Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Art of Na Gosti-ing

I have talked about na gosti-ing a fair amount on my blog, but after the last couple days, I felt the need to elaborate for several reasons. First, I was once again blown away by the hospitality of the people here and second, I know there are some Mak-17s out there reading this and I hope this will ease your fears and excite you as you prepare for your journey of a lifetime.

на гости /nə gəʊstɪː/ [na gosti]
noun (used with the preposition на)
1. to be a guest

на гостиње /nə gəʊstɪːɪng/ [na gosti-ing]
verb (only in Americanized Macedonian)
2. to go visit

Yesterday, I decided I would go visit my neighbours- nothing out of the ordinary. My na gosti-ing started around noon.

8 hours, 3 houses, 9 sets of neighbours, 5 glasses of soda, and 4 gifts later, I arrived home.

Today, I had the priviledge of having guests at my house as some of the neighbourhood children came over to play Uno and draw.   

4 hours, 10 games of Uno, 3 children, and 8 uses of my Eng-MK dictionary later, I was home alone.

And now a......

Reader's Digest Version of The Art of Na Gosti-ing
1) You have to sometimes work for your na gostis. You might have to do what is uncommon for Americans- just appear on someone's doorstep and basically invite yourself in. This is the hardest part of na gosti-ing in my mind, getting used to just appearing and not worrying if you are being an inconvenience. After being here almost a year, this is still something I struggle with, even with my closest friends and neighbours here that I usually see a couple times a week. However, if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and ring someone's doorbell, you are in for a treat.

2) Clear your schedule for at least 3 hours. I have had na gostis last up to eight or nine hours and then they were begging me to spend the night. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time at someone's house when you go.  

3) Learn when are the right times for nodding, saying "da", smiling, and laughing even if you have no idea what the conversation is about. It will save you lots of time having people retell stories to you over and over using different vocabulary each time. Warning with this strategy: if you do this too much, you could end up agreeing to lots of things you don't want to and people will start to think your Macedonian is better than it is, thus leading to even more advanced conversations that go over your head even more.

4) Even if you don't want it, learn to accept and drink lots of soda and coffee and be prepared to eat. In most Macedonian homes, your soda glass will be filled almost immediately after you take one sip and you must finish your glass before you go home, so drink slowly if you want to limit the amount of soda you have to drink. Don't want coffee? Try telling them that if you drink coffee now, you won't sleep later. That is the only excuse I have found that allows me to turn down coffee without too much fuss. Who cares if you just ate a 5 course meal, if you na gosti, be ready to eat even more.

5) Ring, ring. "Hello (pause) Oh hi Stephen Kutzy (pause) You need to talk to me right now? Ok." Become familiar with the Fake Call feature on your phone. When the na gosti has reached a point of no return and you aren't sure how you will ever be able to escape, casually turn on the fake call feature and within a minute, you will have a perfectly acceptable excuse to escape back to your couch and external hard drive. "Sorry I have to talk to my boss at the Peace Corps right now. I am terribly sorry to leave. I will certainly come back though. Thanks!". Other acceptable excuses include: having a Skype meeting, Macedonian language homework, "I think I left my boiler on and don't want to get charged the electricity which is so expensive", and the always successful- "Its time to call my mom and dad (or another loved one back home)". This country survives on relationships, so it is a fool proof excuse.

6) Ajvar, slippers, homemade bread...the list goes on. Be prepared of the possibility of accepting gifts when you leave. If you are a regular visitor this may not happen after the first few times, but if you are a new guest, be ready because it might happen. Common gifts include: fruit and vegetables from their yard, flowers they grew, jars of ajvar, pindjur, and slatko, homemade treats like bread and cookies, and bracelets and other items the children have made/recently bought that you can wear and show off. I have also received: moldy pears, plastic bag "creations", scraps of fabric, and a container of liver. Yum. Yum.

The gifts I received in my na gosti-ing yesterday
A jar of ajvar- my first homemade ajvar in months!
The most stylish and elaborate knit slippers I have seen in this country
A bracelet made out of painted telephone cord
A friendship bracelet- the first one (the others are from Camp GLOW)
7) The final, and most important step, enjoy yourself. You will feel very uncomfortable at times, confused by the language, bored with the conversation topic, or stuffed to the gills with food and drink, however, in my mind, na gosti-ing is one of the most important and most rewarding parts of your service here. It is a chance to show the locals that you aren't so different/weird/scary after all. 

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