In the past week, much like the dehydrated man fresh from the desert, I have been showered with politeness from people whom I do not know. There are altogether too many people smiling. As a traveler in this not-so-strange land, I feel a growing sense of paranoia. There is just something wrong about all this courtesy.
Things which will not happen in Serbia: A Casebook.
1) Found blocking the door of a van while standing on the street, I turned to see a man waiting patiently for me to move along and then excusing himself for having inconvenienced me by making me move out of the way.
2) Enquiry made of a shopkeeper: do you know where I could find.... something or other, not important. The answer: Well I am sorry we just have nothing like this, but you could try the people up the street or talk to Walter on Bishopsgate Road, I am sure he had one and what a lovely idea to buy a Something or Other! I used to have several Something or Others here in the shop ....
3) Another enquiry (Walter at Bishopsgate) answered: I am afraid not, but leave me your details and I will track one down and call you. And he did. And he called.
4) Upon giving a £20 note for a £1.70 coffee: silence.
If you recognized the reactions people have had to me, then it is clear that you are not in Serbia and you should probably stop reading this post right now. On most occasions, the van guy would have screamed his head off at me, pushed me out of the way, or even run me down.
In the shops, the reaction to any query is "nema" - even if the shopkeeper has a Something or Other in her hand and two under her arm.
And you certainly do NOT, in the name of God, recommend some other place to buy one! As to Walter, if shop owner in Belgrade took my phone number, I would immediately engage the Cautiously Arched Eyebrow in great suspicion. Nor would I EVER expect him to think about what I asked for more than 2 seconds. One second is enough usually, and never again.
And don't get me started on people refusing to make change. Here, not a peep is peeped - they just give you your change.
But in England, things are different. We drive on the left. We smile when we are angry. To be sure, it does not mean that there are no villains here - in fact, it is harder to know who the villains are because everyone seems so damn nice.
The Cautiously Arched Eyebrow does not wish to believe in this kind of behavior. In a few days I will be back in Serbia and I want to belly-ache about poor service again as ever I have. But if my experience here in London has been any indication, then I will not be able to complain anymore.
PREMISE: When things are generally bad, but perhaps only a little below the standard you might expect, you complain and winge in effort to a) assuage you sense of what is Right; b) to possibly (albeit improbably) effect the minor changes needed to attain the Acceptable; or c) because reasonable conditions or standards are within sight.
However, when you have been shown evidence of interplanetary differences on planes of existence which require specific bending of the space-time continuum to fathom much less to traverse, the complaining grows silent. What is the good of crying out if the result cannot possibly take you any closer to what you know?
Therefore, if there is a fly in your soup, complain. If there is a spotted dinosaur in your soup, shrug it off.