Same, Same…But WAY Different (My European Welcome)

Pairs Well With…Getting it together + Cultural Adaptation + New Continent

I’m happy to report that after one week of hiding out, stomping feet, being yelled at by little old ladies and on the verge of a major breakdown in Belgrade, I’ve survived and have resurfaced.  No, really. Last week, it felt like the world was ending, and it was unbearable to think that I’d be living in Belgrade for the next five weeks. Five weeks. Why five weeks here when every other country had been four?  Was this some sort of punishment?

Day after day of my first week in Belgrade, I faced minor annoyances that compounded into what felt like a catastrophic problem until one day I found myself unloading tears of frustration on the corner of “sign I can’t read” and “sign I can’t read.” I think it’s safe to say that Belgrade and I got off on the wrong foot because I’m (finally) starting to enjoy my time here.  But last week, all I was thinking last week was, “How do I buy a ticket out of here?!

My first impression of the people in Belgrade wasn’t so pleasant either.  The morning after we arrived, I went out for a 6 am run.  I was cooling off and just about home when this 70-year old lady gets in my face and starts yelling words at me that I don’t understand. The only word I was able to make out is “jacket.”  My best guess is she thought the early morning, 55-degree temperature was not suitable for a tank top and yoga pants.  Had she known I was from Minnesota, perhaps she would have cut me some slack.  It’s really hard to say.

One deflating day after the next, I found myself gravitating to the only thing that was providing me comfort: my lovely apartment, my safe zone, which is where I hid out most of the week until I reached an attitude shift.  Everyone in my group loved this city. Some even raved about moving here.  I had to be missing something.  Could someone show me what I was missing? I clearly couldn’t find it on my own. Then again, I generally seem to have the unfavorable opinion in life.  And so it goes.

So, I decided to do two things: 1) Learn Serbian so that maybe the locals will better receive me. I’m still working on this.  Serbian is NOT an easy language.  2) Spend more time with locals to understand what they love about their country.  And that’s exactly what I have been doing.  As luck would have it, and without boring you with details (which are probably the ones you want to know), I find myself writing this from somewhere between village and vineyard, out of the city.

Serbia Countryside

Beautiful Serbia Countryside

I sipped coffee along the river, walked nature trails and had an overall great day.  I even ate some sort of rolled mystery meat log (which I believe to be pork) stuffed with faux cheese and fried into crispy goodness, different than the mystery meats in Asia.  Oh, and did you know that Serbia has VINEYARDS?!  (Big, big win for Serbia.)  Small, but nice, and with much better wine than I would have anticipated. Then again, they are well known for their exquisite cheese selection, so I should have figured good wine wasn’t too far behind.

Coffee River Serbia

Traditional Turkish Coffee

Food eat Serbia Karadjordjeva Snicla

Karadjordjeva Snicla: Rolled meat (pork) stuffed with kamak (milk skimmings?!?!)

The last stop of the day was at a hidden cave that only a local would know.  The minute I saw the cave, I knew exactly what I needed (yes, needed) to do with the rest of my evening: build a bonfire in there!  (Because why wouldn’t you, and because I’d probably never get the chance to do so again.) The last time I hung out in a cave (because “everybody” says that, don’t they?!), it was epic.

bonfire Belgrade

Watch me work: bonfire in the making

The gentleman gracious enough to show me around had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Me: “So, umm, do people come here build fires,” I said the moment I saw an abandoned fire pit in the cave.

Him: “Umm…sure. I suppose some make fire here.”

Me: (Lightbulb moment) “Well, can I build a bonfire in here tonight?  Because that seems pretty damn cool.” (And by building a bonfire, I really meant, “Hey, can you chop me some wood and haul it over so I can watch you build the fire? I’ll pour wine.)

Him: “If you want to.” (Code for I don’t want to, but I will.) 

Me: “Yes, I do. I absolutely do. That sounds amazing.” (At this point, I decided hell or high water, this is happening. 

And with that, I had wood chopped, cherries picked for me out of the front yard tree and a pop-up party in a cave at my fingertips. But, get this….it was ME who built the fire, the one who can’t light a fire in her own backyard in Minneapolis to safe her life, but can sure as heck build one in Serbia.  Life in Serbia wasn’t looking so shabby anymore. 

Fire Serbia

I did it! I made magic happen.

So, here’s a little bit more about my country of the month…

WHERE I KICK IT:

This month, we’re all spread out across the city, which means if you actually want to see someone, you’re going to need to get off your ass.  The good news is that the city is walkable, so mobility isn’t a problem so long as your feet work.  Because we’re spread out, many of our accommodations aren’t the same either.  Mine is pretty sweet and a great space for me to hide out and write when I need to.

Living room apartment serbia belgrade

The cozy living room

Kitchen apartment Serbia

Our kitchen, the best I’ve had in months!

Bedroom apartment Serbia

My bedroom

WHERE I’M WORKIN’ IT:

The workspaces in Belgrade are quite epic, and I feel inspired when I’m here.  Really good energy all around me and lots of productivity this month!  Did I mention our space at Marsh is surrounded by good cafes?  Nice for a coffee or wine break!

Workspace office Belgrade Serbia

Workspace #1: Marsh

Workspace office Belgrade Serbia

Workspace #2: Impact Co-Workspace

THE BELGRADE, SERBIA SCOOP:

Population: 1.67M (As a comparison, the Twin Cities is 3.86M. For a capital city, Belgrade is small.)
Currency: The Serbian Dinar (1,000 RSD = $9.11 USD)
Language: Serbian (I’m also going to throw graffiti in here as a second language.)

Serbia operates with something called a Cyrillic alphabet.  To me, an alphabet is a series of letters, but their’s is a combination of letters, numbers, symbols – and severe confusion.  To me, it mine as well be hieroglyphics, probably part of the reason I’m struggling so badly to learn the language.

Belgrade, also known as “The White City” is one of the oldest cities in Europe with settlements continuously existing here for at least 7,000 years. The city is very, very sneaky.  Inches below the surface are more than 100 caves, canals, tunnels and passages that tell the story of its connection to various empires and states that have ruled here over the ages.

Church of Saint Sava Belgrade

Church of Saint Sava

Belgrade building capital

One of Belgrade’s more historic buildings

FIRST WEEK OBSERVATIONS:

  • The weather here is AMAZING!  After severely overheating in Asia for the last four months, mild summer temperatures, think 80 degrees and sunny, are a welcome thing.
  • The culture is very abrasive and stoic.  That’s just how these peeps are.  I asked a lot of questions to understand why people weren’t reciprocating my smiles.  I’m told by a few locals that they just aren’t a cheery bunch and that too much friendliness is seen as fake.
  • You’re almost guaranteed to come home smelling like smoke – every day.  Smoking is still permitted in bars, cafes and restaurants.  Each day feels like I’m in the middle of a big smoke out.
  • The scent of warm, buttery croissants and pizza fill the air making you constantly hungry.  If that doesn’t get you, you’re likely to cave (pun intended) as you pass by one of Belgrade’s many gelato shops. There are sweets here everywhere.  Move over pad thai.  Pastries coming through.
  • Let’s talk crosswalk.  Still a problem here.  A couple months ago, I mentioned the challenges of crossing the streets in Asia.  Well, it’s still a problem here.  In fact, cars speed up when they see pedestrians.  Better have your street shoes on.
  • There is something going on ALL the time whether it be a festival, concert, art show or networking event.  You can’t really be bored here.
  • Graffiti is everywhere and it is truly a site to see.  Belgrade is a city that embraces creativity and the arts and has a lot of festivals to showcase these artist’s many talents.
  • Craft beer is HUGE here.  Who would’ve thought?!  In many ways between weather, art, beer and culture, it reminds me quite a bit about Minneapolis.
graffiti belgrade serbia

The graffiti mural outside the workspace

6 Responses to “Same, Same…But WAY Different (My European Welcome)”

  1. Kate

    As a fellow Minneapolis resident who is considering moving abroad, I’m inspired by your story. I’m so glad that you were able to push through the initial difficulties and find some beautiful and humbling experiences. It’s so refreshing to hear about any of the stumbling blocks in such a real way. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Reply
    • pairswellwith@gmail.com

      Thanks, Kate! Where are you considering moving to? How exciting!

      Reply
  2. Diane Staba

    What an inspiration you are when at first you were disappointed being in Serbia and now you excel in all that you are challenged with living in a different culture. Reading your experiences there are so interesting and genuine.

    Reply
    • pairswellwith@gmail.com

      For better or worse, brutal honesty always ends up being my thing. 😉

      Reply

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