to watch a sexy movie.

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How I Celebrated My Twenty-Third Birthday Like A Grown-Up Mature Fun Energetic Young Adult Person

3:15am – Alarm goes off. Wake up totally disoriented and unable to figure out what time it is or why alarm is going off. First words out of my 23-year-old mouth are “What the fuck.”

3:16am – Remember why alarm is going off: Jordan has work at 4:15am.

Hit snooze and go back to sleep.

3:30am – Second alarm goes off. Remembers it is my birthday. Excitement levels are exactly strong enough to get me out of bed without doing any actual waking up.

Take 3:30am disoriented birthday selfies.

wrongly

“Opening on Saturdays will be great,” they said

wrongly

“We’ll have the whole afternoon to DO THINGS,” they said

3:42am – Jordan offers me chocolate-covered espresso beans (two pounds of which arrived in the mail two days earlier and were broken into immediately). Incoherently accept Jordan’s offer.

3:48am – Espresso beans in full swing.

3:49am – Bounce into office where Jordan is eating breakfast and harass him to give me my birthday present. Receive reminder that my present was the two pounds of espresso beans I’d broken into immediately upon receiving them in the mail two days earlier.

Worth it.

4:15am – Drop Jordan off for his shift. Play Mika in the car on the way home.

4:18am – Learn my voice is wayyyy too sleepy to hit high notes alongside Mika at 4:18am. But it can emulate a decent Lumpy Space Princess.

4:19am – Sing along to “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” as Lumpy Space Princess.

4:30am – Make breakfast and get ready for my own shift. Watch the 30 Rock episode “Mazel Tov, Dummies” during prepping. Determine it is the most quality thing that has ever aired on television.

4:48am – Think about getting married and being a human woman.

Actual footage of me during wedding planning 1.5 years ago

Be grateful I, at twenty-three years old, am all done planning weddings.

5:15am – Drive to work. Sing “Love Today” as Lumpy Space Princess.

5:30am – Open store with fellow twenty-three-year-old supervisor Jenni. Endure quips about the things Jenni was doing back “when she was my age.” (Note: Jenni’s birthday was one week before mine. Exactly one week before mine.)

6:00am – Start serving coffee to early-rising customers. Enthusiastically tell everyone that it’s my birthday.

6:56am – Determine telling people it’s my birthday is leading to a zero percent increase in tips.

Stop telling selfish people anything about my life.

7:26am – Work birthday ass off slinging coffee to everyone in Tigard. How are there this many people in Tigard? Why are they all awake on a Saturday? Why am I awake on my birthday on a Saturday?

8:30am – Wonder why I did not ask for day off. (Answer: January babies who have to go to school on their birthday their whole life are bad at remembering birthday time off is a thing.)

11:15am – Free from work. Eat lunch and lounge about lobby waiting for Jordan to finish his shift.

12:45pm – Pick Jordan up from shift. Run to bank to take care of bank account business. Exciting birthday bank account business.

1:30pm – Get home, eat food, call parents. Discover parents’ surprise and concern that I’d neglected to find myself any birthday cake. Promise to obtain some birthday cake.

2:30pm – Lay down for one-hour birthday nap.

5:00pm – One-hour birthday nap turns into two-point-five-hour birthday nap.

Happy birthday to me.

5:15pm – Shower and get ready to Go Out like a Real Adult whose Real Birthday is tonight. Complete with makeup and everything.

5:43pm – Realize pants I wanted are in the hamper. Lament neglecting to do any birthday laundry.

6:30pm – Get text from Jenni—she’s already at the Ringler’s Pub.

Get beaten to my own birthday party by Jenni.

7:07pm – Find Jenni in Ringler’s Pub. Meet with a few other people while there. Eat some dinner. Drink some drinks. Have the twenty-three-year-old “adult” birthday party.

Neglect to order any birthday cake.

9:00pm – Pay tab at Ringler’s Pub. Go to Crystal Ballroom for All Decades Video Dance Attack with other twenty-three and twenty-two-year-old friends Alex and Savannah. Have the twenty-three-year-old “young adult” birthday party.

Real footage of real chic party people partying heartily

Real footage of real chic party people partying heartily

9:20pm – Get tired after four songs. Water break number one.

9:45pm – Realize in all of my two decades, I did not pick up how to dance to any genres from any of these All Decades. Realize no one else knows how to dance to anything either, so who the hell cares.

Water break number two.

10:05pm – More dancing. Announce water break number three.

10:06pm – Water break transforms into booze break, per friend Savannah’s offer.

10:08pm – Happily down rum and coke, but spend whole time wishing rum and coke was cup of water. How do people do all this dancing without water? Should a twenty-three-year-old need water this badly?

10:12pm – Water break number three.

10:20pm – More dancing. Get excited enough to get on Jordan’s shoulders and “lead” room in “Gungham Style.”

Try to decide whether the fact I’ve forgotten most of the moves to “Gangnam Style” is encouraging or disappointing.

10:24pm – Simultaneously really, really hope someone puts me leading “Gangnam Style” on Instragram and really, really hope they don’t.

10:54pm – Water break number four. Wonder how anyone dances and drinks alcohol at the same time. All my body wants is water. All my body misses is water.

11:15pm – Water break number five.

11:45pm – Water break number six. Also, admission that I don’t have it in me to party all night and need to rest. Tell friends that I am channeling Cinderella and need to leave the ball by midnight.

12:02pm – Take final great Bruno Mars song (“Uptown Funk”) followed by final terrible Bruno Mars song (“Young Girls”) as divine sign the night is over. Wind way back to coat check and out of building.

12:08pm – Birthday selfies outside the pub.

More oriented than 3:30am, which still isn't very oriented

More oriented than 3:30am, which still isn’t very oriented

12:12pm – Jordan drives us home. Realize all my twenty-three-year-old joints are sore and I’m dying.

12:13pm – Check Instagram. No pics of me leading “Gangnam Style.” Small disappointment is overshadowed by large relief.

12:40pm – Arrive back at apartment. Refuse to get out of car on account of all my joints are busted.

12:41pm – Walk to apartment anyway. Collapse on entryway floor. Let cats examine my dead twenty-three-year-old corpse.

Updates

The things that have happened in the last 33 days.

I went to Moscow. I saw the circus. I rode the metro. I read the street signs (poorly). I got frozen feet at the Kremlin. I fell in love with St. Basil’s. I still sit and stare at its picture sometimes.

I went to St. Petersburg. I got lost in the Hermitage. I danced in the snow. I saw the ballet. I wrote a poem at Dostoevsky’s apartment (poorly). I read Crime and Punishment in the window over Nevsky Prospekt. I did not try the vodka. It was not delicious.

I broke my laptop. I got help from a roommate, a native and a taxi driver to get it fixed. I got cozy in the computer lab. I learned how dependent I am on electronic journals. I realized how much I appreciate Skype.

I went to Rome. I ate gelato. I ate ravioli. I cried in the Sistine Chapel. I walked to the Colosseum—but remained locked out. I wished in Trevi Fountain—and my wish came true. I rode a train, plane, bus, automobile, metro. I got very lost and very saved by three people who made me understand the word “godsend.” I apologized to everyone in Lithuanian instead of Italian.

I saw a show at Klaipeda’s theater. I bought tickets on my own, in Lithuanian. I bought intermission snacks, in Lithuanian. I explained to the usher I was in the right seat, in Lithuanian…but I told her my seat number nine was duodi. Devyni means “nine.” Duodi means “bread.”

I ate Thanksgiving dinner two days late. I had beef instead of turkey. I ate with Ukrainians instead of Americans. I had no leftovers. The meal was wonderful.

I shopped on jamam, which is Black Friday but Black Saturday and marked by the general trend of shopping rather than Thanksgiving. I bought presents…for me. I made up for it later by going to the amber market later and buying real gifts for other people.

I drank at least 20 cups of tea.

I sent at least a dozen postcards.

I felt more at home and more homesick, at different times, than I’ve felt all semester. I was blessed and humbled by the generosity of friends and strangers alike. I spent the bulk of my stipend on foods and gifts. I’ve become all the more grateful for people who care about me, and for people I care about. On this side of the world and back home.

My last half is halfway down, and it’s been the most full so far. I can see the end, and it’s exciting, but so is being here. So I will be here a little longer, and be grateful for every day I get.

Bus 15

In retrospect, I was already trying to find a coffee shop I couldn’t remember the name of on a street sorta near one I was pretty sure I knew; maybe adding a bus that that mix wasn’t the most solid idea. But the one-lita tickets were already in my wallet and Sheldon (my laptop) was getting heavy, so I figured riding a stop or five down into old town Kalipeda couldn’t hurt. I was already on the street I needed; it would save me time, and I needed all the time I could get to write this draft for Biblical Interpretation due in two-point-five hours. It wasn’t going to write itself. That’s what the previous two nights indicated, anyway.

Which buses go into old town again? Six, eight, fourteen for sure. Three comes back this way, I’m assuming then it goes out too. What other numbers have I seen coming back. Two, maybe? And fifteen? Five’s a bad bet, I’ve seen fives but five doesn’t feel right.

I check the times: six, eight and fourteen just left. Two has ten more minutes; fifteen about three. Unless it just left too? The buses are notoriously on time here; maybe it’s more so than I am.

A bus rolls up: five. I’ve seen fives heading up and down the streets I frequent, but nothing solid enough to make me take it. Five rolls off.

Another pulls up. Fifteen. I’ve seen fifteens coming out of town before. Maybe they go in too?

The people shuffling forward and the heaviness of my book bag on my shoulder convince me. Fifteen is a good bet.

Fifteen boards up and closes its doors and pulls away from the shoulder. And doesn’t squeeze into the left lanes. Normally not a problem, except the right lane just turned into an offramp with signs reading things like “Palanaga” and “Kaunus.” I just need the coffee shop downtown…to the south…somewhere…

Instead, I sit and watch my street disappear under me as fifteen loops up and around, onto the offramp and over a bridge, heading due east.

Oops.

Okay, what do I know about how buses work? The come and they go on the same routes. So that’s okay, I’ll find another shop and cross the street when I’m done with my work.

Two, three stops. I spot a café. Not bad, but three stops isn’t worth it. No use wasting a perfectly good wrong bus ride. I ride out some more.

Four, five stops. A park stretches to my right, bordering—is that a river? How come no one on campus has ever mentioned it? No comfortably distanced bus stops on the other side, though. Plus a park won’t have anything to eat. Hmm. I’ll spot something else.

Six, seven, eight stops. The city’s becoming increasingly industrial. Shops and cafés have all but disappeared; auto body shops and office buildings take their place. Maybe there are no coffee shops to be found on this side of town. Maybe I can ride until fifteen takes me back into town.

Nine, stops—or is it ten now? We’re still heading east? This road just sprouted a divider—how am I going to cross? When does this bus turn around?

Eleven stops. Uh oh.

Twelve stops and finally—I spot a Pica Express on the other side. Not a coffee shop, but pizza and a place to sit can do. Also it looks like—a thrift store? And letters on the building listing it as some a shopping center, I think. Is my Lithuanian right? It looks like old apartments, but the number of people coming in and out of the buildings suggest otherwise.

I look across the street: a returning bus stop and a crosswalk to get to it.

Sold.

I got off fifteen, and got much more than just a place to sit and grab some food. The old apartment buildings have been turned into its own little hodgepodge shopping center, with various fast food-ish restaurants, tons of thrift stores and a tiny street market lining the main area into the place. Walk through and there’s a little sunny square full of very old people and very young people, walking and talking and enjoying their sunny Tuesday afternoon.

I browsed the thrift shops and stuck my head into all the restaurants, delis and bakeries I could find. I checked out the fruit and homebrewed honey at the street market—might have to return for some of that. I wandered up stairs, trying to find the weird old apartment entrances to the stores I could see through the windows.

I abandoned studying and Pica Express for a kebabas stand and a Coke. I ate it in the square, in the sun, eavesdropping on two old women. (They spoke Lithuanian, but whomever they were talking about was clearly quite interesting.) I never did break out Sheldon: my lessons for that afternoon would be in navigation, apparently.

I got the wrong bus, the wrong lunch, the wrong things accomplished. Now I have a coffee shop and a kebabas stand to revisit. Plus perhaps a park, a street market and a plethora of thrift shops. And they’re accessible by bus stop…so long as that bus stop includes bus fifteen.

Not bad for a failed afternoon.

Tourist Lessons

This weekend gave the Study Abroad students at LCC a reprieve from being students and a chance to be tourists again for three days. And it felt pretty dang good. All 29 of us got on a bus and spent two days in Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia; I also managed to ride the coattails of master planner and fellow study abroad Abby Korthals to squeeze in a day trip to Helsinki, Finland on the side.

It was exhausting, it was fleeting, it was fun, and like every other event this semester, it taught me a lot. Unlike daily life at the LCC, however, this trip had less to do with the serious, relationship- and culture-driven aspects of travel and more to do with the whiz-bang tourist level of travel. Some of those tourist lessons are jotted here.

1)    Your study abroad advisor may suggest an amount of money to bring. If you just need to stay alive, that amount is fine. If you want to do anything besides that (like shop, visit a museum or eat a real lunch), you might want to bring a little more.

2)    Some hostels are for resting. Some are for partying. If you can figure out which one yours is beforehand, do so and plan accordingly. There’s sure as heck nothing wrong with a hostel that sits right above a salsa club, enticing you to party all night. It’s just nice to know it’s coming, if only so you can get some sleep beforehand and go party all night.

3)    Passport stamps aren’t really a thing anymore. Sorry. Dry your eyes and move on.

4)    Unless you want dozens (or hundreds) of strangers with passports and cameras crashing your wedding, don’t get married at a public landmark. Cathedrals are beautiful, but they’re also on all the tourists’ maps.

5)    Speaking of cathedrals, if you’re going to take pictures, do it discreetly. For the love of God. Or at least for the love of the other people around you. Because God may love you no matter what, but some of his all-too-human worshipers think you’re freaking. annoying.

6)    The only creatures castle walls attract more than tourists are pigeons. Move slowly, lest there be a lot of mutual panicking going on.

7)    Read the travel guides you’re given, especially if you’re in Eastern Europe. They’re hilarious. And they’ll tell you about every night club in the city, in case you’re interested in making that your scene.

8)    Yes, you will look like a maniac if you bolt off the ferry the second it reaches port. But if it helps you snag the first taxi out of the port at 18:30 to catch your international bus at 19:00, swallow your pride and run like mad.

9)    Pancakes are the cheapest food.

10) Go to the top of every tower. Their views are the best reminders of why you just endured hours and hours of travel and trekking to see this part of the world.

Eastern European Hair Talk

New rule: new friends aren’t allowed to look at pictures of me that are more than two years old. More specifically, new friends aren’t allowed to look at prom pictures. Prom pictures, as it turns out, give a very inaccurate picture of who I actually am. Or at least what I actually look like.

I looked great at my prom. I probably looked better on my prom night than I have during any other point in my 20-year-old life. I don’t claim this out of conceit; I claim it because it’s true. A bittersweet truth, because I never looked that good beforehand, and I certainly haven’t looked that good since. I have neither the motivation nor the know-how to create my prom-self again.

But my Ukrainian suitemate didn’t know that the night she came into my room to talk. I was asking her about her travel experiences and her impressions of American culture, and she mentioned how much she loves “American prom.” We talked about the dresses and the dances, and I decided to pull up an old Facebook album of my own prom to show off a bit (and clarify some descriptions I was shooting for, because while my vocabulary is decent, Dress Terminology isn’t one of my strong suits). The gushing commenced, then a comment was made:

“Your hair—it used to be long? It’s beautiful! Why did you cut it short? Have you grown it back out? You should grow it back out. Seriously.”

“Seriously,” the word used over and over again. It wasn’t a suggestion: she was insistent. There was, apparently, no reason for me to cut my hair short and keep it short when I could have it long.

“Not that you don’t look fine now, but seriously, it’s like a Before and After picture,” she went on, gesturing towards the screen at my 18-year-old self as the after part of the equation.

“Thanks…I think.”

I tried to explain it only looked nice in that picture because that was the one time I bothered making it nice for a special event; more often than not it looks boring and unkempt when it’s long because I never style it.

“Well then start styling it!” was her response. “You’re a woman, you’re supposed to like doing things with your hair.”

For most of that evening, her comments rolled around in my head. They were good-natured, I have no doubt of that, and also pretty amusing. But they also made me a bit shakey about how I’m “perceived” here—because I’ve recognized I’m way behind the curve when it comes to feminine aesthetics in eastern Europe. The women here take great care in their appearance, even if it’s just to head to class for a few hours. Heels, hairstyles, and make-up are commonplace, five days a week. Even jeans are usually dressed up with a blouse and some jewelry. I’ve been doing my best to dress up my own jeans with the few blouses and pieces of jewelry I’ve packed, but most of the stuff with me (heck, most of the stuff I own) has more to do with convenience, travel and comfort than style.

My hair is no exception. Here’s the problem: I give, and have always given, zero shits about my hair. I’m not even sure where to get shits to give about my hair. A best friend haranguing me in high school didn’t work. Two boyfriends didn’t work. Secretly wishing I looked like Tina Fey (and/or the short-haired version of Rapunzel) didn’t work. The desire is there, but it’s a desire the way wishing I knew how to sword fight is a desire. It would be awesome, but I don’t care enough to put any sort of effort into it.

But here I am in eastern Europe being challenged to break stereotypes, both my own about them and theirs about me. But what if the stereotype I fit—in this case, a chronic case of American informality—is one I don’t really care about breaking? The idea of dressing up just to go out in public isn’t one of my priorities. But my priorities aren’t the point here. I’m supposed to be challenging myself to step back from the reflexes and habits I’ve created and give a new culture a chance, perhaps especially when it seems strange.

My hair is a trivial example, but it’s one that’s gotten to me. What if it isn’t as silly as it seems? Okay, it is, but what if something more important arose, something I care about as little as my hair, but that meant much more to the people around me? Would I be able to let put my own opinions aside and at least act the part? Should I?

I guess I should at least try, as long as I’m trying my hand at this cross-cultural thing. It still seems strange to me, especially growing up with an individualistic, “Just be yourself” attitude preached everywhere from Sesame Street to Community. I do think it’s a valuable mentality, on a grand scale. But I think I’m starting to realize a little respect, a little flexibility, a little compromise towards the locals’ way of doing things can go a long way. With just four months to play around with, at least I’ve got a safe place to start.

And upon some consideration (and finding some pretty dang easy-looking style tips online), I might try growing my hair out a bit. I still don’t personally give any shits about it, but that also means I don’t mind indulging the few people who do.

Chatter Chatter Chatter

This post comes with a disclaimer: I’m writing parts of it in a room full of other LCC students, all of whom have washable marker mustaches on their faces. It’s the hall rule this evening: step foot in the common room, get a mustache. Eight of us are currently here; two more are roaming the halls with Crayola-colored facial hair, and a few fast-moving (or knife-wielding) individuals managed to escape clean-shaven.

About half the floor has made an appearance, and the camaraderie is good this evening. It’s a good night for camaraderie to be good, because I actually walked in to write about something that’s been frustrating me even before I went abroad: how hard camaraderie between international students can be.

Chinese students come to the States and hang out with each other. American, Ukrainian, Russian, Belarussian, Latvian and a whole host of other nationalities come to Lithuania and do the same. Everyone speaks the language they know, to the people they know, from the culture they know.

It’s a natural reaction, gravitating to the people you connect with. And when things are already so different and foreign, it’s all the more comforting to just be comfortable with someone like you, someone who understands both the place you’re coming from and the words coming out of your mouth.

But when everyone’s doing it, it makes making friends outside those boundaries pretty hard.

I’m hardly immune. Before being shanghaied into the mustache gang late this evening, I was doing homework and walking around the city with another American student. Most of our conversation involved processing our states of culture shock and weighing the probability and consequences of spending our time here with peers from our own country.

On the one hand, we came to Lithuania to be in Lithuania — to meet and talk and learn with eastern Europeans, not North Americans.

On the other hand, when in Lithuania, do as the Lithuanians (and Russians and Latvians and Moldovans and Ukrainians) do. And by that I mean speak your own language and congregate with your own kind.

It’s frustrating, but I don’t know the solution. I mean, on a grand scale, that’s kinda how the world works. Most people live their whole lives within their own “group,” speaking one language in one country, one culture. No one “owes” each other to speak a second language or seek each other out. Even within a single country, people subdivide themselves: monolingual campuses have cliques or subgroups, even if the divisions are more subtle. They’ve got the same mother tongue, but even they aren’t exactly speaking the same language.

But as someone who wants to meet people outside my own group, and someone for whom talking is an important vehicle to achieve that goal, I’m feeling a bit stuck. And yes, I recognize one solution: roll up my sleeves and learn a second language already. But which one? If I want to meet the “locals,” I need Lithuanian (which I am learning, albeit slowly). If I want to talk to my roommates, I need Ukrainian. If I want to talk to the guys down the hall, I need Russian. I haven’t quite pinpointed what language I need for my Thursday afternoon class.

Even if by some miracle I mastered two of those languages in four months, I still wouldn’t understand half the people chattering in my classes. Plus I’ve only got four months here. I don’t expect to get immersed in a culture in so short a time, but it would be nice to at least make some connections with people who don’t own passports from the same country I do.

So what does that mean for my time here? And on a larger scale, what does it take to really make cross-cultural connections? Language—more specifically, a common language—seems like an inescapable part of it to me. But then again I’m a talker, and not everyone connects through talking. It can’t be impossible to do it another way. The blue mustache on my face is at least a temporary testament to that.