Welcome to the Republic of Macedonia

A look into my life and the culture of Skopje

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cross breeze bad, dry hair good!

Just yesterday I went on a ride in an embassy SUV along with another intern. Our mission was to prepare a house for some visiting VIP's. Now this may not be the most glamorous part of my internship, but it did prove to be very interesting. Our driver, we'll call him Boron, was aiming to please from the moment we entered the vehicle. Since it was around 100 degrees out, we elected to turn on the air conditioning. This decision was met with immediate questions about if Americans too get sick from the Air. We responded, without pause, "huh?" Well let me tell about his concern.
In Macedonia, and most of the Balkans, cross breezes are considered dangerous. It was explained to us that the air moving over your face, especially at night, can cause paralysis, deformation, or death. Some cases only result in flu-like symptoms, but no one should risk it. We were told of a friend who slept with his window and door open and awoke with a deformed face. One does not leave the house with wet hair, and air conditioning should be used very sparingly. Now at first, these claims seem to be a joke, but upon further discussion, we realized he was quite serious.
He was not the only one either. Many other members of the embassy staff later shared of their experiences, like having to threaten to fire a contractor before they would install an air conditioner unit next to a bed, or convincing them that a room can in fact have two screens, placed in windows opposite each other. Some have had staff bring blankets or pillows to place into chairs so that the cold surface would not damage internal organs.
Again, these may sound absurd, but has been the first major cultural shock since I've been here. Not everyone believes this in it's fullness, but most do in some capacity. Again, this was the first cultural difference I did not plan for. My best guess, and that of others I spoke with, is that these are the equivalent to "old wives tales" in America that haven't been disproved amongst the entire population. Now sleeping in warm bedrooms, or driving in hot cars will certainly not cause any major harm to someone, but the willingness to do so when coolness is so close, does shine a light on a greater problem. That problem is the stem of many problems in Macedonia; lack of eduction.
Thankfully this problem is being met with many efforts by the Macedonian government, foreign government aid, and NGO's. Macedonia has in recent years began to place major emphasis on education as it has pushed for entry in the EU. Not only does it need a well educated population, but a well educated work force.


  1. Jimmi,

    What a cultural story! Reads like you are having fun.

  2. wow, when you were telling me about this i didn't think it was THIS serious! That's so bizarre!

  3. Jimmi--This is just like Moldova, where they call the allegedly debilitating breeze "the current". I've suffered through suffocating bus rides thanks to this custom.
    Good luck!!