I am by no means a cultural anthropologist. I study bones, I play in dirt, and I offend people all the time, usually without meaning to. I am therefore completely professionally unqualified to argue that middle-aged Croatian men fetishize women with shovels. I have, however, met enough middle-aged Croatian men to feel comfortable making this assertion. How big was my sample size, you ask? First of all, you don’t need a sample size for anecdotal evidence. And it was five, which was plenty big enough.
To be fair, I have to give them credit for being so boldly confident in their sexuality at a point in their lives when most of their peers and their peckers are falling to erectile dysfunction, and a lot of credit is due to the forest workers in particular. Slaving away in a forest of enormous, erect phallic objects while your own wanker slowly withers away like an overdone noodle must be most disheartening.
So when a group of young foreign women appeared in the Phallic Forest, it must have seemed as though we had been beamed down from the heavens, our shovels our mighty staffs that could open a portal to a world of vaginas and manual labor.
The Men of the Phallic Forest did not hesitate to make their feelings known.
“You see that man there?” asked Mirko in his thickly accented English. It should be said that Mirko, in addition to sharing a name with a close friend’s beloved cat, Mirko is a wonderfully honorable man whose pores leak integrity when he sweats. He, like the other Croatian archeologists on our team, does not fetishize women with shovels. This could be because they see vagina-wielding-shovel-holders all the time, but I suspect it has more to do with their upstanding character.
“Yes,” I answered, glancing at the individual in question. He stood at the edge of a trench with another one of our team members, gesturing madly and chatting away in what sounded like a mix of distinguished authority and a Balkan speech impediment.
“He wants to marry you,” said Mirko.
“Yes. But do not worry. I told him you are vegetarian, and now he does not want to marry you. He is worried that if you are his wife, he will have to go into the fields every morning and cut down grass to feed you.” Mirko paused, then added, “He would not be a good husband. He has only one hand and a big tongue. He would not be able to please you, and he would talk too much.”
First of all, Eastern Europe, I don’t know what you’ve heard about American vaginas, but they’re not the fucking Mammoth Caves. One hand is more than enough. Second, vegetarians don’t eat grass. Those are cows you’re thinking of.
It turns out that my long time vegetarianism did not deter my middle-aged, one-handed, garrulous Croatian suitor. Throughout the next several weeks, he and his posse of forest workers brought countless gifts including chocolates, cookies, pretzels, mosquito repellant, and apples they stole from someone’s yard, and I only had to get my butt touched twice.
Why accept gifts from men if I didn’t want attention, some of you might be wondering. For one, I’m a grad student, so almost by definition, I can’t afford to feed myself. Seventy-five percent of my diet is comprised of the Easy Mac my grandma sends me in the mail and the food professors use to bribe us to go to department events. For another, not accepting food from Croatian people is not something that one does. It’s a lot like littering in the States. You just don’t do it. If you litter in the U.S., everyone will think you also butcher baby whales for fun and hang their carcasses in your living room, and you won’t have any friends. Similarly, if you don’t accept food from a Croatian person, you won’t have any friends, and you probably also butcher baby whales. You might even also butcher Croatian children; you’re just that bad of a person.
On the last working day on site, my one-handed suitor showed up with three huge boxes of burek, rakija, coffee, and two liters of goats’ milk. The burek, rakija, and coffee were for us all to share, but he handed me the goats’ milk and said that it was for me, because that “is what vegetarians drink.”
If you’ve ever had goats’ milk and apple burek, you know it’s definitely worth any subsequent butt-touching. This was a fair trade. Balanced reciprocity or whatever.
After what felt like the millionth meal break of the day, however, I started to wonder if these men also had a thing for feeding women, like in that weird episode of CSI. Maybe they all shared a peculiar and highly specific fetish for foreign women with shovels backfilling trenches while eating.
“Zašto puno ti radiš i ne jediš?” asked one of the Forest Posse members, inquiring why I worked all the time and didn’t eat. I didn’t have the vocabulary or audacity to tell him that this was the third meal break of the day, and it was only two in the afternoon, or that I was so full that I was chewing my precious anti-nausea ginger gum normally reserved for motion sickness so that I wouldn’t throw up all the burek I had already eaten.
“Jela sam,” I answered. I did eat.
“Ni si.” No you didn’t.
“Da, jesam.” Yes, I did.
“Jebi ga.” Fuck. I told him I ate burek at the dig house for breakfast. Then I came to site and had more burek for second breakfast. Then we had grilled vegetables for lunch. Now he was offering me bread and cheese.
He held up his hand and said that I am like a pinky finger. A woman should be like a thumb.
The Forest Posse spent the rest of the afternoon using their cell phones to take pictures of us backfilling a trench.
I still can’t decide if I’m satisfied that I’m a pinky finger, or disturbed to have been involved what seems to have been a bizarre plot to reenact the story of Hansel and Grettle, but I have some great new ideas for a calendar fundraiser.