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"This is SERBIA"

Chris Farmer RSS / 25.02.2012. u 12:19

While my memory is not the sharpest or the best in the world, I think I can manage to remember where I am. Most of the time anyway.

Still, it never ceases to amaze me at how many times, in the course of a normal month, week, day, and (on bad days) hour, people will invoke this sentence as a definitive argument and statement of fact. People will constantly tell me THIS IS SERBIA when I wonder why I cannot figure out the city bus schedule. Why does every official act require a mile-high stack of signed and stamped papers? THIS IS SERBIA! Where is the waiter with my change? THIS IS SERBIA! Why do we repair all the roads at once when the traffic is highest? THIS IS SERBIA!

Ah! Then that's ok.

As a foreigner living here, I suppose it is normal that people should remind me of my physical location every time something happens which baffles and befuddles. Obviously I just don't get it. Obviously things work far differently in Serbia from anywhere else in the world. And obviously I should just shut my mouth and swallow when anyone tells me THIS IS SERBIA - it means that whatever is happening is beyond my comprehension.

The thinking man might agree to this if, say, he were landed on an alien planet in the far reaches of the Andromeda Galaxy. In a place where no human habitation has taken root, if someone told me THIS IS ANDROMEDA, I might nod and accept. But as far as most anthropologists can figure, Serbia - like most of Earth - is filled with humans. Maybe I am just naïve to think that humans in Serbia are just the same as humans elsewhere. This is Serbia, after all.

But when things go wrong, or strangely or generally sidewise, the stock explanation that is provided to us (i.e., us foreign guests in this land) is not one which includes a comparison of cultures or values or norms. We get the THIS-IS-SERBIA, and that is meant to explain the whole thing. We are meant to be satisfied with this answer, implying that certain behaviors or practices are simply inexplicable by any other means.

This gives me pause to wonder if, among Serbs, the phrase is also pulled out to explain the unexplainable. Or do they just look at each other and exchange a knowing look that says, "Thank God we do not have to try to tell a foreigner what this means because THIS IS SERBIA and he could never wrap his head around it."

I do not like an unsolved mystery. If I am forced to accept that no words, illustrations, or pantomime are available to explain something to me, I will cheerfully rebel. Usually the THIS IS SERBIA is invoked to cover bad situations or problems. Showing up for a residence card renewal and finding that I am missing one important paper that no one told me about, for example. THIS IS SERBIA, they will say, with the implied subtext that I should have KNOWN that something unexpected and illogical would happen.

While THIS IS SERBIA answers the question "What country is this?" adequately and sufficiently, it is not enough to satisfy when faced with unacceptable situations. Moreover, it is not an argument that I, as a foreigner here, can ever use to my own advantage. Once when pulled over for speeding, the policeman asked me how fast I thought I was going. I told him THIS IS SERBIA! But it did not prevent him from writing me up.


Maybe this is a magical place in which the laws of physics, civics, and human psychology do not apply. Perhaps I should do a study on the basic differences between Serbia and any other country, but I fear my research would leave me with only one result:

THIS IS SERBIA.


*Text originally published in POLITIKA, 24.02.12, in Serbian

 

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Komentari (16)

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ivana23 ivana23 12:25 25.02.2012

***

Ovo je Srbija! - Tekst na srpskom
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 13:17 25.02.2012

Re: ***

Hvala Ivana!
looping looping 12:54 25.02.2012

Rebel

I do not like an unsolved mystery. If I am forced to accept that no words, illustrations, or pantomime are available to explain something to me, I will cheerfully rebel.



Well, that's just fine. We all rebel at some point.

I don't know how much time you spent in Serbia but if you have exploration tendencies you should understand the deeper meaning of "This is Serbia".
Only when you come to a point that you need to choose between ruining your mental health and accepting the things they are, you will understand that deeper meaning.
Before that, off course, you need to have a long rebel experience.
To exhaust yourself to the final limits.

Only then, it will be natural for you to say: "This is Serbia!"

Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 13:19 25.02.2012

Re: Rebel

I thought ten years would be enough... Oh well, maybe after ten more I will learn something.

srdjazlopogledja srdjazlopogledja 12:57 25.02.2012

officials are...

... lacking accountability, while propaganda is presenting usual things as normal...
maksa83 maksa83 13:03 25.02.2012

because

Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 13:24 25.02.2012

Re: because

Brilliant!
green_thumb green_thumb 14:13 25.02.2012

:)

"This is Serbia" is one huge country-encompassing phrase that explains stereotypical bureaucracy, corruption, irresponsible behavior; probably best depicted in the movie series "Tight Skin". It is usually followed by a big sigh. Elaborations and/or extensions of the phrase might be: "EU will fall apart when Serbia becomes a member state" (denoting traditional Serbian discord), "The Borg collective could never survive the assimilation of the Serbs" (with apocalyptic pictures of Borg drones going on a coffee break during the crucial battle).

In actuality, the aforementioned bureaucracy, corruption and disregard for the rules and procedures have, in effect, caused the situation where the average citizen is usually quite surprised when faced with efficient and transparent process.

I'm also surprised by all those negative comments on the Politika's website. But that just shows that people in Serbia, now matter how they are painfully aware of the shortcomings of the public administration and systems, are prone to some sort of "reverse engineering" of the phrase, using it to proudly mark something that obviously doesn't work as intended - but when a foreigner points it out, it becomes a "That's Serbia for you" thing.
angie01 angie01 15:38 25.02.2012

in Serbian,

"pa, gde ti zivis!"
jinks jinks 18:33 25.02.2012

...

Is it possible that something so nice happens to you, something that bewilders you in the way that could for a moment surpass any reminiscence of your homeland, provoking the same thought in your mind - "this is ...".
a_jovicic a_jovicic 20:54 25.02.2012

What is Serbia?!?

Shortly ... take following joke ...

Satan was conducting a guided tour of hell. The tour group entered a chamber with three pots of boiling oil, all full of howling people. Around one pot was a ring of devils with pitchforks, catching people who escaped from the pot and pitching them back in. Around another pot were just a few devils, haphazardly watching for escapees. Around the third pot were no devils.

"Why are there so many devils around that pot and none around this one?" asked the tourists.

"Well, there where all the devils are is the pot for the Jews," said Satan. "They keep helping each other climb out of the pot. So we need a big guard to keep throwing them back in. In the second pot are the Germans. They never help each other, but occasionally a clever one manages to pull himself out. So we have to keep a few guards there. In the third pot are the Dutch. We don't need to watch that pot. Whenever one of those fellows crawls out, the others pull him back in."


... replace Dutch with Serbs ... and you'll understand why everyone here knows "this is Serbia" but nobody try to change anything.


Joke taken from "Ethnic Jokes People Tell About Themselves"

BTW ... "This is the Middle East" joke can be found there too.
golubica.bg golubica.bg 22:25 25.02.2012

Suprisingly enough...

I get the same phrase after having spent only a couple of years abroad. Only the tone is different, since I'm guessing most people acknowledge the fact that you're a foreigner so they do not expect you to understand in the first place. In my case, they consider me one of those who used to get it, but the luxury of living in the West spoilt me completely. So either I don't understand anymore and am rubbing salt on their wounds or I pretend not to understand, which is probably even worse. That's Serbia for you...
Bojan Budimac Bojan Budimac 08:50 26.02.2012

Nothing exclusively Serbian :)

"Burasi Türkiye" [This is Turkey] is the sentence you hear most often here. Repairmen, executives, neighbours, acquaintances and friends are using that sentence as a blanket excuse (justification, explanation) for whatever is not functioning or is not functioning well in this country. Usually it is spoken with some stupid, to me inexplicable, pride.

Universal excuse (Serbian)
fantomatsicna fantomatsicna 07:21 27.02.2012

Beside

That ..people ate also inclined to say:No wonder, we were (as an excuse) 500 years under the Turks...
jednatanja jednatanja 14:00 27.02.2012

Only in America



funny text
Chris Farmer Chris Farmer 20:12 27.02.2012

Re: Only in America

*Not suitable for human consumption. Please consult your physician if ingested and your psychologist if contemplated.


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