Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'll Take a Little Optimism, Please

So I had lunch today with a friend of friend. Nice enough guy - especially to take time our from his day to eat with basically a total stranger. Typical expat, too (and I say this with all the love in my heart) - a bit strange, a few personal quirks and long, curly shaggy man hair. Kind of alterna-hippy/IT dude all grown up (no 'Member's Only' jacket though.) Fine, to each his own. Like I said, nice guy.

He also came fully loaded with a six pack of cynicism.

Again, I say, 'Fine, to each his own.' Except, that I'm getting a bit tired of everyone being so damned world weary that they're not impressed with anything anymore. And maybe it's not world weary, per se, but it's a kind of jaded cynicism that seems to infect expats, on average, around year two or three.

It infests from there.

Granted, in some people - they come born with it. In others, well, they are just happy-go-lucky until the day the croak. I think it exists as kind of game that other foreigners play - in one part just to let off steam and in one part to show off how much they know about the local culture. But boy does it suck the fun right out of a newbie, trying to understand her surroundings and not get hit by oncoming traffic.

With this guy, it was mostly: "You know, five years ago in Baku, I could get a taxi anywhere in the city for 25 cents. Now, forget about it." Or...

"This place is entirely corrupt, run by a clan system. They infiltrate some development firms and then block others from being hired. Essentially, your project is run into the ground." Or...

"I've been here too long, man. It's time to go. This place, it's changed so much" (and always for the worse).

And, as the newbie, you always have to kind of balance your "Aw shucks it can't be that bad" with the all-knowing nod that doesn't bely your excitement at being in a new place with new rules and new people and a new culture and new food and new souvenirs and new -

My especial favorite is this guy whom I am working closely with while here. I was warned beforehand that he's kind of a "Debbie Downer", so was thusly prepared. However, after three full days of listening to him complain about the city, I finally asked him today what he DOES like about Baku.

After thinking carefully for a moment he said, "You know, I don't like anything about this city."


Now, I am not a Pollyanna by any stretch of the imagination. If something sucks, I'm not afraid to admit it. And, it's important to keep a level head. Yet, looking on the bright side of things is kind of a defensive mechanism - it helps you cope with endless lines of bureaucracy, tedium and generally suck-a-tude. Plus, I'm sure there's a study somewhere that says it's good for the health.

So, I don't know if it's a post-Soviet thing, or an expat thing (I could write about expat world wearism for hours, but I'll spare you. Just know, if I ever get like that, please shoot me.) But whatever it is, someone needs to do a parachute drop of Valium here, stat.

Come to think of it, my first clue should've been the 'sleeping aid' that turned out to be an anti-depressant..........!

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