Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nobody calls their wives "Honey" or "sweetie" in Serbia

Arrived in Sombor, Serbia Sunday night very late after nearly 32 hours of traveling. Now four days later I'm finally beginning to feel awake. On the airport bus from Nicola Tesla Airport to the Belgrade Bus Station we sat diagonally across the row from two businessmen - they looked German or perhaps Dutch. Blonde, sincere, you know the type. I very much enjoyed watching them see Belgrade, well see everything for the first time. Goggling at their change in paper Dinars, carefully examining the view outside their windows. Made me feel, for a moment, a tiny bit superior. I've been to Belgrade before - only once mind you, and only for a few days.

That was 18 months ago on a trip to see my fiance's country. Now we are married and we are returned to live for awhile in his house in Sombor.

Sombor is a large country town (pop 50k+) in the northwestern corner of Serbia, near both Croatia and Hungary, and about 10 miles from the Danube. I'm assured by everyone that there are other Americans here, although no one can actually point to one. Probably returning Serb expats, struck it rich, or at least middle class comfortable, in their new countries and returned to buy up cheap houses for a summer retreat in the old country.

At first as we walked through town, I felt terribly self conscious about speaking English. I know how people in the US stop and stare when they hear my husband's thick accent... how odd American English, or really any English at all, must sound suddenly spoken out loud when you're not expecting it in this old fashioned town tucked into the corner of the back of the Serb beyond! But after about five minutes I dropped the self consciousness, it just takes too much energy and self-centeredness to keep up when you are over 40. As long as I'm reasonably clean, not smelly, and not overtly rude, I don't care much what other people think of me. (What a relief that would have been at 17 when I lived in Italy!)

The funniest thing does make me self conscious though. It's the "Honey-Sweetie" factor. Here we all are, my husband's connections and I, sitting about socializing when either he or I preface a remark to each other with an utterly-natural "Honey,..." or "Sweetie,..."

Then all the Serbs present give a start of surprise. Perhaps a blink, a breath, or a full drawn out look. Why? Turns out nobody uses such endearments in the place of names here. "What do husbands and wives call each other then?" I asked my husband. "By their names," he said. This makes me shudder. Husbands and wives calling each other by their public names as though they were just-introduced strangers. I would hate that.

You know, I knew that moving to Serbia would be different. I knew the women dress up more than we casual Americancas. I knew most people take their coffee Turkish-style with the sludgy grounds in the bottom of their cups. I knew the streets would be filled with 10+ year old model cars made by companies I'd barely heard of (Lada, Citron, Yugo...) dashing to and fro with seemingly complete disregard for traffic regulations or safety of others. I knew electronics and clothing would be crazily expensive while organic, just-picked tomatoes would be insanely cheap. I knew I would be an alien in a friendly land.

But I never dreamed they would not call each other some Serb version of Honey or Sweetie. These are the tiny things that catch you just when you are starting to relax and think "It's not so different." Oh yes it is.


Marie Ottem said...

Ah, i know what you mean. My fiances family is a litle different about that. My man calls me "che" it means something like, GIRL. stupid. but he also calls me papuso(doll), which is sweet. i never heard any one call their wifes or husbands buy anything other than their names, or Che..

Ceca said...

As a Serbian woman,I must say that is not true.Men in Serbia,and not only men,but everybody uses those kinds of sweet words for people they love.Like for example,`duso` which means honey,or `ljubavi` which means love,my love,`lutko`or`lutko lepa` meaning doll or beautiful doll when somebody is pretty,eaven `sreco moja` which means you`re my happiness roughly translated...I could go all day talking about the Serbian way of expressing emotions through words but I don`t think there will be enough space here :)
Couples in Serbia very often have nicknames for each other that are very sweet and loving,so that`s why I think you`re wrong about this matter :) I recommend everybody to spare at least a few days to come and visit my beautiful country,they will most definitely not be disappointed :) Best regards from Belgrade :)

Natasa said...

Yes, I would have to agree with Ceca 100%. Serbians use soo many terms of endearment, we can't even translate them in English haha. It's rare that someone calls their other half by their first name.

Voja said...

Well, this can't be further from the truth lol I don't remember calling my girl by her real name in last 6 years...maybe once or twice :))

pozdrav i poljubac svim mojim Zerbien girls lol najlepsi smo narod na planeti :) :***