The Bass LineApril 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 30 Comments
Tags: Birthday, Challenges, Children, Conversation, Culture Shock, Expats, Language, Perspectives, Romania, Small Talk
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.