Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Thursday, September 29, 2005

bon jour

I'm in Geneva, being oriented.

And I'm feeling like the ugly american. This country has three languages, none of which I speak, although spanish is a pretty good fake Italian (I'm in the French part of Switzerlamd, though.)

I was able to talk to the man at the felafel stand that I ate at last night in Arabic, which felt like a triumph.

I think it will feel better in Belgrade. I mean, who expects me to speak Serbian?

and now, off to fondue.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

liquid diet

My Serbian language study is progressing slowly but surely. Earlier this week, I learned how to ask for a beer in a restaurant three different ways. My beverage vocabulary how now expanded to include the words for brandy, wine, whiskey, gin, coffee, tea, various juices (including bilberry - I don't know what a bilberry is, but I can ask for it's juice) and mineral water. The only food I know how to say is bread.

If the next few chapters of the book do not have more food words, I might have a liquid and bread diet upon my arrival in Belgrade.

Thankfully, I can also say "Pleased to meet you. Let me introduce you to my wife." and "I speak Macedonian, German, Russian, and Croatian," phrases that are sure to come in handy.


from The Impossible Country by Brian Hall, a travelogue about the author's journey through Yugoslavia in the early '90s, just as it was falling apart:
I thought of the old adage that you could tell something about a nation by its vocabulary, Inuit having a dozen words for snow, Bedouin for sand, Meso-Americans for tubers, and so on. Serbo-Croatian had a disturbingly large number of words for butchering. One of them was kundaciti [with a v-shaped accent over the c, I don't know how to make the computer do that], which means "to beat with the butt end of a rifle."

and I'm supposed to go help make this culture less violent?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Best Balkan Book

Café Europa by Slavenka Drakulic is an amazing book. It’s a series of short essays written by a Croatian woman about post-communist life in a broadly defined Balkans (the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania). It explains why people don’t smile, why people still go on shopping vacations, how former Yugoslavs think their superior to all other former communist peoples, why it is impossible to find a decent public bathroom in all of Romania, etc. etc. Packed with cultural information that I anticipate to be much more helpful in my everyday Serbian existence than details of hundreds of years old battles (although I anticipate those being mighty important as well, depending on who I am talking to).

Friday, September 02, 2005


I have now mastered the cyrillic alphabet. I would show off my prowess, but I don't know how to type those characters. I transliterated my housemates names & made place cards for dinner last night. No one seemed to appreciate it particularly, but that's okay. It felt like success.

Many of the cyrillic letters are new to me. When I write them, it all ends up looking crooked and not like the letters in my Teach Yourself Serbian book. I write like a first grader.

In other Serbia-related news, I gave up reading Bosnian Chronicle. It's written by Ivo Andric, the only Serb to ever win a Nobel Prize for literature. It was painfully boring. I read a hundred and fifty pages in which: a Napoleonic French diplomat is dispatched to Ottoman Travnik. He hires a local assistant. He fires said assistant. He gets a new assistant, a Frenchman. Tension develops between the Frenchmen. Main character's family arrives & they move into a new house. An Ottoman messenger dies; the local vizier holds onto power.

Quite ironic that this icon of Serbianness writes about French people. My fingers are crossed that he is not a national hero, that I will not have to sit through long sessions others praising his genius.