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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why Serbs Love Curtains (& Americans Don't)

My step-daughter shuddered when she first saw my house (now our house) in the US a few years ago. "Why don't you have any curtains?" she wailed. "I can't stay here. It's creepy."

It's a modern-style house with lots of windows overlooking a sunny water view and no one but the birds to see inside. Curtains, was she crazy? Blech. I thought maybe it was a teenage thing.

Now that I'm here I see, no it's not. It's a Serb thing. Windows here are huge - way bigger than US windows for most houses. But every single one of them is covered by a curtain -- usually white gauze with a lacy pattern of some sort. Very few have anything heavier (I've not seen any formal drapes of the type we Americans like to frame our windows with. ) These gauzy curtains are firmly pulled across every window, open or closed.

At first I couldn't figure out why. An entire country with really stuffy taste? I stripped the old dusty floor-to-ceiling gauze panels off every window in our Sombor house under the cover of needing to remove them for safety while painting all the rooms.

Then the first night we couldn't sleep due to mosquitos. "You see honey, curtains have a purpose," my husband remarked mildly. The next day I had him march to the hardware store to buy wire screens to put on the outsides of all our windows.

Then, when the paint had dried I moved into to my new home office. By 1pm the room was pretty hot. By 2pm it was an oven. I ran into the kitchen to throw water on my face, "Oh God!" "Honey, since you don't have curtains, you should close the wooden shutters in there against the sun so it doesn't get so hot," my husband recommended. "But you still won't have any air I'm afraid."

Next, as I met more people in the neighborhood, their heads started poking into my office window day and night abruptly breaking my concentration and sometimes startling me considerably. "Dobr Dan," they would say cheerfully. My husband would come running from wherever he was in the house and a social conversation would ensue. "They think you are open to the public because you don't have curtains," he finally explained. "If you don't want to be interrupted...."

OK, ok. I get it. There are many reasons why every house in Serbia has curtains hanging in every window. None of them are because anyone likes stuffy dark rooms. It's because they like privacy, cooling breezes, and fewer bugs.

So am I going to put the curtains back up? Well, only in the bedroom which faces the street and sidewalk. I'm sorry, I'm just too American. All those curtains inside just make my skin crawl.

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