Serbia through the eyes of a Norwegian

FOTO: Anne Marit Solheim

Tekst na srpskom: OVDE

After writing about my impressions from Norway, it was nice to see the tables turned - here are the impressions of a Norwegian living in Serbia.

After receiving really nice feedback and over 600 likes in a day, we have decided to publish the story in English as well!

Without further ado, the following text is the story of my friend, Synne Folsland Olsen. She herself wrote the story and sent it to me after I asked her to.

I sincerely thank her for that!

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 it! In the geography classes in primary school we were taught about every country and capital city in the world, but the place where the former Yugoslavia was supposed to be on the map was an empty, blank space with no borders - because of the ongoing war at that time. 

I came to this country in a quite peculiar way. For some time I had been playing the online computer game World of Warcraft, and on vacations in 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 to Belgrade one hot July afternoon, really. There were three guys waiting for me at the airport on that first day. Three guys had taken time off work just to meet me, to use their whole day to show me around 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, the Serbs 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 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.

A propos 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 there? If I tell my dear Serbian friends that I would like to get to my destination point before the evening ends, 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, however, 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.

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. Sheer luck must have saved me thus 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 in a restaurant, 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 that we temporarily lost this friend inside a parking garage.


Synne Folsland Olsen: Serbian smiling sunflower!

There is much more to say about this favorite country of mine, and I constantly find new things to be amused about – 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.