The Bass Line

April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 30 Comments
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I’m at a place called Boom Party Club.

Pop music blares. The disco ball whirls. Preschoolers shimmy.

It’s a five-year-old’s birthday party in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

While two child-minders in princess dresses lead imaginary dragon hunts and make balloon swords, the parents — me, a French couple, and 7 or 8 Romanians — relax in the back room around platters of schnitzel de pui and salata de cartofi.

After pleasantries in English and a round of gin and tonics, conversation turns to the usual adult fare: the economy, traffic, chicken pox, and the upcoming class trip to the football stadium.

There’s talk of a helicopter ride over the field.

At least, I think so.

At some point I don’t quite notice, the Romanians switch back to their native tongue, leaving me and the French couple swirling our empty gin glasses and reaching for more meatballs.

I catch words I know: grădiniţă, maşină, varicelă.

I laugh when I’m supposed to.

I chime in with a da, da! every once in a while.

But, honestly, I haven’t got a clue.

And it’s more refreshing than the salt-rimmed frozen margarita with fresh lime juice I haven’t had in 10 months.

Instead of wracking my brain for something to say about the latest Greece bailout, I admire the beadwork on one mother’s purse. I slip pretzels to the two-year-old in pigtails winding her way through our feet. I take a long but inconspicuous look at the woman across the room who I’ve heard has a newborn at home. She’s wearing high heels and mascara. Her hair is freshly blow-dried. I marvel.

Then I realize the room is quiet. Everyone is looking at me. I blink.

“American schools?” one of the dads asks. “Are they worth what you pay?”

I have no idea if he’s talking about preschools or primary schools or massage schools. I pause and say “um, well, uh” a few times before coming up with something vaguely intelligent. Or at least something vague.

Eventually, the English words dissolve back into Romanian ones, and I resume parceling out pretzels to the pig-tailed toddler. I wonder how many grown-ups are sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs in San Francisco and Duluth and Tulsa right this very moment, double-dipping potato chips into ramekins of ranch dressing and talking about the state of education. Or how the soccer team is doing. Or the latest economic bailout.

When the child-minders beckon, we sing to the birthday girl. We eat strawberry cake and bop to catchy Romanian standards like De Zuia Ta.

Under the sparkly shine of the disco ball, I collect kids, shoes, and party favors. We say thank you. Mulţumesc! And goodbye. La revedere! The hostess and I cheek-kiss, as you do in Europe.

And we slip out the door of Boom Party Club, where cultures ricochet off one another like the children moshing inside to the thumping bass.


Today’s Five for Five topic is words. Join in at Momalom.



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  1. Your perspective is interesting. I have always felt uncomfortable when the people around me spoke a language I didn’t know; I never thought of it as being relaxing, but I can totally see your point.

    And a preschooler’s birthday with gin and tonic and a disco ball? Sounds awesome 🙂

  2. “Child-minders”… I find that an interesting word and concept.

  3. I love the picture you paint here…”cultures ricochet”…The innocuous conversation between relative strangers is sometimes the richest way to experience that ricocheting.

    p.s. The Boom Party Club sounds like an awesome place. Love the name. 🙂

  4. You are so awesome, Stacia. (I know there is so much more to say but, um, I’m out of words. 🙂 )

  5. You facinate me and I love your writing. You put me right there in the middle of it.

  6. That must be so interesting to try to bridge the gap between two languages…

  7. I am fascinated when hearing people speak in a language I don’t understand. Next thing of course, I want to learn it to understand what they are saying. I’m a language person, what can I say. 🙂

  8. Love, love, love this imagery: And we slip out the door of Boom Party Club, where cultures ricochet off one another like the children moshing inside to the thumping bass.

    On a related note: You know what I never really gave much thought to back then but now I love about growing up in Malaysia? People conversing in two, sometimes three, languages to convey one thought or idea. We express in another language what we can’t capture in one – sometimes in the same sentence! It’s fascinating and I miss that.

  9. Oh, that moment when you just don’t need to take in anything familiar in the new language and just live yourself in your head. I found I got very used to my head in my time abroad…

  10. Isn’t it great how a child can have fun anywhere though, in whatever language. Me, on the other hand, I usually prefer to be outside of the conversation. Not knowing the language sounds like the perfect excuse to be in the moment.

  11. It is fun to find your blog through Momalom. This piece fascinates me. I can’t wait to read through some of your old posts to hear more…….

  12. You paint such a vivid picture with these words. What a time y’all are having!

  13. Turning five in Romania. Not the norm!

    This is a delicious slice of life abroad – and life in general. Your last three paragraphs especially were absolutely delectable!

    Having married into a non American family for whom French was one of the languages they spoke (as do I) – but not their native tongue, I spent years at gatherings in which I picked out the phrases and pieces I could comprehend, and otherwise busied myself with the babies and toddlers, and all things to do with mothers and their children and no need of words.

  14. This brings back so many memories ~ some good…some just tiring. There were many times in France that I enjoyed “disappearing” and so many others where I fought to keep up. I was, eventually, completely at ease with the language, yet never completely at ease in settings like these.

  15. Initially I stalled out when I read that the parents were drinking gin and tonics at a kid’s birthday party. Huh, definitely very European. But you always seem to weave such beautiful words to give your readers a superb visual. Excellent Stacia.

  16. I’ve always found it so stressful to try to keep up with conversation in Spanish (what I experience here when it’s not in English). I’ve never tried to sit back and relax instead! I rather like this idea.

  17. I love the last line of this piece Stacia. Your comment about the margarita had me thinking about Texas and Austin. And how much I love the Mexican Martinis at Trudy’s. I found my own piece of nostalgia through your words. Thanks.

  18. Simply awesome. Love this glimpse into another world, and what an interesting perspective. Found your blog through Momalom, but will be back to learn more about life abroad. La reverdere!

  19. First time visiting (found you via Momalom), and I just LOVED this!

  20. What an absolutely amazing adventure you are on. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it sure does sound like you are making the most of it. While I have not been following along religiously, I have popped in here and there to read about your journey and suck up your truths. I have sensed a change in your tone. See that? Change and Words just combined…all on their own. !!!

  21. Oh I could just travel right through your words.

    (That would be okay, right? :))

    Lovely memories and words. (truly)

  22. I’m liking these Romanian birthday parties! I imagine the French and Romanians do expect a bit more from their small talk. Too bad you can’t feign linguistic ignorance.

  23. Oh how I long to travel to foreign lands! I truly enjoyed this post!

  24. Wow, lady, you can WRITE. Loved this piece…your words made me feel like I was there. And also made me want a margarita. 🙂

  25. You are so brave. I hope you know that.

  26. Such an amazing opportunity you have. When I am surrounded by people speaking another language at first I find it stressful because I desperately want to know those words. But once I relinquish, is quite freeing to hear people talking and not have to understand.

  27. What an experience you are having. I love how you describe it all so that it feels like I’m having the experience right along with you.

  28. I know how you felt…how many times have I found myself in a similar position, either feeling self conscious with my mediocre Japanese in a group of Japanese speakers or feeling “stupid” among people who were better at keeping up with current events. I used to use the ladies’ room as my getaway, then, once I had a baby, I always had a ready-made excuse for not jumping into conversations. Great post, Stacia.

  29. You are such a beautiful writer.

    • Wow, that’s what I think of you, so this means a lot to me! Thank you.

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