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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Serbian Women Do Not Vacation Without Their Husbands

It's been depressingly cold, grey, and/or raining for days now in New England. So at 3am the other night when I woke up and wandered restlessly out to the living room, it seemed like fun to surf sunny destinations on the Internet. And somehow in my sleep befuddled mind, when I spotted a single, insanely cheap, ticket left to Albuequerque, it made perfect sense to buy it.

Which is how I found myself waking up the next morning and announcing to my husband, "I'm going to New Mexico for a few days tomorrow. Can I get a ride to the airport?"

His reaction, "Serbian women do not go on trips alone."

"Your sister goes on trips alone." "She's not married." "I go on business trips alone." "This isn't business. Wives do not go on vacation without their husbands!" "Maybe in Serbia they don't, but I'm American." He's disbelieving, "Oh really? You know women who have gone on vacation without their husbands?" "'Oh honey, it's normal. All my girlfriends have done it. So, can I get that ride to the airport?" "Ask your step-son."

In the end we reach a compromise. As long as I recognize how incredibly broad minded he is being, a true citizen of the world, he will give me a ride. Also I cross-my-heart and swear I'll never ever make plans again without talking to him beforehand; which in all fairness I should have done from the beginning.

As I dash around the house packing, the men of the house gather in the kitchen. "You know if you were a Serbian woman, you'd be cooking like crazy right now." "Why? I'm leaving." "You'd prepare each meal for us for all the time you're away and write a long note with instructions."

I do, in fact, adore cooking. But, I'm not an idiot. These men are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves without me, and frankly they'll enjoy it. Why would they want to reheat pre-cooked stuff when they could roast new potatoes, grill lamb, hit the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet down the street, or order a pizza with all their favorite toppings?

"Go wild guys," I tell them. "It's your big chance to eat anything you want!"

My husband agrees. But he's careful to let me know he won't be telling the folks back home about this. They wouldn't understand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

To a Serbian Expat, America is Much Bigger Than Expected

My husband spent his first three years in America cooped up in New England, except for quick visits to New York City to say he'd been there.

His initial experience of the US was disappointment geographically. If you drive for an entire day from our US house, you'd still be in a part of a country that's fairly identical. If you drive for an entire day from our Sombor Serbia house, you can go from the snowy flat northern plains, through rolling central hills, over the peaks of Montenegrin mountains, and down to the Adriatic sea where people have lemon trees growing in their yards.

"What, were you expecting to hop in the car in Boston and drive out to see cowboys and the Grand Canyon by nightfall?" I asked him. Well, yes....

My theory is that no matter what country you grow up in, printed maps of your country are about the same size when you unfold them on your lap in the car. So, although intellectually you know the distances and ratios of mile-to-inch are quite different, emotionally you're expecting every country to be about the same size.

When I had to give a business speech out West a few years back, I wheedled another ticket for "my assistant" and took my husband along for the ride. It was his first US trip out of New England. About 90 minutes into the flight, he grew restive. "Are we going to be there soon?" I stared at him. "Are you kidding? We haven't even gotten to Chicago. We've got another six hours until we hit Utah." He was completely flabbergasted. "You mean going to western America is like flying from Boston to Frankfurt?"

I pulled out the airline magazine from the seatback in front of me and turned to the map in the back pages. "Take a look. This is America. This dinky corner is where Serbia would fit in."

When we returned home, my husband's sister asked him, "How was it?" His reply, "Big, really big. It was so big. Did you know how big America is? Big! " Then he smiled joyously, "And I saw a real cowboy."