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

Friday, July 1, 2011

Advice to the Lovelorn: What to Do If You're Considering Marrying a Serb

I know I said I wasn't going to post again, but since my farewell post, have been deluged with letters from women around the world agonizing over whether they should marry their Serbian boyfriend.

So here is my advice - take it or leave it as you please:

1) I'm glad I married a Serb.
The experience was well worth the final pain. I learned so much, had many wonderful experiences, and filled my life with so much love. Serbian families, the country of Serbia, the culture... all worth experiencing and learning from. I'm not sorry I did it, and I hope you won't be either.

2) Some Serb-American marriages are great successes.
My step-brother has been married happily for more than a decade to a Serbian woman who previously immigrated to the US where they now live. A friend of mine's parents were a mixed marriage of Serb and Swede, both US immigrants, who apparently had a wonderful marriage until the day the husband died.

3) Plan ahead for child custody battles.
I am lucky not to have this problem, as we had no children of our own, but have heard of several battles that were far more agonizing (not to mention expensive) because each parent planned to live in a different country and wanted their child by their side.

I cannot underscore enough how important it is for you to have a prenuptial agreement in writing, hopefully recognized by courts in both countries, that spells out which country children will be raised in should you split. Be generous and assume that the child should have ample experience of both countries as they grow up.

4) Keep some cash in your name in your country.
Less important than child custody, but worth mentioning. If you ever do separate, it may be difficult for you to access funds in your own country. Keep a single (not joint) account in your name. Also, this keeps you safe if Serbian banks fail (as they have done in the past) and you have to wait years to get the small portion of your money that was covered by government insurance back.

Also bear in mind that if you spend much of your working life in Serbia, you and your spouse may not qualify for Social Security or other US government benefits someday. You never know if or when you'll want to move home (what if you are widowed?) so think ahead about how to establish retirement in both countries. Don't put your eggs in just one basket.

5) Don't move in with his family.
It's not unusual for adult and married children of Serbs to live with their parents for eons. You can move in "just for now" and suddenly months and years have gone by. It's hard enough to adjust to married life with a foreigner. Don't add in the burden of integrating with his family in their home as well. Your husband will never truly understand how hard it is for you if you're from a country without that tradition. Insist on your own home, from day one. Luckily furnished and long-term rentals are very cheap in Serbia, especially compared with buying!

6) Make your own circle of friends.
Most Serbs have lots of friends and very active social lives. It's easy to get swept up in your beloved's circle. That's great, but make an effort to create your own circle as well. You need your own support system separate from his.

7) Don't assume you'll find paying employment in Serbia.
Even well-connected and educated Serbs have trouble. You'll probably either wind up doing volunteer work (lots of opportunities with needy organizations) or starting your own business.

If you do start your own business, don't start it (at least at first) with your fiance or husband. It adds extra strain to a marriage to work together, especially if you grew up in different cultures regarding work and capitalism, and you'll already have enough challenges with culture, family, language, etc. Also, better if you own something yourself than being too dependent on a single person in a foreign land. That said, I do know foreign women who have run great businesses with their husbands in Serbia.

8) If you live outside Serbia, be prepared for long-term guests.
When relatives visit from Serbia, they often expect to stay in your home with you for weeks or even months. It's normal. Think you got out of living with his parents when you moved away? Think again. I thoroughly enjoyed this, but some women would not.

9) Your vacations will be probably spent in the Balkans.
Expats need to go home. It's understandable. And their family is expecting them to come. They don't understand about measly US two-weeks-per-year-only. And it may be tough if you ever had a yearning to go to other places in the world on vacation... Serbia here we come.

10) Don' promise to learn to speak Serbian if you live outside the Balkans.
Unless you are a language genius or perhaps grew up speaking another Slavic language, learning Serbian will be harder than you expected. You really do need to live there for the lessons to sink in and your knowledge to stick.

That doesn't mean your husband will only speak English in your household (although your children unfortunately may, even if he wishes they would use his language). There will be many times when he's speaking to friends, family, etc and you'll have no idea what's going on. You're going to feel left out sometimes, but you probably can't help it.

11) If you intend to live in the Balkans, don't marry him first before you visit thoroughly.
You're marrying a man and a country. Don't jump into either without adequate research and personal experience. If you plan to move to the Balkans, move first and marry later. You've got plenty of time.

So that's all my advice. Good luck and best wishes!



Anonymous said...

Glad to see that you are writing again! Hope you have a great summer!


Anonymous said...

i want more posts, keep it up!

Gordo said...

Yes, please keep on writing a blog on any subject. You have a great and unique perspective on things, not just inter-cultural.

Best wishes to you in the future. We've enjoyed your blog for ages! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I've read your last post (about divorce) a week ago and can't stop thinking of it. I can't remember the last time divorce news surprised me this much. i'm very sorry...

Anonymous said...

Way to stereotype and deny individuality. Just because your ex is a Balkan hillbilly doesn't mean all of us are.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you think it can't be worse - it can- i have a suggestion: you can stay in Serbia and marry me,i am not just serbian, but serbian of montenegrin origin, isn't that even more challenging? :)

starrb said...

Rosemary I want to say thank you so much for your blog. I myself am American citizen who is married to a Serbian . I moved from the States in Nov. 2010 and I now live in Serbia, reading your blog has given me so much comfort . I feel like finally someone really knows how I feel . I love the country of Serbia and I truly love the people of Serbia . Everyone in Serbia has treated me with great respect and has shown me so much love but there were a few times where there were people who also made me feel like I was alien of some low life country because I am a American . With all of the times whether someone loved me or tried to belittle me because I am a American I am so happy and so blessed that I have such a loving and wonderful Serbian husband who goes to any length to make me feel # 1 and to show me that I am so loved no matter what . Rosemary I really enjoyed reading your experiences and the advice your share of life in Serbia . Wow I can related to so many of your stories and again I thank you for your words and wisdom you have helped me feel comfort in not being alone or feeling lost . Please continue to write because you are doing a wonderful things because you have helped someone like myself .

Exsavrou said...

Wish I had that advice before marrying a Serb. We lived in the US and then moved to Serbia last year. Not a culture shock because I visited before but you need to truly understand family relationships before marrying a Serbian. I agree with all of your advice. Inter-cultural marriages are not always easy and a husband or wife living in Serbia as a spouse, should definitely be prepared for all situations.
Thank you and best wishes for you in the future.

Anonymous said...

Rosemary Im Serbian man married to American for 10 years .We have a great love for each other and lots of fun.You sorender to love and it all hapens..Look up my site www.zazzle.com/serbia You all enjoy Serbia its a great but dificalt place

Anna said...

This is a great article that you wrote and really inspired with your thoughts I also married with a Serb and I think after reading your post..there's nothing to worry about.

Anonymous said...

Hadn't read the blog in a while -- found it last year when I, an American girl, was dating a Serb guy who I'd hoped to marry. Your blog was so relatable both then, and unfortunately now after my relationship busted over cultural differences. Sorry to hear yours ended too.

Being with a Serb was one of the most interesting experiences I've had, and I enjoyed revisiting my own memories while looking back through your blog. I hope you write a blog again sometime -- you have great insights into people and cultures. Hope good things come your way!

Anonymous said...

I just sent your last blog on Tweeter @Risovic - I could not resist! - :))
You are entered into the core and soul of living in Serbia!
I know because I am from Serbia!
I still hope your new posts will come ! You'll write? Will you? Write please!!
I accidentally discovered your blog on b92 yesterday.
You know why just yesterday?
I generally do not read or watch or listen to local media in Serbia.
My "gut" does not tolerate stupidity and lack of professionalism - that's the media in Serbia-stupid and unprofessional!
I live in Serbia - Belgrade . Serbia and lifestyle does not suit me at all.
So I would like to read your blog not only about life in Serbia - Write about anything!
I like the writing style - :))
I've read all your posts and one I sent my daughter in Cape Town!
I subscribe to your blog and I hope I will soon get into my mail box something new
- :)

Love and hugs for You !

Anonymous said...

Rosemary has moved on.

Feel free to visit her new blog:


Nije tako uzbudljivo kao brak sa Srbinom, but hey, it's still her writing - and that's what we all like :-)