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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How do Serbian and American Teenagers Differ?

A Serbian-American reader of this blog just wrote in to ask about Serbian parenting and how teens differ between the two countries. It seems her husband, a Serb, does not like the Serbian style and would like to raise their children in a Western fashion...

I'm not an expert on Serb teens, aside from having had two step-children in their teens myself, and having met plenty of Serb teens in Sombor and Belgrade. So I'd love you guys to post your opinions.

In my experience Serb teens:

- Expect to live at home through college and well beyond (unless they are from small towns like Sombor where many dream of shaking that country-dust off their boots and moving to Belgrade ASAP.) I've seen data that even by the age of 45, many Serbs still live with their parents. This is both culturally and economically based.

- Are far thinner and have better posture than their American counterparts, due to less junk food and TV/computer slouching. They eat home-cooked meals most days, not fast food (which is more expensive than what's in the kitchen), and like to stroll about town showing off their glory.

- Don't get steady allowances (cash from parents) but rather occasional, irregular, gifts of money when the mood strikes a relative to hand them something. This means they may not have a chance to learn to budget or handle wages before they are on their own. But then they won't be on their own for a long, long time.

- Have cell phones (that they live on) but not credit cards.

- Share bedrooms with siblings and share single bathrooms with their entire, often extended, family.

- Dress up in a somewhat more formal way than US teens. Europeans in general don't do casual dress in public the way Americans do.

- The girls wear more make-up, often far far more, than US teens would ever consider. The expression "troweling it on" might be used. Same for perfume.

- Are more likely to have at least experimented with heroin, which is more readily available. While Americans are more likely to be on medication for ADD.

- Grew up with daily social drinking at home, unlike American teens who binge secretly at teen parties.

- Dream of international travel and jobs overseas. I doubt the majority of US teens have passports or can locate most countries on a world map. Provincialism, thy name is America.

- Are strongly bigoted against gays, while the majority of US teens surveyed think gays are normal, should be able to get married, etc.

- Speak a foreign language enough to get by, usually English or German. American teens are often required to learn a foreign language in school, but for fewer years and rarely take it remotely seriously. (That is except for immigrant's children and those born in close-knit Hispanic-American communities.)

- Hope to have a career someday, but don't assume they will be lucky enough to land a job and be promoted. The economy is too stinky for self-assurance. US teens on the other hand blithely assume that by the age of 30 they'll be making good money and own cars, homes, etc.

- May not have a driver's license, and certainly not a car. If there's an "old banger" in the family, their parents are still driving it. American teens often get cars as gifts in High School or college.

- Are deeply interested in meeting people from other cultures and places. Most American teens would be automatically friendly to someone from another country (frankly unlike many Croatians I've met) but aren't aggressively interested in the opportunity.

- Grew up in a culture in 1990s-2000 where criminals and government leaders were often seen as the only people who had success. Most American kids would not consider either as worthy of a career choice. Maybe a fallback position, but not a great one.

- Strongly prefer an apartment (stan) to a house and Belgrade to the countryside. American teens range the gamut from loving small towns with white picket fences to New York City.

- Don't take college class attendance as seriously as Americans, mainly because it's not always required and exams are far fewer and more spaced out. Also, of course, college is largely free.

- Hope to get by in life. Americans all secretly believe if you try hard enough and dream, you can be all you want to be.

In my experience, Serbian parents of teens tend to:

- coddle their adult children, treating them more softly in many ways than American parents would ever consider. In the US, you are a separate, independent adult very early on (as early as 14 in some upper class niches, as late as 22 in others.) In Serbia, you're a [protected child for eons.

- have absolutely zero sense of humor about outsiders' remarks about their children, and zero capacity to ever hear any criticism of their child. This is hard in all human cultures, but carried to an extreme in Serbia sometimes I think.

- don't have high expectations of their children's future. Hope they'll get by. Not because the kids aren't capable, but rather again due to the economy.

- allow children to do whatever after school-activities they desire on their own, but won't drive them around for this purpose, and won't enroll them in special summer camps or classes (except perhaps a language class.)

- assume they will pay for in whole or part (as much as possible) each child's first bought apartment. Sometimes sell a large apartment and buy several smaller ones from the proceeds so kids have homes of their own. Americans assume their kids are nearly entirely on their own the minute they hit 18.


Tina Jovanovic said...

Great comparison of Serb and American cultures!
I know I was shocked when I saw a bunch of kids, maybe 12 to 16 yrs at the grocery store in Our little town getting their money together to buy beer, wine and whatever other alcohol they could to party one Friday night. It is illegal for that to happen in the US. Kids have to get someone over 21 to buy it for them, or get fake Id's.

Also, the difference between a girl getting prego in Serbia and the US... Usually the girl will get married in Serbia. It is almost a given, at least in my part of Serbia.
In The US, not the same anymore. She may have the baby and stay single, get married, or have an abortion. She may even give the baby up for adoption.

I know when my Serbian sister-in-law got pregnant, the doctors told her an abortion could cause her not to be able to get pregnant. In a society, where having a child is just assumed of a woman this is not an option.
Adoption is almost a foreign concept.

Another foreign concept is the High school dorms that kids from villages live in when they are from villages that do not offer high school.

In the village there may only be an elementary school. Then, when it comes time to go to the higher grades, they move into dormitories, widely unsupervised. Quite a stretch from their American counterparts who live with their parents till they are 18. Then are totally on their own once they go off to college.
Thanks for all your interesting posts!

Valerie said...

Thank you so much for replying back to my e-mail, I really appreciate it. I have an insight now to the teenagers/children there and parenting.

However, I would like to clear something (lightheartedly). I am actually Indonesian/Portuguese. And actually my husband does not want to raise our daughter 100% the Western way as we both believe there are too much leeways.

But you are 100% percent correct that I was looking for a Serbian-American comparison so thank you =)

It is an eye opening how different the Serbian culture is as far as raising children goes. In my culture, although parents do love their children, we were taught since young age to be independent. The only difference is, with us, we do not kick our children out when they turn 18.

The cell phone and no credit card is exactly how it is in my country as well. The makeup however, is the complete opposite. In my culture the more makeup you wear, it means that you are on the prowl of looking to get, literally, hooked up. However, being a Hairdresser/Makeup artist, I beg to differ... hehe.

I am glad to have read this. I am also glad that my culture and the Serbian culture shares some similarities so my husband and I can find a common ground. Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Good observations... Although I haven't lived in Serbia for the past 16 years I think most of your comparisons are quite close to the current state of things.
I personally think that neither Serbian or American parents would be open to someone else criticizing their kids.
As well, my observation is that more and more parents drive their kids to activities (particularly in Belgrade) but most kids still take public transportation at rather young age (compared to North America).

jeju said...

I'd have to disagree with Tina. I know of a girl in a small Serbian town that's had atleast 2 abortions. I'd say if it's happening in small country towns, it's happening more often than you think.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Rosemary!
Serbian girls (teens) look way hotter than American girls, because they have nice bodies, sexy butts and in the summer wear short shorts :) Everytime I'd come visit my grandparents during the summer It would take me a week to get used to the sights!!

The teens here dress nicer, even though they don't have money they look their best when going out. Millionaire Americans Kids' go out dressed in pajamas.. that's normal..


tinica said...

Serbian teens in 2011 sound a lot like American teens in 1981. Aside from the mobile phones, of course!

Anonymous said...

Serbian Teens (50%) Don't know the meaning of HERO and think people like R.Mladich are heroes ;)

Whereas American teens understand what the meaning of a hero really is.

Anonymous said...

"Serbian Teens (50%) Don't know the meaning of HERO and think people like R.Mladich are heroes ;) "

Sorry you think like that.

Gordo said...

As for living with their parents until they are married (and even after), there is an eventual upside to this.

In Serbia, when the parent becomes quite old, the children will usually take them in to live, while in North America, the parent is sent off to the woods to die - oops, I mean an old age home. ;-)

Shreeja N said...

Good research done! Loved this post! Grown up children living with parents is the norm in India as well. It makes sure the teens stay away from drinking and drugs; there are exceptions though.But family and relationships are given a lot of importance.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong, serbian parents have high expectations of their childrens future thrust me, and college is not free its very expensive. Most of kids in serbia speak both english and german adn those who go to grammar school speak latin too

Anonymous said...

Hi Rosemary,

I love your post! Like you, I'm American and my husband is Serbian. We met when we were teenagers, and your post is pretty much spot on for our situation! I was 16 and he was 20 (not so much a teen -but still!) He lived with his mother (who shared a bedrooms with her daughter),he shared a bedroom with his brother (who is now 32 and still living at home), and was a total mamas boy. He was the only one in his family with a job so he paid for their apt ($1300/month) and all the bills. When I first heard all of this I thought he was OUT OF HIS MIND! It was beyond belief to be living at home and paying your families bills/apt. It didn't see to bother him, and he is the youngest out of the 5 children. I was raised by my mother to be totally independent.
He didn't care to go to high school because of all the money he was making so he dropped out senior year.

I will say the person who said Serbian teens think that Mladic is a hero - is right. (Not that he is a hero, he's right that the teens think like that) They're raised with their parents beliefs, and a lot of them ( that I've met anyway) find Mladic to be a hero. Actually when he was arrested my husbands mother was furious! She said that she couldn't believe Tadic would do this because Mladic helped the Serbian people so much. My husbands best friend actually new Mladic. Mladic gave him a ride to school one day in Bosnia and he asked Milan "How is school going for you?" and his mother told him that he wasn't doing so well in the "serbo-croatian language class", and Mladic said, well there is his problem- he has a mother who calls it serbo-croatian, when it's serbian language. So, nonetheless I think he had a great love for his people and my husbands friend said that he was one of the nicest people he ever met back there.

Anyway, sorry for my long post. I just wanted to stop in and say that I enjoyed your post. I will be visiting Serbia for the first time this February (my husband hasn't been back for 12 years!), and I'm very excited! :)

Anonymous said...

yeah well many Bosnian Serbs do think that Ratko mladic is a hero, i dont think its prevailing opinion in Serbia tho

Milan said...

I'm a teen from Serbia, and most of these facts are true :) But, serbian teens, at age of 15-16 go to other towns for education and are a lot independent, but, after they finish the school they go back to their parents because the economy is Z E R O. Think of Serbia like this: It's a dusty, barren land that can transform into an oasis, but no one cares about that. Politicians' goals in Serbia are: Suck as much money you can while you are in charge. Why? Why would you spend time turning barren land into oasis and get much more money later when you can do it right now cause my county is in deep sh*t and no one can pull it out of it. I'm 14 btw :)

Anonymous said...

Jeju; What's your point exactly? You know a girl from Serbia that has had two abortions? That's cool. There is a whole show in America of trashy, teenage girls getting pregnant... soo i'm not sure if you're trying to be a smart ass and make a negative point across or what. But for all of you thinking Serbian teens are lesser than American teens, my condolences. We're all perfectly human. Period. Great post Rosemary btw! #SerbAndProud :)

Anonymous said...

I am neither American nor Serbian (by blood). I am Surinamese but I am usually surrounded by Serbian girls since my sister in law is Serbian and the less educated people in villages have no big dreams for their kids I noticed but the educated people really encourage their kids to get at least their bachelor title. The teenage girls are less "worldly" unlike my American friends and don't yell at their parents or curse at them. Serbians are really polite people and the country is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

My parents were/are very well educated. My dad was and still is a famous singer from old yugoslavia and is and has been since I guess 1961 a Medical Doctor (OBGYN) as well. My mother left Serbia(Yugoslavia) with a Masters in International Law for Business around 1982 as she was also a stewardess for Jugoslavian Airlines till 1983 and I was born 84. My parents or particularely my father raised my family back there money wise. He left for Italy and Africa to study and finish medicine. He brought over more than half of my small family here in the states. Was a director of several OBGYN facilities in NYC, had an office on Central Park South and guess what? Becuase of our surname and many other factors as well he lost all that! The war hit his income and of course as any educated person would do is either blame no one or all sides which is precisely what he did. He did not resort to racism or hate due to ethnicity but experienced it as did we (his children) from being beat up in school by Albanians to having to beg the principals to change our names in school here in America. (My sisters and I were born btw in America). We grew up sort of confused between what and who we are culturally speaking. Our heros were Kurt Cobain, Nikola tesla, King Karadjorgevic (King before Communism in Serbia) our heros were are also other musicians, actors, but we secretly were jealous of Anglo Saxons and jews for being so smart with money. Not being flashy, being rich but driving Hondas. The problem with Rich Serbian people and mind you rich doesn't mean money all the time but education and who your parents were/are in Serbian Culture. We had expensive stuff, property, land, bad grades, experiences with Drugs, ...ect. ect... This comes with the Cultural confusion, the overworked American, the fatherly neglect, the rejection faced by Americans and other cultures who created public hate for the Serb in America and World wide. So as a result in the 80's and 90's while our heroes were Jim Morrison and kurt Cobain, in the 21st century our heroes became Bill Gates, Murdock, King of Jordon for some reason (I dont know much about that Royal Family) For some is Mladic and other Serbs. My very rich friends in Serbia really idolize and emulate people like Gavrillo Princip who killed the Austrian Arch Duke to free Serbia, my parents never liked any body political but I think I grew to appreciate our Saints (Jovan), or Arch Angel Michael, many many others. Those who freed Serba from the Ottomon Empire, from the Nazis, many liked Tito whom I personally dont becuase he was Communist and probably wasnt even Yugoslavian, He was the Communist Dictator of Jugoslavia around the time of WW2 till the late 1970's. Formula 1 Drivers were and are our heroes, Soccer Players, Good Guitar Players, Rich people, ... Regular dreams, even rappers, Tupac Shakur.... Any other questions? I hope this helps. It matters how you were raised...