Ten good tips for the Balkan visitor:
1. You say hello by shaking hands and it’s important to make eye contact. Keep your gaze steady and your handshake firm.
2. Say hello standing up, especially when greeting ladies and elderly persons. If you know the woman well, a kiss on the cheek
is perfectly alright. Relatives and good friends are always kissed on the cheek, but not more than three times, especially in Serbia.
3. Don’t be offended if you’re being asked personal questions, your new friends just want to get to know you better.
4. Talk sports with Balkans, but be aware that they assume to be experts. Just as they assume to be experts on everything else.
5. You will be offered black coffee and a good host always asks if you’d like it sweetened or not. I would recommend that you sweeten it yourself.
6. You will also most likely be offered rakija, no matter what time of day it is. Usually home brewed and sure to put some hair on your chest. Caution is recommended.
7. Toasts are made by clinking glasses, making direct eye contact and loudly proclaiming Živeli! Your gracious host will make sure your glass is never empty.
8. You might be offered slatko, a rural tradition. Slatko means sweet and is a fruit preserve. You eat it with a teaspoon and wash it down with a cup of water.
9. Enjoy the company and everything being offered. And you will be offered plenty, that I can promise you. Balkan meals are a liberating experience, without strict etiquette. Often you’ll be served starters, soup, main course and dessert. You help yourself to as much as you can eat – and then some.
There’s no greater disgrace for a host than a guest leaving without being full, which principally is unheard of in the Balkans. If you happen to end up at a wedding or a baptism, consider yourself lucky. You will probably be served »supa-sarma-pečenje«, which means »soup-stuffed cabbage-roast«. Roast usually meaning piglet, but in some cases lamb.
Drinks will be consumed, and by now you can probably guess what that means. Yes, you’re absolutely right – rakija! At a funeral you can
count on an intense farewell and an equally intense menu.
10. I have one piece of last advice. On your journey through the Balkans, there’s one question you will hear repeated over and over again: Are you hungry? Always think twice before you answer…
Prijatno, have a nice meal!