Ever since moving to Ukraine, I have lived in a bubble. My interactions with the people and culture of this country have been decidedly limited. This is likely why I haven’t become an alcoholic.*
My job requires that I speak and write in English, which I thankfully can manage. My girlfriend speaks English and she handles all of those day-to-day issues that crop up and would otherwise require that I learn to communicate in Russian.
Now, I hear what you’re saying. “That’s not good. You should go out and make yourself interact a little bit. It’ll make you more culturally aware. You might even learn more than a handful of words in Russian.”
I hear you. But cultural awareness is desirable only insofar as the culture itself is desirable, and to that end I say, I am aware enough. As for the Russian, I regret not knowing more only because I can’t read Dostoevsky in his original language. And because my application to the CIA now looks considerably less appealing (but who really wants to be a spy in a Russian-speaking country anyway?).
Yes, that’s right. I take your judgment and attempt at shaming and I drizzle a healthy dollop of maple syrup over it.
Imported, of course.
Caustic though I may sound, life in the bubble isn’t as limiting or boring as you might think, because the bubble is what you make of it.
If you’re a boring person, you will be bored in the bubble. If you’re an interesting person – and I most certainly am that – then your bubble will be interesting.
You can also make your bubble as thick or as thin as you like depending on how much you want to escape from the outside world. When the immediate outside world is Ukraine, you’re going to want to make that bubble pretty damn thick!
At this point in my post, I left my former position on the Ukrainian Tourism Board to go work at Audible.
Like many Americans of my generation, I have been sucked into the podcast/audiobook craze sweeping the country. Listening to audiobooks has made living in Ukraine remarkably easier because now I don’t have to interact with people outside – at all!
The girlfriend loves it too! I eagerly volunteer for any and all chores around the house. Cooking? Sure! Washing the dishes? Why not! More audiobook time!
The only thing I’m left wondering now is how far I can take it.
Instead of hitting pause upon reaching the elevator up to the office, I wait until I’m almost sitting at my desk.
Unlike in America, where everyone – even the cashier at the supermarket – does the cheery back-and-forth chit-chat, here people just ignore you. Which means that I can ignore them without needing to feel socially awkward about it.
Is that cashier glaring at me over the counter? Sure! But with Richard Armitage’s narration of “David Copperfield” in my ears, I’m miles away anyway.
The bubble has also taught me how important it is that I prioritize my time. Do I really want to go to that expat meet-up? An after-work get together? Another date night with the girlfriend?
Okay – that last one was a joke. But come on people, I’ve got audiobooks to listen to, books to read!
Of course, bubbles pop, and this one will too. I’m not a prairie vole. I can’t burrow away for too long. I need occasional social contact just like everyone else. As an inverted extrovert, I need more of it than most.
But until that bubble does pop and I come out for a chat, my headphones and a handful of Russian words are all I need.
*Yes, it’s a stereotype, but some stereotypes are true.