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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shortsighted Balkan Business Mentality -- Why I Avoid Doing Business in Croatia & Serbia

Not every Croat or Serb professional or businessperson is like this -- but enough are that the others stand out like red roses on a field of snow.

Here's what happens: you start a business relationship, perhaps hiring a person in the Balkans to do a job for you or perhaps starting a business contract if some type. Everyone is smiling and nice and happy. Then, fairly soon after that your friendly employee or partner screws you. Blatantly.

I've had all sorts of people, both Serbs and Croats ask for emergency loans... and then string me along with excuses for months until I realized they never intend to pay the money back, and sometimes the "emergency" had never existed in the first place.

I've had Serb contractors, who had just finished one job but were up for rehire on another, turn in their company computers... that were just hollow shells because they'd literally stripped out the innards to use somehow elsewhere.

I've had a Croatian lawyer, who was on the US Embassy's recommended list, agree in writing to do a job for me for a particular amount, and then when he was up against my tight court deadline, he suddenly raised the amount of money required and demanded it up front before he'd do a lick of work.

The weird thing for me in all of these situations is not that people screw other people. I'm not naive. That happens in every country of the world, including America. The difference in the Balkans is that all these people screwed me when it was against their own best interest!

In each of the cases I mentioned above, I was in the midst of starting what I thought would be a longer-term business relationship with these people. One that would be very fruitful for them. But, they grabbed the chance to screw me at the very start. That lawyer, for example, knew we had a longer court case coming up.
Why cheat me at the beginning when I'll just dump you?

My theory is it's due to short-sighted Balkan mentality. Maybe if you grew up in a country where everything kept changing and falling apart over and over again, you begin to think, "forget tomorrow, grab what you can for today!" If you don't have faith in even the near future, why build toward it?

This may also explain why Balkan ex-patriots themselves very rarely invest in Serbian or Croatian business. You only hear about expats investing their savings in two things -- cafes and residential buildings. Even the infamous Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves funnel their millions back home into almost nothing but cafes and flats in towns such as Nis. Which is incredibly stupid from both a local and national economic standpoint. Outside of limited tourism areas (which are overbuilt and underselling these days in much of Croatia) cafes and buildings don't help rebuild Serbia or Croatia's economy. They don't provide many new ongoing jobs. They don't help with exports. They don't grow expertise. They just sit there.

I do still, occasionally now, do business in the Balkans. But I catch myself flinching whenever I'm doing it. I've been burned too often.


Zvonko said...

You are right, Rosemary - this is exactly why ex-Yu expats keep from investing in Serbian or Croatian business. Thanks for sharing your observations.

ssin said...

You hit the nail on the head with this post, Rose. Great insight and conclusions.

Idioms similar to "Honesty is the best policy", which is a simple and practical wisdom, simply do not exist in the local language.

Lisa Petrarca said...

Very informative...I also agree that their "short sighted" mentality must be the cause.

Maybe you should submit that post to a local paper & teach people that an honest business relationship leads to a longer & more profitable one.

Ana said...

When I read the post, I was like "OUCH, this really, really hurts".

Several hours later I was still brooding on it, when it hit me: "F...! But isn't this precisely the thing that you were so fuming and obsessing about lately?!"

mostovljanin said...

Try this: http://rosemarybaileybrown.blogspot.com/2008/03/how-to-invest-your-retirement-savings.html

For example: You have a spare 30k Euros. You buy/rent some ground floor space in people-watching part of town and redecorate it to be a cafe. Pay taxes, pay workers. 3 (summer) months later (max.) - you'll have your 30k back. 9 months after that - you'll sell your Kia and have a Beemer. And it ($) will keep coming.

Once you have too much of it and don't know what to do with - check the link from the first paragraph ;)

Melanie said...

I'm a Canadian now living in Serbia, and just had a terrible experience with redoing my kitchen here which was just like what you wrote about.

Started off great, then deteriorated quickly, and by the end the company left many things poorly done or undone! They also (accidentally, I hope) took some of our tools when they left, and it took us weeks to get them back. When we had problems with the kitchen 3 weeks after the job was over, we had to again pester them for weeks to even show up, and they accused us of causing the problem! I was blown away.

I had, previously to this experience, been planning on hiring this company to do numerous jobs throughout my house, but they certainly made sure I'll never use them again for anything!

What's worse is my Serbian husband said that they were better than most.

Anonymous said...

Yup, had it happen to me too. Thought I met someone good, he overcharged me (later found out 3x) just so he could collect right then, and there, and who cares about what's next. They think now, today and don't care about tomorrow at all. Reputation? What's that!

Ivan said...

I like your theory, Rosemary.

How do they keep long-lasting friendships, I never learned.

Ivan said...

It's me again. I showed this blog post to my mother. She wrote back (my translation follows):

An excellent perception of the situation in regard to the mentality. But I think it isn’t correct to attribute it to the cruel history in this region.

Lack of steadiness, irresponsibility, breaking promises, disinterest for the future and for development, rule-breaking, jealousy for the smallest things, can’t be products of the relatively frequent wars. If that were true, what should have happened to the Germans, for example?

Anonymous said...

Rosemary, I'm a Serb expat living in Germany. I just wanted to congratulate you on the great observation of Serbian/Balkan mentality. Being short-sighted is probably on of the best descriptions I've heard/read anywhere on Serbs.

Thanks again and cheers!