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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Which I am Chided By an American Hotel for Misspelling My Last Name

I am in Arizona at an industry trade show. I checked into the hotel using my married name -- which ends in the traditional Serbian "ic".

Then I go to my room and try to get online so I can email everyone to let them know I arrived safely. To get to the Internet, you have to type your room number and last name. I do it over and over again. No good, something's not working.

Defeated, I call the front desk. "Well, how are you spelling your last name?" she asks. "Like it's spelled," I say slowly, thinking what an odd question.... "How did you spell it exactly?" the woman at the front desk sounds a bit exasperated. I spell it out for her. "There's your problem!" she exclaims, "you're not spelling it correctly. You have to put an 'h' at the end."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Most Flights From Belgrade to US Are Cancelled Due to Iceland's Volcanic Eruption

I'm posting this here because apparently this news isn't on the news in Serbia that anyone I know knows of. If you, like my husband, are planning to fly from Serbia to the US this weekend, you'd better contact your air carrier right away. I've heard the Lufthansa staff at Nikola Tesla Airport are working overtime answering calls tonight.

Turns out a big volcanic eruption in Iceland has shut down most flights in Northern Europe including France and Germany. The ash cloud is expected to drift eastward over the weekend, which isn't good for Atlantic travel because most Europe-to-USA and Europe-to-Canada flights are normally routed where that ash may be. And ash is very dangerous for plane engines. (I'm not an expert, I just heard this in the news here in the US.)

If you have any reason to be concerned, don't expect your travel agent to call you -- call the airline directly!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Update on Stray Dogs in Serbia: Fewer but Happier

As I wrote in 2007, although I had a typical American horror of strays, living in Sombor Serbia for a few months surrounded by mostly sweet and jaunty owner-less dogs had changed my thinking.

The first thing I noticed on my visit this month was that there are far fewer owner-less dogs on the streets. In fact, at first I didn't think I saw any. I sadly asked my husband had they all been put down? I'd heard a mass round up and slaughter happens every few years when the Serb stray dog population gets out of control. "Oh no, not all of them," he replied. "That's an independent dog right over there." He pointed to a healthy-looking dog sniffing at the flower-beds in front of the cafe where we were sitting. But, the dog had a collar. I'd assumed it was somebody's.

Turns out, this past year instead of killing all the dogs, vets in Sombor, Belgrade, and perhaps elsewhere in Serbia did a mass spaying effort on the healthiest of the owner-less dogs. These dogs were fitted with identifying collars and then released to live their lives at their own discretion again. Some Serbs inveigh against spaying as a barbaric practice that robs a dog of its natural personality. This may be true, but spaying also has two benefits for the wild dog population -- not only will they cease to reproduce, but their potential for aggressive behavior toward humans is greatly lessened.

My sister-in-law, who had several scary encounters with feral dogs as she bicycled about her neighborhood in Novi Beograd last year, now fondly watches the wild, collared-dogs playing with a stick in the little park beside her building. Oh, now they've found a rag and are engaged in tug of war battles with it. Adorable. She tells me now that the dogs are less scary, her neighbors have begun setting out food for them.

For now, anyway, Serbia's solution seems to be working. At least, unlike America where generally all dogs must have owners or they are put down, there's a chance for a dog to live its own life in Serbia without leashes and obligations.

An Evening in Novi Sad with George Clooney & Antonio Banderas

"I am George Clooney and here is my friend Antonio Banderas!" Our family lawyer Dusan and my husband are sitting side by side at an outdoor cafe in Novi Sad grinning at me. I'm startled to realize it's true. The resemblance is remarkable ... if Clooney and Banderas were Serbians.

The boys are just back from a four-day road trip to Knin, once a Serb stronghold in central Croatia, where Dusan was born. I suddenly realize this whole Clooney/Banderas thing is a finely honed act they've used to flirt with barmaids and waitresses all the way there and back. It's a side of my husband I've never seen before, and it makes me laugh.

Novi Sad is Serbia's second largest city. It seems to consist of super-shiny banks and slightly-dingier apartment buildings. Only the old town area has many antique buildings in Austro-Hungarian style. Most have had their ground floors transformed into glass-fronted boutiques and cafes. Cars are banned so people can stroll about at ease. The resemblance to one of those vaguely 'Olde World-style' outdoor shopping malls in America is striking. Only, I guess you could say, this is the real George Clooney.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Change My "Dirty" Dollars Into Serbian Dinars, Please!

It's been too long -- I've really been missing Sombor. So, when I found out this past Friday that Air France was having a discount sale on Boston-to-Belgrade flights, less than 24 hours later I was on the plane.

Which gave me no time to change money. (Try asking for Serbian Dinars in practically any US bank and they'll tell you it's a week's wait.) This morning, I knew I would die without Diet Coke or Pepsi, because I am such an Amerikanka. But there was no cash to buy soda with. Luckily my husband had a $100 bill in his pocket that he'd snagged for travel expenses. We set off for the money-changer in downtown Sombor to get some dinars.

She took one look at the bill and shook her head. No way. No Dinars for us. The other money changers we visited all said no as well. Why? Well, something was scribbled in ink in the corner of the bill, so obviously this was not a bill that could be changed. Only dollars that are fresh, clean and PERFECT can be changed in Serbia. No folded corners, no worn edges, certainly no rips or tears, and absolutely no writing!

Well, actually a couple of years ago we did manage to get some slightly worn dollars changed in a Sombor bank, but we had to pay an extra 15% fee on top of the normal exchange fee to cover the extraordinary trouble they were taking.

To me, this is just so weird that it defies comprehension. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar, no matter what condition it is in. My husband's theory is that dollars are easier to fake than Euros, something about fewer glowing bits showing up under the blue security light. Therefore exchange offices have to be much more careful. Why, I'm still not sure. Wouldn't it be sensible that fake dollars would be crispier and more perfect-looking than those that had clearly been through a few hands?