23 November 2014

It's not better or worse...

A colleague has a brand new lovely baby. He told me this with the freakishly calm enthusiasm that comes from waking every three hours.

Oh gods, I thought as the memories of Smalls's first few months came, er, screaming back. As it were.

'Don't worry,' I said. 'It really does get better.'

And at that moment, I really believed it.

Then, I spied the dried snot-and-yogurt smear on my shoulder that I hadn't quite managed to get out. It was the biproduct of the morning stand-off regarding the necessity of wearing a shirt (any shirt, dear child!) to skolka, which had been quickly followed by big, heaving sobs after I pushed the button to alarm the house instead of letting him. Which was followed by monster-screams when his plan of him driving and me sitting in his car seat was cruelly vetoed.

It's not better or worse, it's just different.

This is what they drummed into us, the brave, foolish, study abroad students from my very rural undergraduate university. They must have done a good job because it comes floating back to me often, particularly when I find myself comparing countries.

I spent a lot of time with this phrase bouncing around in my head this past week when I spent four glorious (and wet) days back in the UK.

It's not better or worse, it's just different.

This is of course both true and not true. (Ha, see what I did there?)

Is Prague better than the UK? In terms of the price of a pint, indubitably.

Is the UK better than Prague? The English seaside wins hands down over the Czech coast.

Other things, though, are a toss up.

The plane from Prague was delayed by a grand three hours due to a bird strike, and I was giddy with delight at hearing my fellow passengers moaning in English. We swapped information about ETAs and food voucher availability and nattered about how inconvenient it all was.

'Ah,' I thought to myself, 'This is the English and Englishness that I've been missing.'

'FIIIISHY CLIIIIIIIT,' a 14-year-old girl screamed to her friend across the very crowded bus the next day.
'If you don't wear your sodding hat, I'll pull it over your sodding head and tape it there,' a mother barked at her small son.
The pair of older women across from me had to raise their voices too, so they could tut about the younger generation and the unfair pricing in Tesco.
'FIIIIISHY CLIIIIIT,' the friend screamed back before they both started guffawing loudly.

In Prague,  my thoughts screamed to each other over all of the voices, I would have been able to read on the bus.

And whispering in the back of my mind, further adding to the noises, was a Northwestern American accent saying calmly:

It's not better or worse, it's just different. 

But that's only true on the macro scale, isn't it? The UK isn't necessarily superior to the Czech Republic (or visa versa) - which I presume was a nugget of cultural relativism that the Study Abroad Office was keenly aware that we needed to embrace.

But in the personal realm, the fishy-clit girls are probably better off in England. The Czech woman who moaned about foreigners and their pathetic attempts to speak Czech is probably better off in the Czech Republic.

And for me, personally, there are things that I prefer from all of the places I've lived. And things that I hated. And times when I was happier living one place rather than another. And times, as the posts from this time last year show, that I really wished I were living somewhere else.

But I was glad when the plane touched down in the Czech Republic, which thankfully now mostly feels like home.

And as for Smalls, he was a beautiful baby with gorgeous, tiny baby hands and toes, and the sweetest little frog-baby to ever snuggle in and give a happy, milky burp.

However, I'd take Toddler Smalls with his giggles and hugs and monster impersonations and, yes, even his yogurt-snot any day.

And not just because I'm finally getting a blessed full night's sleep.