After so many years, it is still a question which I am asked repeatedly. Do you like it here? Do you like living in Serbia? Generally I continue to answer affirmatively. The fact is that I am here, after having been here for quite a long time. And having no plans to move away, I guess I must like it here...
I am often criticized for writing about the things I find odd, strange, and unacceptable about Serbia. And I have very rarely shirked this self-assigned public duty to do so. So much of what happens around me runs contrary to my sense of How Things Should Be, a sense which has been developed and ingrained in me in many different places, different cultures, over many years.
The reality is that LIFE is full to overflowing with the odd, the strange, and the unacceptable. It is in every corner of the Earth, every city, and every home. Everywhere there are people who are different from you. And each time you meet them, something will strike an odd chord with you. At least it always does with me. It is not innately judgmental. It is a reaction to two colliding visions.
I have recently had the misfortune to read a blog post about Serbia in which the author - a foreigner - declares how he loves Serbia, Serbs, and does not want anything to change. My reading of that left me feeling rather dirty. His view was meant to be uplifting and positive and pro-Serbia. While the words were there, the feeling I got was that the entire country was being subjected to his condescending attitude. He looks down upon the people of this country and pats them on the head, showing how he feels that they are a little backward and primitive but essentially harmless.
Who is HE to say that?
There has long been a debate about the émigré and the immigrant. Many people are opposed to hosting unknown or different people in their country just because they are different. Perhaps they represent a threat, perhaps they are a menace. Or, more simply put, maybe they are just seen as a blight on an otherwise healthy society. This is usually the case when it is a question of large-scale immigration, including illegal residents.
From the standpoint of the émigré, the foreigner who has arrived in a country not his own in order to make a life for himself, it is a reductive vision. Most of what strikes us as unusual (or even wrong) comes from deep roots - things we learned as children in a different place, many hundreds or thousands of miles away. And such things should shock us - they are reminders of who we are and what we think. It does not imply that we are right or wrong, just that we know things differently.
I live here as a foreigner. I understand fully that I should not hope to be accepted as anything else. If you ask me if I like it here, I am more likely to tell you how long I have been here. If I tell you how much I LOVE it here, it would not ring true. If I tell you how much I HATE it here, you would be justified in telling me to leave. But the words themselves do not show anything. They may be true and sincere or hollow and false - there is no way to known which is the case except by observing actions over time.
So what is the way things should be? Things should be as they are.
As should we all.