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

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Dubious Pleasures of a Dirty Table

This is one of those little things that can make you nuts in a cross-cultural marriage. Monday was a national holiday here, so my husband grilled up some lamb and I made a vat of soup as well as roasted potatoes and asparagus. A couple of Serb family members came over to feast starting at about 1pm.

By 2:30pm, we were utterly and completely done eating... for the next decade.

When Serbs are done eating, that doesn't mean it's time to get up from the table. Oh no, they're just getting comfortable! They settle in and start talking, talking, talking. It gets dark outside. They are still talking. It's been so long that you actually start to feel hungry again. They are still talking. You begin to consider going to bed... but the Serbs aren't done talking yet.

It's OK, I'm used to this by now. I can cope.

What I can't cope with is sitting in front of dirty dishes the whole time. Acck! In America, as soon as you're done eating, you clear the table. Everyone can still sit there, toying with coffee or whatever, but the dirty plates, silverware, platters, etc., are wisked away to the kitchen where they are scraped, washed, dried and quickly put away. Only then can you relax and enjoy the rest of the evening with your guests, sitting around a nice clean table.

Unfortunately for me, Serbs hate it when you take away their dirty dishes. "Leave them! Leave them!" they cry. At first I thought they were trying to be polite, telling me not to work in the kitchen while they were relaxing. I tried to explain, I can't enjoy sitting at a table with dirty dishes, the sight and especially the smell of the mess is disturbing.

Au contraire, my sister in law explained. To the Serbian mind, the sight and smell of loads of dirty dishes in front of you is a enormous pleasure. It reminds you of the wonderful feast you just had, the pleasure in the food, the comfort of good food and lots of it. A feast is to be relished, why clear the evidence way so quickly? What kind of strange people are Americans anyway?

I sit, magnificently controlling my twitching urge to clean, clean, clean, for nearly four hours. I concentrate on the conversation. I will not let this drive me mad. At last around 7pm, I am allowed to take away the old dishes to make room for an ice cream snack. Whew! Feels a bit like I ran a marathon.


AlekSandra said...

Aohhahahaha,I just had a good laugh imagining you in a middel of that party,being tide and practical.Did anyone offerd to help you clean the dishes or you had to do it by yourself?Personaly,I had same kind of situations with my ex husband's,Dutch relatives.I remember my mom doing that too,and me begging her to leave my plate cause I am a slow eater.I did the dishes.Ciao

Milica said...

This is hilarious. I actually hate the cleaning up because it makes me feel bad that I am not helping when all I want to do is sit and digest....but having lived in the US for over 20 years, I am now one of the people that has to clean up ASAP. Ah changes...

Anonymous said...

hahaha really!? my boyfriend is a serb and we plan to get married this year.i like your blog alot and it helps alot,very interesting stories.keep going :-)

ultrabop said...

I must be a Serb. I have the same feeling about the dishes after a dinner party. Part of it has to do with not wanting the dinner to be over, because it was so fine, and the guests are so loved. My wife feels differently and begins to clean up immediately.

I'm an American from Michigan, living in Boston. So...what up???

Thanks for your blog, I'm writing a novel that has many Balkan references(based on the heritage of some of the characters) and this is really helpful and funny as hell.

CyberDomacica said...

"Au contraire, my sister in law explained. To the Serbian mind, the sight and smell of loads of dirty dishes in front of you is a enormous pleasure. It reminds you of the wonderful feast you just had, the pleasure in the food, the comfort of good food and lots of it. A feast is to be relished, why clear the evidence way so quickly?"
I have never heard of anything like this before... My grandmother, mother, my mother in law, all the women I know, leave the dishes because they like to sit and talk with the guests after serving the food... If they start cleaning, the guests might leave and they would not have a chance to spend some time with them... Usually, after the soup and the sarma, the plates are taken away... Then we eat some roasted meat and cakes... I know some people that enjoy eating "pecenje" very slowly as they keep on talking. Also, people are relaxed, they are relatives, very good friends, they don't pay attention to the table, they are happy, they talk... and probably don't feel the smell. :)

Anonymous said...

I am English and married to a guy from Serbia, he is not Serbian but has lived in Serbia for most of his life, we now live in Canada.
But like yourself Rosemary i also feel exhausted when his serb/ croatian/ hungarian friends come for a meal.
You are right about the talking, it goes on and on and on.
I try to be as friendly as possible but after a while i start to get tired, i know these visits can easily drag into a 5 - 6 hours.
After they go, the washing up begins, i don't like to leave it overnight which means i do it very late and then drop into bed feeling totally wiped out.
Following day i have a residual headache and it takes me the day to recover.
You are so right about the talking, as the evening progresses and the brandy starts flowing, the tongues wag more and more until in the end, nobody is listening to the other, they just wont stop talking.
I feel like i can easily go crazy.
Now if i know something is happening, i prepare myself for the event, i take headache pills before and gear myself up the best way psychologically to deal with this.
My husband tells me that it is nothing compared to how the people visit and stay for hours in his country, sadly i wont be visiting there.

Kyle Reynolds said...

Clearly Serbs (and most eastern Europeans) are very social people. I remember having friends over in belgrade, and they never ever want to leave. Just bring more and more alchohol and snacks and keep on going!.

I think they just like to have fun, all the time.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Kyle
" Bring the alchohol and snacks and keep going "
Ummm i do not think so, 5 hours is way too long for me, it is so emotionally draining and then even when finally someone decides to go, you know you have pit stops before they EVEN get out the door.
First its standing up, i start to breathe an inward sigh of relief, but then quickly realise, its not going to be .. just yet.

More talking as they stand together in a group, then even before they get to the door, another 15 - 20 minute talks as coats are being put on, and then finally, the door opens, YESSSSSS THE DOOR OPENS AND OUT THEY GOOOO, but wait ... it is STILL NOT OVER...
Oh no did i consider myself THAT LUCKY, the talking continues before they actually leave even though they are now OUTSIDE the door.
So yet another pitstop and finally after yet MORE talking they are finally in their car!!!
But wait, it is NOT OVER YET!!!!!
The window rolls down and then there is MORE CONVERSATION!!
Kyle give me a break, having those people over is a nightmare, it is so tiring, i work in Healthcare and i find the way out of it now is for me to ask for shifts on days and evenings i know they will come, it causes less friction for me and my husband as he thinks i have been called in for work, yes my work is very tiring but i would rather go and work than endure that torment, plus i get the added bonus of not having to cook, or wash up, or be a hostage, plus i get to bed at a reasonable hour, and no headache!!

Anonymous said...

i left a comment yesterday, i wrote it as the way i see a situation through the eyes of a non Yugoslav.
I can see you have not published it, i realise that this blog is for people to write nice sweet neutral stuff and nothing derogatory.

Rosemary Bailey Brown said...

Actually I was traveling on business and just didn't get to the computer to moderate comments for a few days. Sorry for the delay - no censorship here (aside from spam)

Anonymous said...

I do apologize Rosemary.
Besides i was dumb enough to be looking under the wrong category to see if my post was published.
Best Regards

PS And btw i love your blog!!!!

Anonymous said...

don't know but in my household dishes are at least moved if not washed right after the meal and as for guests not wanting to leave probably would be simple asked to get out cause i have other things to do. Greetings from Srbija