Monday, September 22, 2008

Work is not a rabbit

A British girl needed a Bosnian guy to finish a particular task before she could continue her own work. But he was leaving for coffee, so she protested, "What about the thing I needed you to do?"He replied, "Posao nije zec." [Work is not a rabbit.] Meaning, work will not run away from you. When you come back from coffee, it's still there, waiting for you.

There's a combination post-communist apathy towards work, combined with a natural tendency in Mediterranean cultures to be relaxed and relationship-oriented, rather than task-oriented. There's a joke about two Montenegrins (allegedly the laziest Yugoslavians), standing by a river watching a woman drown. The first one says, "This is terrible! we are just standing here watching this woman drown!" The second replies, "You're right, it is terrible to stand here. Let's sit."

The Chinese have a proverb about a rabbit, related to work, but with the exact opposite message. "A farmer walks by a stump, when suddenly a rabbit runs into the stump and is killed. The lucky farmer picks up the rabbit for his dinner. However, every day from then on, he no longer works in his fields, but simply stands by the stump, waiting for another rabbit to run into the stump." Of course, in a Bosnian version of this proverb, the farmer would not foolishly stand by the stump, but rather sit down on the stump to take coffee and a cigarette.

I was telling a friend that I've started reading Moby Dick to pass the time while waiting for people. She laughed, thinking that meant I read 10 minutes a day, until I explained that that morning already I'd been reading for an hour!

I've found the Chinese proverb to not be entirely accurate in Bosnian life. Working here this past year and looking forward to another year here, I've found that "Good things come to those who wait"-- that life isn't a thrilling sequence of successful minutes, but episodes with commercials in between. Americans have perfected the art of using commercials to fetch chips and a diet coke, so that they won't be bored during their favorite shows. (Although given the American waistline, commercials would be better spent with pushups and crunches!) Would we miss out on the show because we dislike the commercials? Or maybe we'd just get Tivo to fastforward through the commercials. But the commercials in fact pay for the shows. The commercials are boring but they finance the shows we watch. Which could lead to a discussion about public television. But I really need to stop blogging and get back to work.

Is, or is not, work, in fact, a rabbit?

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