Wednesday we got back from ten days in the U.S., and already several things have happened to me that could only have taken place in Serbia.
On Thursday we had scheduled a holiday open house in the American Corner. Since we were away, we left most of the planning up to our Serbian counterparts, but we intended to make a big deal of it, so we invited press, the mayor, all my students and colleagues from the university, and anyone else we could think of. Meanwhile, I needed to get my hair cut, and an event like this provided an obvious deadline.
Whenever I get my hair cut, I have a chance to practice my Serbian. Since all of my real business happens in English, I haven’t had any real reason to learn more Serbian than “give me five eggs and a loaf of bread,” “turn left here,” and other obvious survival phrases. In the barber chair, though, I try to answer all the typical questions (“What do you think of Serbia?” etc.) in Serbian. Of course, the discussion always comes back to my progress in learning the language. The barber said that I was doing OK, but they know this guy from South Africa who has only been here a few months and speaks Serbian really well, or at least really fast.
Of course, who should happen by in the next five minutes but the guy from South Africa? They invited him in and introduced us, and made some comments I didn’t fully understand about what it sounded like when we spoke English together. This being Serbia, by the time my haircut was done, cigarettes and Turkish coffee had been produced from somewhere and everyone was taking a break.
It turns out he’s here to visit his grandmother, who lives next door to the barber shop. He arrived in June or July speaking no Serbian, found a teacher for himself, and now communicates very fluently, though his grammar does have some rough patches. His extended vacation is coming to an end soon, and he’s looking forward to getting back to Johannesburg and enjoying the hot, hot summer weather.
At this point I was really running late to meet Meaghan and get to the American Corner for our party. I rushed home and changed, and Meaghan put together a Christmassy music mix and finished the January calendar of events in time to hand it out at the party. In our hurry, we forgot the snacks and readings we had brought from the US to share with any guests.
In the end, it didn’t matter because exactly five people showed up. There were three of the regulars who come to every American Corner event, a reporter from the weekly news magazine, and his wife. We were a little disappointed but not really surprised, because it was two days before Serbian Christmas and all the university students from out of town had gone home for the holiday.
The reporter wasn’t interested in writing about the party; he had come to schedule a time to interview us for a feature story about what it’s like for foreigners to live in Kragujevac. We arranged to meet the following day, and he left. Then we sat around with our three guests for an hour or so, told bad jokes, and talked about music.
Friday we spent the morning cleaning the house, because the reporter was coming here and bringing a photographer with him – they wanted pictures of us at home. Of course, we live in a furnished house full of other people’s books and knick-knacks, but that didn’t seem to matter. The photographer had a cup of coffee with us and then took a few pictures. For some reason he insisted on photographing Meaghan in the kitchen, even when I explained to him that I’m the one who cooks! We were so startled by this that we went along with it, but the “woman in the kitchen” photo strikes us as uncomfortably sexist, and we’re hoping it doesn’t show up in print.
After the photo shoot, the photographer left for some other engagement, and the reporter stayed to talk to us. I was hoping for some interesting questions, but as it turned out, he asked us pretty much the same things we hear whenever we meet someone new. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing my picture in the paper next week; as far as reading the story, I’ll have to find someone to translate it for me.