Friday, October 30, 2009

Cultural Collision

No, not a collision like my near miss on Tuesday, this was a much more entertaining one caused by the differing cultural approaches of me & an Albanian.

I was on my run round the lake (much safer than driving) & when I got to the barrier at one end I do some stretches, mainly ham strings by propping my leg up on said barrier before running back round the lake & home.

Let me set the scene firstly. Many Albanians go out early in the morning as their exercise regime, one of the few communist legacies which seems to have stuck (a throw back to the Mao Tse Tung era when all workers had to do 15 mins limbering up before work) This is not the evening walk or 'promenade' when you stroll out to see & be seen (meditarranean style) in your best clothes, meet friends, take a coffee, chat. No, this is 'for health'. You can smoke the cigarette & get the pure caffeine shot later.

It is quite remarkable the exerceises one sees going on, there are old ladies hanging from trees, (this is no exaggeration, they really do find a low hanging branch, grab on & hang. Don't know quite what muscle group this is targetting); there are men touching their toes with alternate straight arms like propellors picking up speed, or doing such vigorous neck exercises you fear a severe case of whiplash. It's one of those scenarios you often see in developing countries, rare now in the West (where peole have all the gear & all the books/dvds/equipment etc) where people don't have the correct clothes or shoes & clearly know they should be doing some exercise but who have never seen an exercise video, or a book & don't know the proper way to do it, so there are frankly some hilarious sights. I think it's great though that people are out there & doing stuff.

I don't want to sound patronisng it just IS a very funny sight sometimes the things you see, but it's hardly surprising when you've lived under this particular communist regime with such restricted access to anything, there is a vast chasm of knowledge to catch up. It can make people seem very unworldly & naive in many ways. Not jaded & Western!

Anyway today I got my come-uppance.

There I was stretching at the barrier when along trots a little oldish lady, who reminded me of an apple, she had rosy cheeks, was very round & small. She was wearing a very old, very thick tracksuit with those little pop sox tights & navy blue leather lace ups on her tiny feet. Normal Albanian style exercise attire.

She walked over to me gym mistress style saying "Jo, Jo, Jo" (No no no), slapped my supporting leg as she (bravely) ducked under my spasming leg up on the barrier & pushed my knee back to make me straighten my leg. Ouch. Certainly got that stretch going.

Then she faced the barrier & nimbly flung her leg up onto the barrier herself, which was about 3ft high, (much higher for her than for me at 5ft 8), revealing a surprisingly slim, elegant little ankle, (well turned I think the phrase is) & then swivelled round so her leg was at more than 90 degrees to the rest of her body & proceeded to bounce up & down to touch her toe on the ground with a perfectly straight leg & then the one on the barrier as though she were in fact made of rubber & not fibre & pectin at all. Despite this, apple bobbing still sprang to mind.

Albanians do this; they tell you if you are too fat, not wearing enough clothes in winter, that it's time you had another baby, that you should look after your husband better. Nothing is sacred. I have an aquaintance here who was told "You know you'd be really beautiful if you weren't so fat" And they genuninely do not think they are being rude. It's normal here. You give it & you take it.

And in my case, it was to keep a straight leg when stretching my ham string. I was doing it wrong (in her mind) so she was doing me a favour helping me get my exercise regime right.

I was just trying to imagine this sceanrio playing out in a London gym & going up to a lissome gymbunny clad in shiny co-ordinating lycra (not that I'm comparing myself to the latter of course) & saying "I'm frightfully sorry but actually you should be keeping that leg straight, bend slowly, breathe, hold your tummy in. There much better. No problem, glad I could help."

No, I just can't see it happening & coming out alive.

I love it, makes life so much more interesting, I'm looking forward to my next run already. Who knows what tips I'll pick up, or maybe I'll unlock the secrets of the tree hangers. I just need to go & hang from a branch & see what advice I get.


Expat mum said...

That tree hanging sounds wonderful. Gets all the kinks out of the back!

nappy valley girl said...

Reminds me of Hong Kong where you would see many aged grannies out first thing in the morning practising Tai Chi in the park.
I want to be swinging from trees in my 80s...

Potty Mummy said...

You're clearly wearing the wrong kit too. Get thee some pop socks, woman!

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Tell us the secrets of the tree hanging and you'll soon be spotting the British Mummy Blogging community by their propensity for an early morning tree hang.

Iota said...

Pop socks and tree hanging. I just love blogging. You never know what you'll find.