I used to joke that a person only needed three phrases to get by in Serbia:
Moze, or ok/sure, could be used anywhere from farmer’s markets to restaurants. “Is this table ok?” “Moze.” “Do you want this watermelon?” “Moze.” “More wine?” “Moze.”
-To be totally honest, that response was usually, “Naravno!” (of course).
The next one was slazem se, or “I agree.” I inevitably attracted people, mostly older women, who wanted to speak Serbian with me. Even though they realized I didn’t speak much, they liked to talk about their aches and pains, other people’s illnesses, or the košava winds. I would smile, catching every third word and nodding gravely when it seemed appropriate. Lord knows what I agreed to with these women, but it seemed to make them happy.
I also was fond of “to je to” (that’s all/that’s that). This could sum up most things: a restaurant order, business transactions, or a general story. When my puppy would flop on the sidewalk in protest of a long walk, I would say “to je to” to passerby and it would always get a laugh. I’m sure I didn’t use it properly, but my meaning always got across.
“To je to” seems to be a fitting way to end this blog. The relocation, job hunt and house hunt took up so much of my time that I fell off the blog wagon. (Blagon?) And it was a little sad to keep writing about a place I loved, only to remind myself that I didn’t live there anymore.
I miss writing about travel. And I miss interacting with readers all over the world. So I’m back, sort of. I’ll be writing about travel twice a week. Maybe more, depending on my schedule. I’m starting this week, while I’m in Paris and….Belgrade! Hope you’ll join me in this new, old adventure.
What does hip hop and Serbian have in common? More than you might think. Throughout my struggles learning the langauge, I’ve recalled the wisdom (or at least the lyrics) of rappers to remember key words. Here’s a three word guide to the RHOB/Rapper’s Way to Srpski-speak.
Lesson one: hvala (thank you). This is one of the first words visitors ask to learn. It’s not easy for Americans to pronounce an H and a V next to each other, or to semi-slur the remaining letters together. Luckily, Missy Elliott gets us most of the way there. Just listen to her Holla! and merge a “v” after the H. Hvala indeed, Missy.
Lesson two: čeka (wait). Useful when you have a fast-walking Muz, a dog that pulls at his leash, or a ringing phone that you can’t locate. Thanks to DMX, it’s as simple as remembering a microphone…checka. Forward to the 12 second mark to see what I mean.
Lesson three: omiljen (favorite). This word eluded me for months. I would struggle to remember it, stick a d or a z in there somewhere, and utterly confuse the people I was trying to compliment. (Think, Oh, krempita! My favorzheutz…hud.) I needed to remember one little trick: more accurately, one Lil’ Wayne. Omiljen sounds almost exactly like the background chant to “A Millie.” Especially if you misheard it as “uh million” for years. The first ten seconds should suffice. Then you’ll either go crazy or start dancing, depending on your musical taste.
Thanks for the tips, rappers! Maybe Kanye and Jay-Z will come out with a version of The Mountain Wreath and take my Serbian to the next level. A domaćica can dream…
NOTE: I can’t find my thingee (technical term) that transfers photos to my computer, so I can’t show you all the cool stuff I’ve done this week. Instead, I’m posting a revised essay I wrote in May for my writing group. Hope you enjoy it.
A Year of Days in Belgrade
Godinu dana: a year of days. I’m told that’s the proper phrase to use when I explain how long I’ll be in Belgrade. I like this expression; it highlights my urgency to see everything, go everywhere, and eat anything in just 365 days. When I remember this year, I’ll think of the special days that defined the confusion, frustration, and happiness of a life abroad.
My first few days in Belgrade were a rainy blur. I was dizzy with jet lag. I had no idea where we lived and was constantly getting lost. To bring some sense into our new life, I started Serbian classes on my third day in Belgrade. After 30 minutes of instruction, the teacher asked if I had any questions. She then blinked rapidly as I asked, “Where can I buy a hair dryer? What do I say when the telephone rings? Why do streets have two different names? After patiently answering all my questions, we ended the lesson in a Bosch appliance store while I asked, “Treba mi fan?”
Then there was the day I ended my semi-vegetarian lifestyle. It didn’t take long. We were invited to lunch at a winery near Topola. The table was heavy with smoked meats and roasted lamb. I tried some dried vegetables instead, only to discover it was duvan čvarci. It was the first day in my life I ate pork rind. It would not be the last.
Life changed quite a bit on the Saturday we picked up our dog. The breeder spoke little English, and our Serbian was rudimentary, but he welcomed us like relatives. We sat shoeless in his living room and admired the juices and sodas carefully displayed on a nearby table. He asked lots of questions and gave us strict instructions. It was my first lesson in the Serbian love for dogs, despite (or because of) the strays I see around town.
One Sunday evening, Serbia suddenly seemed like home. We visited Studenica Monastery and were given a tour of the three churches inside. We drank coffee with a monk and spoke in broken Serbian-English about the church, life in Belgrade, and our families. For the first time in months, I felt as though I was a part of my surroundings, rather than passing through them on a first-class train.
Now I wonder about the days when we return to the United States. I wonder if I’ll overhear Serbian, or if someone will stop me when I’m telling our dog hajde, dosta, and fuje to. If that happens, I’ll say, Zivela sam u Beogradu za godinu dana. A year of unforgettable days.
Maybe you already know Serbian. Maybe you ARE Serbian. (Zdravo!) If not, and you’re coming to Belgrade, it’s good to know some words beyond dobar dan (good day) and hvala (thank you). It’s even better to know a few sentences and phrases that will get you through some typical Serbian experiences. These may not be grammatically perfect, but you’ll get your point across.**
Scenario 1: Finding a meal.
You’re starving. You see white tablecloths, outside seating, and a waiter hovering in the doorway. “Lunch!” you say to yourself. But not so fast…
You: Da li imate hranu ovde? (Crudely, do you have food here?)*
Waiter: Ne. (No.)
You: Mogu da jedem burek ovde? Super. (Can I eat burek here? Great.)
Note: cafes often look like nice restaurants but serve no food. Ask to bring in food from somewhere else (like a bakery or burek stand) or risk running around from cafe to cafe until your blood sugar drops faster than a Yugo’s value.
Scenario 2: Ending a meal.
You’re at a kafana, or ever better, someone’s baba is cooking for you. Food has been coming out of the kitchen for three hours. You have to stop this madness before you explode like that dude in Big Trouble, Little China.
You: Sve je bila odlicno. Ne mogu vise. (Everything was excellent. I can’t eat another bite.)
Baba: Moras da jedes malo vise. To ce pomoci da beba. (You must eat a little more. This will help you make babies.)
Baba: Napravna sam tulumbe, baklava, tufahije i torta. (I made tulumbe, baklava, tufanije and cake.)
You: Necu, ali hvala vama. Ako jedem nesto vise, mozda ja cu umreti. (I can’t, but thank you. If I eat anything else, I might die.)
Baba: Ti ces jesti tufahije. (You will eat tufanije.)
You: Mozda samo malo. Hvala vama. (Maybe just a little. Thank you.)
Note: While in Serbia, prepare to eat until you feel like dying. People will try to feed you until you clutch your heart and run out the door. Argument is useless. Besides, tufahije is awesome.
Scenario 3: Ending an evening at a friend’s house
You: Ne vise vina za mene. Mislim da je moj jetra je kiseli. (No more wine for me. I think my liver is pickled.)
Friend: Stravno? Imam dunya rakija iz cela mog dede. (Really? I have quince rakija from my grandfather’s village.)
You: U redu. Moja jetra nije važno, zar ne? (Ok. My liver isn’t important, right?)
Note: There is little peer pressure to drink alcohol in Serbia. But when you’re offered someone’s homemade rakija, peer pressure isn’t needed. Imbibe carefully.
Scenario 4: Ending an Evening, Part II
You: Molim? Sta? Ne, ne mogu da idem u klubu veceras. To je tri ujutru i imam sastanak sutra u osam sati. (Hello? What? No, I can’t go to the club tonight. It’s 3 a.m. and I have a meeting tomorrow at 8 a.m.)
Friend: Nole je ovde. (Novak Djokovic is here.)
You: Ja cu biti to za deset minuti. (I’ll be there in ten minutes.)
Note: Just go. You can sleep on the plane. Or when you’re retired.
*There MUST be a better way to ask this. Srpski speakers, help a housewife out.
**I realize that there are probably several errors here, especially with cases. (Posting late, can’t find my cases cheat sheet, lazy, etc.) Feel free to correct major errors in the comments, but I probably will not correct the main text unless I wrote something offensively incorrect. Have a great weekend, everyone.
Sometimes even a traveling Housewife needs a break from “reality.” When that happens, I go to the movies in Belgrade.
I don’t see many movies in the States because I hate to learn that a movie is terrible AND lose $14 in the process. Belgrade offers a better cinema experience. The movie might still be bad, but tickets cost $5 and movies are subtitled, so I can hear everything in English and get a bonus Serbian lesson in the process. Twofer!
We saw our first movie in Belgrade, Harry Potter part one billion or whatever, in November at the Delta City mall. Delta City’s movie theater offers beer, stadium seating, and fresh popcorn. What more could a movie-goer want?
Apparently, silence. There were about 15 unsupervised eight-year-olds who decided that the movie was nowhere near as entertaining as running up and down the stairs, answering cell phones, and shouting at each other. I felt like I was in a remake of Lord of the Flies, except there was no conch shell to make everyone stop talking. Parents were either absent or unconcerned.
Daunted, we decided to change our movie genre and theater by seeing Bridesmaids at the Usce Mall movie theater. Readers, you should come to Belgrade if for no other reason than to see a movie at Usce. There’s stadium seating, fresh popcorn, and a VIP Lounge in case you need a martini to watch Transformers 3 with your suddenly adolescent husband.
Usce’s best feature is reserved seating. When you buy your movie ticket, you can see which seats are available and pick the ones you like best. No asking, “can you move over one seat?” or draping-of-the-coat technique. If a movie is almost sold out, you can decide whether you want to sit in the very front row or simply pick another movie to watch. For type-A housewives some, this is manna from heaven.
When I tell Serbians that American cinemas don’t have reserved movie seating, they look at me with a mixture of amazement and pity. I have some pity of my own, though: there are no boxes of Jujubees or Junior Mints to mix with my popcorn. Still, there’s nothing like enjoying the silver screen with a beer and a comfy, reserved seat.
For a list of Belgrade movie theaters, click HERE.
One of the first people I met in Belgrade was named Nenad. I’m told that it’s a common name derived from the word iznenađenje, which means “surprise” in Serbian. Some Nenads receive the name because they were a twin, the mother was told that a child wasn’t possible, or because the baby came unexpectedly late or early in life. (Of course, some Nenads are just given a family name.)
Ever since learning this, I’ve joked to Muz that he’ll come home to find a Nenad of our own, wagging his tail in our apartment. I’ve seen a lot of puppies this spring and fall but I’ve managed to not take one home because (1) Muz will have a fit and (2) it’s hard enough to bring one dog back to the States, never mind two.
I developed a serious soft spot for these squirmy little guys, though. Someone was selling them/giving them away on Knez Mihailova two weeks ago. Hopefully someone else brought home a Nenad of their own.
Nicknames are very common in Serbia. Usually it’s a derivation of someone’s name, but occasionally a nickname is born from an event or a characteristic. I like to give our guests Serbian nicknames because (1) it’s fun, and (2) it allows me to talk about them on the blog. So when my latest guest came, I immediately tried to give her a nickname based on our adventures. I thought of naming her led (ice), after the hail storm we drove through on our way to Sarajevo. It didn’t work–she’s not exactly Val Kilmer from Top Gun. Sadly.
I then thought of naming her Magnum, after the amazing ice cream bar she introduced me to in Sarajevo. But that’s an English word, and I needed a Serbian one. She almost was called mrtva baterija (dead battery), since that’s what we discovered this morning. Long story, but headlights (from aforementioned hailstorm), tired driver and hotel owner desperately trying to get back to his desk are a bad combo. Luckily, hotel parking by a police station and barely passable Serbian/Bosnian are a good combo. Anyway, mrtva baterija doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It wouldn’t do.
After getting the car started we drove to Visoko to see the famed pyramids. I figured I would just name her Piramida and get it over with. But the nickname gods smiled upon us when we were driving out of town. “Is that a MONKEY?” she shrieked, and I immediately pulled over the car.
It was, indeed, a monkey. And the best nickname possible. Readers, say hello to my friend Majmun.