In between the trolleybus stop and my house, there’s an auto-repair shop which I pass every day up to six or seven times, depending. The guys who work there all know that I am an American girl who awkwardly understands random phrases that make no sense, like “šišmiš čovjek,” (bat man) but otherwise has a very spotty comprehension of Bosnian. I walk past them daily, because they’ll be on the street when they work, watching the soccer match going on next to them, or they’ll be taking a coffee outside and leaning against the fence. One of the men always thinks it’s funny how awkward I am because I used to walk past them without talking due to my complete lack of confidence in my Bosnian. About a month after I’d been here I finally got the courage to say, “Dobar dan,” when I walked by. Of course he thought my accent was laughable, but thankfully he just responded with, “Dobar dan.” Then last week, I got a wink and “Ćao.” (Side note- a lot of people here wink! It’s a substitute for the “more American” smile or raised eyebrows or sarcastic expression). (Another side note- ćao is pronounced the same way Italians, all other Europeans, say it: “Ciao!” with a tone of voice that says, “Hey, I’m cool, ya know? Laid back and stuff. So, ciao.”).
By stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit, what used to be a frequent and incredibly awkward moment is now something I look forward to- the daily “ćao” which always puts a smile on my face. Kindness from strangers is something that really brings out the best in humanity.
Also, he noticed my haircut! I didn’t understand what he said the first time, but for once instead of saying “ne razumijem,” I don’t understand, I said, “Šta?” What? He touched his head somehow I understood, Did you get a haircut?. I got really excited. “Da, da!”
Success! Maybe by the end of the year I’ll have a legitimate conversation that lasts more than three sentences. But for now, I’m content with just “ćao.”