A month in Serbia - what should two Americans know?
September 18, 2008 11:17 PM   Subscribe

What should a couple of Americans know who are about to go to Serbia for about a month?

My parents are going to Belgrade for about a month, and I'm asking for them. They have been to Belgrade before for extended periods of time, and they really love it, but it has been a few years since they were there last.

I understand there is no current State Department advisory against going to Belgrade or Serbia in general at the moment, but I'm wondering if anyone here might have more specific information about the current state of things and what a couple of Americans might need to know about going to Belgrade for several weeks. They are into walking everywhere, being immersed in the local culture as much as possible, and they have a few Serbian friends who they will be visiting there. They speak some Serbian (or they did when they were there before, and I'm sure it will come right back). They are also wondering what the best/easiest way is there currently to exchange U.S. Dollars to Euros. Thanks!
posted by The World Famous to Travel & Transportation around Serbia (9 answers total)
I doubt they would have much of a problem - especially in Belgrade - doing what they would normally do. Obviously, US-Serbian relations are a little tense and it might be wise to advise them to defer participation in touchy subjects. The only thing I would be scared of would be late-night drunken hooligans who are looking for trouble and perceive two Americans as good targets, but that's pretty common sense everywhere.

Changing dollars to euros can be done pretty much anywhere there.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:12 AM on September 19, 2008

Don't talk about politics or religion.

Of course, if you're Irish like me, then that's all we do talk about...
posted by Mephisto at 1:33 AM on September 19, 2008

In much of continental Europe, people communicate numbers with heir hands differently than is common in the US.

In the US, if you make a fist with all of your fingers except your pointer finger, which you point toward the ceiling, you're communicating "one". Fist plus extended pointer and middle fingers = "two".

In much of continental Europe, "one" is signified by an extended thumb, "two" by an extended thumb and pointer finger, "three" by an extended thumb, pointer finger and middle finger.

This is generally good to know when traveling in Europe if you often use your hands to communicate - for instance, if you'd like to order two beers at a noisy bar, or if your conversation partner's English is poor and you're trying to communicate to him that you have three children.

This becomes slightly more important when traveling in the Balkans. As I understand it, the American gesture for "two" (extended pointer finger and extended middle finger) is similar to a sign that's commonly made by nationalists (neonazis, etc.).

So, in most of continental Europe, your American "two" may be confused for a European "three". In the Balkans, your American "two" may be confused for a symbol of nationalism.

Small thing, but maybe useful...
posted by syzygy at 3:18 AM on September 19, 2008

Ah, Dee, I guess your parents are probably aware of the different styles of communicating numbers with hands, and probably of any symbolism in specific hand signs. So, my advice is probably not be useful for them, but maybe it'll help someone else out :)
posted by syzygy at 3:20 AM on September 19, 2008

My general advice: Don't talk about the war. But do get ready to hear many unsolicited and outlandish conspiracy theories about it. Seriously, some of the craziest ideas I've ever heard in my life have come from Serbs explaining to me the "truth" behind the wars. It's hard not to flinch when you hear an otherwise sane person telling you that the massacres in Bosnia were faked using CG and other special effects, but it doesn't seem to be uncommon. And I've found that arguing is just absolutely pointless. ("What do you know? You're just a stupid brainwashed American!")

Dee already touched on this, but do stay away from the flatheadded types, of which there are many. I wouldn't hang around Zemun at night. And stay far, far away from any of the stadiums if any Croatian team comes to town. And do be careful. I once took a picture of Arkan's massive villa in Belgrade and very nearly had my ass handed to me by two neckless gorillas who suddenly materialized in front of me. It was heart-beating-in-your-throat terrifying.

Belgrade is a profoundly ugly city, probably the ugliest city I've ever seen. But it's tremendously interesting and bubbling with life and inexplicably loveable. (As your parents seem to have found out) I hope they have a wonderful time!
posted by Ljubljana at 3:25 AM on September 19, 2008

Just Euros? In Belgrade, hotels and major tourist spots / big stores will accept Euros, but your parents will certainly need a good supply of Serbian dinars too. Luckily, these are easily available from any ATM (or any bank in exchange for USD). They should keep in mind that it's apparently very hard to change dinars to USD once they're back in the U.S. (I live in NYC, a currency-exchange capital if ever there was one, and I've found I can't do this at a bank or at any of the currency exchanges I've tried).

On the social front, they will be fine, especially given their language skills. I found Serbians eager to talk with me about politics and history and Serbian-American relations. This spring's unrest died down fast and, as you may know, U.S. television reporting was skewed toward sensationalism (endless showings of the embassy bombing, no showings of the massive non-violent march for peace).
posted by kalapierson at 4:17 AM on September 19, 2008

Thanks, all!
posted by The World Famous at 8:08 AM on September 19, 2008

If they think trouble is brewing, then casually drop the fact that they're actually Canadians. Tends to work for the USians I know in the UK who try to avoid anti-americanism.
posted by knapah at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2008

I should point out that most Europeans won't be able to tell the difference as long as their passport isn't in view or they have the US flag tattooed on their forehead or something.
posted by knapah at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2008

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