Serbia is a nation of incredible nature, passionate nightlife and monumental history, but most visitors come away from the country with one very important aspect at the top of their ‘Reasons I Love Serbia’ list. That would be the Serbs themselves, of course. The people make the country, and that is particularly true in a state that has spent most of the last two decades being frequently demonised. Serbs are a rare breed, unique in some incredible ways, and boy do we love them. Here is why.
The Serbs are accused of a lot of things, but lacking passion is not one of them. It can often land them in particularly hot water, but the people of Serbia have an inherent tendency to give their all to the subjects that they care about the most. It is infectious to say the least, and many an apathetic soul have been cured by spending just a little amount of time around people in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and the rest. It also means you probably shouldn’t go starting any arguments with Serbs on sensitive subjects, but who wants to argue anyway?
For reasons that are seemingly beyond us, we can’t quite understand how the eyes of the creative world haven’t descended upon Belgrade yet. The city is thriving with musicians, artists, writers and many more, supporting each other in one of the most inspiringly creative environments on the planet. There is a real community spirit about the scene, with artists helping out musicians and vice versa and everything in between. Be sure to check out some live music or an independent gallery when in the capital.
People from the United Kingdom seem to have got it into their collective head that they are the only people on the planet with a bleak sense of humour. One trip to Serbia will change that, as the Serbs more than give the Brits a run for their money when it comes to gallows humour. Nothing is off limits and there is always a dry joke to be made about whatever situation you find yourself in. A wise old Serb once told us that life is hard, before looking on the bright side and saying that ‘at least it is short’. That just about sums it up.
You know where you stand with the Serbs. The idea of letting someone down gently or beating around the bush simply does not exist here, as the bush in question is likely to be mowed down and completely obliterated. This can be difficult, as the Serbs are always quick to point out issues and problems, but it goes both ways. When a Serb loves you, they will move heaven and earth for you. That’s total commitment.
You don’t survive countless wars and international demonisation without being incredibly tough. The people of Serbia survived an entire decade of such misery, as the Milošević regime lurched from one chaotic mistake to the next and left the ordinary folk to clean up the mess. Ordinary Serbs were bombed by NATO in 1999 despite doing their utmost to get the despot out, but still they refused to be beaten down. Instead of cowering in bomb shelters, the people took to the roofs and had BBQs while wearing t-shirts with targets printed on them. If that isn’t toughness, we don’t know what is.
The entire Balkan region is renowned for its hospitality, and the Serbs are well and truly a part of this. If you find yourself lucky enough to be invited into the home of a local person, our advice is to prepare properly by not eating for a day and not planning anything for the day after. You will likely be plied with food and drink until there is nothing left, regardless of the financial position of your host. The Serbs will go out of their way to make sure a good time is had by all, and nothing is going to get in the way of that. There is such a thing as too much hospitality, but don’t tell the Serbs that.
Maybe it is the ajvar and the rakija, but the people of Serbia seem to have boundless energy at all times of the day. We have been on long nights out with local people in the bars of Cetinjska and the clubs of Savamala, only to wake up the next day resembling something not unlike death incarnate. This feeling is always made worse by the irritatingly fresh Serb, putting forward the idea of a morning walk or a large breakfast out in the country somewhere. There must be something in the water.
While we don’t want to fall into the shallow world of pandering to aesthetics, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the sheer beauty of the people of Serbia. People care about how they look here, and this means that walking down the street may as well be walking down various European catwalks. Chiselled jaws, flawless cheekbones, an attention to detail, and an adherence to style are all on show. You may well end up feeling distinctly average on the streets of Serbia.
If you happen to be interested in intense conversations about ethics, philosophy and all the rest, then Serbia is going to be the place for you. This isn’t to say that all Serbs are interested in dissecting the more intricate parts of Hegelian theory, but your chances of encountering a critical mindset and an analytical discussion drastically go up in the cafes and bars of the cities. Do your reading before you head to Serbia, as you don’t want to be caught on the wrong foot.
Too much pride is a bad thing, but it is equally important to believe in your nation and your history. Serbia’s people take their nation very seriously as a result. This hasn’t always worked out for the best but there is something endearing about the belief that many people here have in the nation. In some ways they are similar to the Welsh. How? Well, Serbs will criticise their country all day long, but if anyone from outside tries to do so without proper reason, they will be shut down. Pride is vital after all.
In Serbia you can find intellectual conversations, you can find incredible creativity, and you can find tranquility. Sometimes you just want to go out and dance the night away, however, and Serbia is well and truly the place to go with your dancing shoes. Nights start late and finish even later, sometimes bringing the days together into a curious mash. The Serbs seriously know how to party. There is a reason Belgrade is considered one of the nightlife capitals of Europe.