I'm in a public place or a social situation, trying to go unnoticed. Innevitably someone will mention that I'm American, even though I prefer not to bring that up, as it often leads to the question, "So what do you think about Obama?" But it appears that being an American in Eastern Europe makes you kind of a big deal, so going unnoticed isn't really an option for me.
Once my true identity comes out, the assumption is that I neither speak nor understand Romanian, which Romanians would have you think is among the most fiendish of all languages for an English-speaker to learn. This is despite the fact that Romanian is a Romance language, which means it uses basically the same alphabet as English, is related to two of the languages (Spanish and French) that we most commonly study in school, and comes from Latin, which gave us much of our more elevated vocabulary. Don't believe me? Pick a random word that you think of as being polite or "correct," look it up in the dictionary, and read the part of the definition that tells where the word comes from (known as the "etymology," a term which can also be traced back to Latin). Still, I understand the assumption. If my native language were only spoken in two countries, I probably wouldn't expect foreigners to learn it, either.
Because I'm American and probably don't speak Romanian, the next step is to start talking about America. You know when you're in Wal-Mart and all the Hispanic people start jabbering in Spanish and you have a feeling they're probably talking about you? Here, it's more than a feeling. They are definitely talking about me. In situations like this, you find out what people really think about Americans and the United States. Whatever it is they don't like about Romania, it doesn't happen in America. Don't like how slowly the line moves at the post office? It isn't like that in America. Child not getting enough help at school? Teachers are more dedicated in America. Christmas decorations too boring here? Christmas is more awesome in America. Don't like waiting at the doctor's office? You know, they don't wait like that in America.
This is the fun part. This is where the silent blonde opens her mouth and, like Balaam's donkey, begins to speak. "Actually, we wait in America, too. Even if we have an appointment, we still have to wait."
It really is priceless, the look on the old lady's face when she realizes I've been listening the whole time. It would almost be more fun to let her go on talking, keeping my secret and hearing more of her uncensored opinion, except for that look. The big eyes, open mouth, hand on the headscarf, "Vai de mine! Intelege!" Heavens to mergatroid, she understands! And then the shock turns to disbelief when she finds out that, unlike in the subtitled movies and dubbed Disney channel series, life in America is not perfect.
It's the age-old story of greener grass, really. It just seems that much of the world thinks America is the other side. I know some things are better there -- if I ever need major surgery, I'm definitely headed home, if possible. Also, there's extra sharp cheddar cheese and Pizza Hut. Chik-Fil-A. Sweet tea. Bag boys. Gentlemen. You get the picture. But taxes? Yep, we pay those. Corrupt politicians? We have those, too. Sickness? It happens. Money? Makes your life more complicated 100% of the time, no matter where you live.
Discontentment? A pandemic as old as humanity itself.
So about that other side...
A heavenly country with a city prepared by God for His people who lived and died trusting Him completely -- I think it's safe to say the grass will be greener there.