The latest in a series of articles from our correspondents across Central and Eastern Europe that take an ironic look at life in the region. This week, Serbia.
Serbia is a wonderful country, which will not surprise regular readers of Emerging europe.
Still, there are several things about country life that bother me, and a few myths about the place that need to be debunked.
So there you have it, a short list of five unpopular opinions on Serbia, from someone who has lived here all their life. I don’t expect these things to change, but whining in front of an audience is still very therapeutic.
Belgrade’s nightlife isn’t that great
When you read travel guides and travel articles about Belgrade, the place looks amazing – full of different styles of architecture, great food and – of course – all those beautiful women. (It’s problematic to list women as a selling point, but bring it up with all travel editors, not me).
Nonetheless, the – alleged – crown jewel of Belgrade is its allegedly varied and vibrant nightlife.
Now it is true that there is a lot going on at night in Belgrade. But, as the recent UNDP-sponsored Digital Nomadic Study noted (and as every foreign visitor I’ve had noticed) – Belgrade’s nightlife can be a bit, well, sluggish. .
Yes there are clubs, and yes there are the splavs, and yes there is loud music. But what you step into is a space where people gather around tables, drinking without dancing and not talking to anyone other than the people they came with.
I don’t know why it happened like this, especially because Serbia used to boast of a famous kafana culture which is the opposite.
Maybe Instagram is to blame?
Either way, for a solo traveler, be prepared to replenish How long is now – you will go alone and you will manage on your own.
Rakija is a relic of the past, supported by tradition and nothing else
An emblematic drink of Serbia, an eau-de-vie usually made from plums but sometimes quince, rakija is often presented as an astonishing drink.
It’s not. It’s tough, it doesn’t come down easily, and nowadays it’s overshadowed by many other options.
There was a time when the rakija was pretty much the only spirit in the city, but times have changed. It’s time to say goodbye.
Rakija fanatics will tell you that you have to try both “real” and “homemade” rakijas to fully appreciate its charm, but these tend to be even worse. The production process is raw, and this rawness is felt when you drink it. It has almost no flavor except for the high alcohol content which seems to be the only point for many homebrew growers.
It’s no wonder that many great bars and restaurants don’t even serve it. Young people have already completely abandoned it.
When I have to drink it, which still happens in some rural homes where the host insists their rakija is the best in the country, I adopted the strategy of drinking it all at once.
Any other way and the rakija comes straight back.
The cult of Novak Đoković is annoying
No hatred towards the man himself. He is one of the best tennis players the world has ever seen.
But in Serbia, Novak Đoković is treated a bit like a saint. Mention the annoying fact that for tax reasons Đoković has long been a resident of Monaco, and people will react as if you’ve spat on an icon of Saint Sava.
I do not blame Đoković for his fame. He became known very astutely when he first became popular – there was a time when three out of five TV commercials featured him – and I recognize all the charitable work he did.
But all the “bigger Serbian” stuff really has to stop. Ultimately, tennis is an individual sport. And having someone from Serbia who is good at tennis doesn’t do much for foreign policy.
For a while, Serbian politicians have insisted that Serbia needs to change its international image. They’re not wrong, but athletic success is good for a few human interest stories at best.
What would really change Serbia’s image abroad is to take EU membership much more seriously, to invest in science and art, to lean even more into the EU. IT so that we can keep track of those countries moving from outsourcing to real innovation.
These things would change the paradigm that Serbia is a poor and insignificant country where excellence is the exception rather than the norm. A guy who’s really good at sports won’t do it.
Food is getting worse and no one seems to notice
Another thing that Belgrade and Serbia are known for is the wide variety of really good food.
There are two main types of local larvae. Older and more traditional stuff like cabbage svadbarski kupus or simmered veal teletina ispod saca, and the many grilled specialties – in particular evapi and pljeskavica.
So why can’t I eat a good pljeskavica anywhere in Belgrade?
The last good pljeskavica I ate from a small cabin in my hometown of Ćuprija. It’s amazing that Belgrade, a city of over two million people, couldn’t do better.
But the problem is not specific to Belgrade, I’m afraid. On a recent trip to Sokobanja, after a few light hikes, we decided to stop for some authentic ‘ethno’ food, but all we got was fast food sausages.
Even in the venerable pekaras the quality of burek is on the decline, as every time cheese was bought at a price a little less expensive than before.
Of course, there are places that are still good. In Belgrade and elsewhere. But that’s not the point: if you claim to have good food, it should be good in most places. Always having to scan Google reviews or book tables in advance kills spontaneity.
Something has to be done about it.
Electric scooters should be banned
Like most of the region, and perhaps even the world, Serbia is currently grappling with the scourge of electric scooters. After the Segway and the “hoverboard”, few would have thought that a worse means of transportation could be invented and yet here we are.
Every spring and summer, electric scooters take over the sidewalks, with cyclists weaving their way through the crowds without caring about the world. Until they ran into someone, of course. Having silent electric motors, these scooters are truly silent predators. Once you’ve noticed them, it’s already too late.
But they are so popular that if you want one of the best brands you have to get on a waiting list at most stores.
Why? Nobody really knows, but as a nation we have now accepted that these boring little things rule the sidewalks. I submit that it is time to regulate them.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve almost been run over by people who I guess haven’t noticed me because they try their best not to think about how bad an adult is. look silly while riding something that is, basically, a children’s toy.
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