On Sunday night, a couple of local friends stopped by our little house in Sombor, Serbia with their 13 year old daughter. After half an hour of polite attention, she began to slump in her chair, bored, bored, bored with all the grownups chatter. "Rosemary, I bet she would like to play on the Internet. Show her your computer," my husband ordered. Armed with a plateful of chocolate cookies, I led her into my home office to go online.
She honestly had no idea what to do online (something unimaginable in a 13 year old US girl but typical of her peers here I've found). So I showed her B92, Belgrade 2.0 and Krstarica which are about the only Serb language sites I know. After 20 minutes or so she came out and listlessly joined us again. The Internet, it appears, was awfully boring for a fashionable Serb 13 year old.
Challenged, I got up again and this time went straight to YouTube and typed "Serbia" into the search box. Surely there had to be something of interest. Well, there really isn't alot unless you dig awfully deep. The vast majority of results were either about Eurovision, sports, or Balkan wars. Blah.
Here, in fact, is one of the very, very few videos that showed up under the general keyword "serbia" that was anything the Serbian tourist board might be happy about:
Since it was posted in November 2006, the video's been viewed more than 44,000 times, given a four-star rating by viewers, and gotten rave reviews online. However, both my 13 year old friend and I were deeply disappointed by it.
We both felt it missed the point of what is worthwhile, and even remotely unique about Serbia. A whole bunch of photos of mainly buildings is not unique. It's not branding. It's not special. Every country has lots of buildings, some of them old, some of them lovely. And most countries have some bits of water and greenery. Big Deal.
I don't want to knock the maker of the video too harshly because he or she at least tried to create a positive video and hey, it's pretty popular. I've never posted a video to YouTube so who am I to critique anyway?
However, the whole situation made me realize yet again how little knowledge or perhaps appreciation Serbs have for what is special and unique about their country. So, here is my proposal -- I would like to start a list of things that are unique and special about Serbia here. Most of you readers know far more than I do on this subject, so your contributions would be very much appreciated. To start things off, here's my top 10 which you may find stupid, but at least it's honest (in no particular order):
1. Turbofolk - this is first because my 13 year old friend said it should be and she was very passionate on the subject (much to her parents' amused horror.)
2. Socializing - it's nearly impossible to be lonely here the way most Americans are lonely.
3. Vojvodina earth - possibly the best farm land in Europe. Incredible sod for gardening. Rich, brown, and oh so very deep.
4. Posture - Incredible, I have never seen so many men, women and children alike with near-perfect posture walking around anywhere in my life. Posture may sound like a silly thing to praise, but a beautiful girl can turn instantly ugly if she has bad posture.
5. Chess & mathematics - Serbs have unusually clever minds for this type of thinking, including computer programming.
6. Natural spas - I've been told there are more natural hot water spas in Serbia than anywhere else in Europe.
7. Orthodox monasteries - the art, the architecture, the perfect placement within the landscape. These monks are/were artists.
8. Party On Belgrade! - serious people (and anyone over 25) may bemoan this image, but Belgrade is fast becoming second only to old New Orleans in party image.
9. Jelen Pivo - I know it's the old fart's beer, but I like it, I really like it. If that makes me an old fart then so be it.
10. Tomatoes - Anyone who is serious about tomato eating will agree with me. Serb tomatoes beat Croatian tomatoes massively, completely, dramatically, hands down.
Ok that's my top 10 ... what are yours?