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Visiting The Neighbours: Serbia

This happened in May. It was long time coming and now I feel as though I've crossed a major item off the 'places to see' list. I mean, here I am, writing about living in a former communist state, trying to dispel many of the typical Western/North American stereotypes about this part of the world, while I'm still sitting in my comfort zone hesitant to visit our similarly afflicted neighbours.

Long story short, an old friend from Toronto wanted to combine his Serbia trip with a Cluj visit. That done, we left Cluj in a rented Dacia Logan for the brutally long drive to Jagodina, Serbia, where he grew up.

My first impression of Serbia was that things pretty much looked like they do in Romania; rough around the edges. The people, too, reminded me of my fellow Romanians; worried about life. It was only the language that I wasn't getting, but after a couple of days, I'd picked up some useful words: dobre den, hvala, and most importantly, zhivili! Hello, thank you, and cheers!

I used zhivili 37% more than any other Serbian word I learned.

Other than the memorable toasts, there was also memorable food - the friendliest point of entry into a new culture. While I found that the staple Cevapi are just Romania's national grilled meat dish, Mici, by another name, what did stand out was the bread. Rather than the traditional loaves found in most places in Europe, the Serbian pita is basically that, pita bread, but with the wonderfully soft and doughy texture of a fresh-made baguette. Smother it in melted Kajmak cheese and stuff it with cevapi and diced onion to get your mind blown. I also no longer cube feta cheese on top of Greek salad, it's gotta be grated, the Sopska way.

What I loved most about the trip is that I had the privilege to blend in like a local. Easy to do if you tag along with a native. I was privy to the kind of authenticity that's usually lost on tourists. I spent lots of time with local Serbs in Jagodina and Belgrade and had the pleasure to attend a family event at house in the countryside.

Much like in Romania, Serbians aren't jaded by tourists and go out of their way to speak English and make foreigners feel comfortable. At the same time, I found the level of service superior to Romania. Prompt and polite - and unlike many Romanians in service positions, it doesn't kill them to smile. For a country that's been unfairly painted as the boogeyman of Europe, they sure do lots of things right. One evening, we were talking with some childhood friends of my buddy's. I commented that it looked to me as though anything available in the EU was already there. "Sure, you can get anything you want in Serbia," said one, "except a job."

I felt at home visiting the neighbours, we even share the same dark humour.


Good options

Near Prokuplje


Belgrade panorama, from Kalemegdan

Street performers in Belgrade


Skadarlija

Kept wondering what the homeowner is hiding in there

Near Jagodina


Staring goats

Rave at a Basketball arena

Goodbye, Belgrade

Comments

  1. Hi Matt!
    You state, "here I am, writing about living in a former communist state"....
    I don't like to state the obvious... (but I am going to!)
    Who exactly was Nicolae Ceausescu?
    Was he not the former communist dictator of the country you normally live in?
    Does that not make Romania a "former communist state"?
    Oooops!
    :-)
    Pete Fay

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pete, I must be trying too hard, but after a couple of re-reads, not really getting this comment. Unless you think I was referring to Serbia in that sentence...

      Delete
    2. OK, Matt.
      YOUR WORDS"Here I am, writing about living in a former communist state"....
      I assumed that comment was about Serbia.
      But, YOU live in a former communist state, Romania. Hence the mention of Nicolae Ceausescu the communist dictator.
      Therefore, you are talking about a former communist state, whether you talk about Serbia or your home country.
      So, why say "a former communist state" at all? Is that not an overstatement of the fact?
      I hope that makes it clear. If it doesn't... stop drinking so much alcohol and it might be clearer.... :-))

      Delete
  2. Ok, so I officially know more Romanian than you know Serbian, lol :P My wife and I just held our first conversation in Romanian today!

    PS: That photo with all the CCTV cameras looks about like your average Johannesburg security. You should come visit - you won't make it in a Logan though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's pretty impressive (the conversation, not that you know more Romanian than I Serbian), it's going to definitely come in handy during your visit in December.

      As for Jo'burg, I can't say I'm very surprised to hear that.

      Delete
  3. I'm Romanian and I have tons of respect for Serbia.
    Serbia is the best country from the Balkans. Even though Croatia has a higher gdp per caputa (highly subsidized by germany), Serbia is the greatest country from the Balcans.

    What I really admire about Serbia is that they laughed in the face of the murderous american neonazi regime. America is the great devil that destroyed Serbia during the war. America should be ashamed.

    ReplyDelete

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