Serbia through the eyes of a Norwegian

Synne Folsland Olsen has never been to our clinic, but she’s been to Serbia and here’s a text about her experiences in our country.

“Before my first visit to Serbia some years ago, I didn’t even know exactly where the country was situated on the map. I knew it was a former member of Yugoslavia, laying not far from Romania, but that was about all I knew. In the geography classes in primary school, they thought us every country and capital city in the world, but where former Yugoslavia was supposed to be, there was only an empty, blank space on the map with no borders – because of the ongoing war at that time. I came to this country in a quite peculiar way. For some period I had been playing the online computer game World of Warcraft, and in my vacations the past years I had been visiting online friends in Ireland and England. Then, in 2008, it was time to visit my very good friend from Serbia. I also met him through the game, and had never before seen him in real life. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived a hot July afternoon in Belgrade, really. Three guys were waiting for me at the airport that first day. Three guys had taken time off work just to meet me, to use their whole day to show me around in Belgrade and to drive me to my destination! That would never have happened in Norway.

The hospitality and the way people honor their guests here are really something special! You will have to fight really hard in order to pay your part of the restaurant bill (in most of the cases, when you are a “beginner” in Serbia and Serbian culture, it is actually totally impossible). In addition, theSerbs will feed you and feed you until you cannot walk. They will give you rakija as well (that will not exactly enhance that walking), and tell you that it is medicine. Even in the churches they are serving rakija here. often with honey, I have noticed. And they make it! I remember very well my first manastirska rakija, bought from a nun in a monastery. That was rather an exotic experience for me, coming from a country where drinking in public places is prohibited.

serbia - through the eyes of a NorwegianApropos walking. Serbs walk slowly. Especially when they are out on their evening walk along Danube or in one of Belgrade’s nice parks. I am always told to slow down my Norwegian pace – no need to get sweaty, is it? If I tell my dear Serbian friends that I would like to get to my destination point before the evening falls, they just look at me and say “polako”, and “what is so important that you have to do it today – when you can do it tomorrow?”

Serbs are polite. Yes. In many cases much more polite than Norwegians. They will keep to their side on the pavement, and if you unintentionally bump into someone, THEY will excuse themselves. They will step aside and let you pass inside a crowded bus or a tramway, and they would squeeze themselves even tighter against each other and the walls in order to let everybody inside. In Norway most people wouldn’t bother, and the bus would leave with people left behind on the bus stop. In Serbia, you can ask whoever you want on the street about the directions, and they will willingly help you, sometimes on a very detailed level.

There are a few things that you should be really careful about while in Serbia:

1) Promaja. Aka the draft. THE DRAFT. Promaja kills, promaja is dangerous and the worst enemy of the Serbian population, I think. If the draft hits them, they will immediately become ill, get a cold or something much worse.

2) Walking outside with wet hair. This is a habit I have from Norway, and I have done it since I was born without taking any damage from it. Even during the autumn and winter I do this in Norway. I have tried it here a few times, only resulting in people dragging me inside their flats – giving me a hair drier – and strict words about not leaving their apartment until my hair is completely dry.

3) There is only one thing that is more dangerous than walking outside with wet hair, and that is walking outside (or inside) with wet hair IN promaja, or any kind of wind.

4) Walking outside barefoot when it is less than 30 degrees outside.

5) Sitting on the “cold” concrete.

6) Swimming in lakes when the water temperature is below 23 degrees. When I protest and tell them that the water temperature rarely gets above 23 degrees in Norway, the serbs stare startled back at me and tell me that I could get a heart attack from doing that. Only luck must have saved me so far.

7) Walking inside barefoot, or even in socks, without wearing slippers. This could make your feet cold.

8) Putting your bag or purse down on the floor or ground. This means bad luck. As this is a perfectly normal thing to do in Norway, I did it on the first pizza restaurant I entered, 20 minutes after arriving in Serbia for the first time. My Serbian friends were immediately running to my rescue, lifting the bag up, but it was already too late: 2 minutes later I realized I had left my new glasses at the airport toilet, 5 minutes later my friend lost his mobile and then 10 minutes after this we temporarily lost this friend inside a parking house.

There is much more to say about this favorite country of mine, and I constantly find new things to amuse myself over – and a few things that I really don’t like – among them the smoking habit here and the quite disrespectful way many people treat the environment and nature.

Serbia is chaos, but with some strange kind of order. If you want to fix something, it will not necessarily be done today or tomorrow, maybe not even this week or the next, but it WILL be fixed. But not at all in the way you had planned, though.

What I found here in Serbia made me adore the country, and I have had difficulties in leaving it ever since.”


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