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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Most Serbians Are Never, Truly Alone In Life

A girlfriend of mine is in Rome on business for the spring, including this upcoming Western Easter weekend, which in Italy is a solidly four-five day long holiday. She doesn't know anyone in Rome, besides a few local work colleagues who are spending the holiday with their families. So, she's effectively on her own. And she's freaking out about it. Stress-city. I've been getting these long OMG! emails from her about this upcoming long-weekend-alone for a few weeks now.

She's over 30, a well traveled and competent expert in her field. It's not even a holiday for her religion, so she's not missing anything special back home with her family. So what's the big deal???

She's a Serb.

At first I was a bit annoyed by her stressed-out emails. Come on girlfriend. Deal already! But I realized it's wrong for me to judge her through my American perspective. I left home when I was 14 to go to boarding school, then camp, then Europe, then college, then a new city for my first job, etc., etc. I visited my parents on occasion, but not that often after the first couple of years. Normal life was living anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand miles away from any family. Holidays were usually alone or occasionally in the company of other single, far-from-home friends. When I arrived at each new place, I knew almost no one. Although I'm a somewhat shy bookish person, I learned to reach out, to meet people, to make a new life again and again. I also learned how to be alone, completely by myself for days, weeks, even months on end if need be.

I do have some cousins, but have only met one of them briefly in adulthood. I have a bunch of siblings and step-siblings, but they also lived typical American lives, which meant they mostly lived hundreds of miles away from wherever I was. They were on their own too.

I'm a pretty typical American of my class and background. Most leave home at 18, I was early, but aside from that, this being completely on your own thing is really, really normal.

In fact I always assumed that being on your own in a strange place where you know no one is a critical part of becoming a mature human. Sure, it's scary. So is learning how to ride a bike the first time you try. There may be bruises. But, you know, deal. Grow up. Sometimes you'll be intensely lonely, sometimes you'll be scared. It's good for you. Grow up. That's what life is like.

Not for Serbs. I read in a Serbian magazine last year that something like 50% of 30-year old Serbs still live with their parents, and a big chunk are still at home even when they are 45! Part of this is due to a lack of housing, and economics, but a big part is because it's just normal. It's what you do. You stay at home.

Even when you leave, if you stay in Serbia, you're never far from home. It's not like the country is all that big. Unless they emigrate, your old friends are all going to be a part of your regular life for the rest of your life. You're surrounded by an active network of cousins, school buddies, workmates, friends-of-friends, siblings, etc. You're almost never in a strange place alone. And certainly not for an extended period of time.

Even the Serbs who emigrate tend to form social clumps in their new lands. If you mention any country in the world to my husband, he'll automatically tell you roughly how many Serbs are living there, and he'll probably know how to get in touch with them. (Look for an Orthodox Church or surf the expat comments at sites such as Politika.)

I was just down in St Petersburg Florida for a quick vacation, and visited a Bosnian store to stock up on Smokis. In the courtyard outside there sat a group of perhaps 10 Balkan men, smoking, sipping coffee, idling talking ... for hours and hours. Making company so no one is alone in this strange land, this America.


Anonymous said...

I am also married to an serbian and he is a great husband...we are now living in Kosovo, mitrovica and as a latin american from Dominican Republic its been really easy to get along, cause we are culturally closer than many might think...people like that "se drugimo" as well as we, and we also stay close to the ones we love, friends and family, no matter how big, independent or old you are...
serbs are generally good caring friendly people of whom exaggeratedly many bad things had been said around the world

Mariagrid said...

I was in Serbia, cause my boyfriend was serbian. First i thought that he is the man of my dream, kind, warmhearted, etc. But then everything broke, because he wanted to waste all his time and money on his friends and relatives and didnt think about me. He thought just that if i ll come to Serbia i will stay without job and sit on his shoulders, first he wanted to help me in everything, but then, realised that i am too far and all is very difficult for him. How can men be like that, after all promises and love....i thought that serbian men are not like others, but on my way was the wrong person, unfortunately
Hope that other serbs are good guys

Anonymous said...

It's funny I stumbled across your blog and this particular post. Back in the mid 90's, I worked in a very nice restaurant with a mostly international menu and staff. There were people there from all over, including a crowd from (I think) ALL the major areas of the former Yugoslavia, including groups at war with each other. They were mostly in their 20's and 30's, trying to scrape together enough money to finish a university education begun at home back in Split or Sarayevo or wherever, not really interested in talking about politics or war. Everyone got along at least as well as people from non-warring areas. They were really a tight-knit bunch, but I never understood the togetherness why until I read this post.

I ran across your blog while googling General Mihailovich. I'm just reading "The Forgotten 500" and so now I'm very intrigued about the Chetniks in that story.

Thanks for the blog.

Mariagrid said...

My pleasure Ruth...i just hope that everyone in the world need and deserve their own piece of happynesss...wherever it is..in Yugoslavia, Amerika, Russia...etc