Meeting the parents is made out to be such a terrifying event in the movies and I’ve never understood it. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous, but not for your typical reasons! I was not only meeting his Serbian parents, but I was meeting them with language barrier, a different cultural background, and after a year and a half of already dating their son. I met with Charles Cather, an American living here in Serbia too and documenting it on YouTube, and we got to chatting about how many questions he gets in regards to meeting parents of another culture. Really, I didn’t know the proper customs or etiquette and I didn’t want to offend anybody. Clearly I survived… so…. how was it and where do we stand now?
Q: Do they speak English? Can you talk to them?
A: His dad doesn’t speak too much but he understands fairly well! His mother doesn’t speak or understand any English. When I first arrived to Serbia Nenad was my translator for every single word that was spoken between the three of us. It was honestly exhausting to spend time at their house just because Nenad couldn’t catch a break, I was always trying to have a smile on my face, listening to try and understand what they’re saying, racking my brain for any word that I might know, I mean this process for more than 20 minutes at a time really just wears you out so quickly! Now that I understand and speak Serbian at an intermediate level things are far easier and sometimes I even find myself alone with them, although still not too often. His dad has progressed and I always find these books on the coffee table that his mom is reading to try and learn English. They have the sweetest souls.
Q: Do you like them? Do they like you?
A: As I said above, they have the sweetest souls. I absolutely adore them and really can’t think of any better choice for hopeful in-laws someday. They go out of their way to make me feel comfortable, they’re trying to learn my language, they give me hugs like they mean it, they brag about ‘their son’s girlfriend’ to their friends, they feed me Sunday lunch every weekend, his mother even tries to give me her clothes if I give her a compliment on them! It is just silliness how wonderful they are. That being said, I feel pretty comfortable that they love me too. His parent’s love anyone that he loves and that’s a really special quality about them. They really treat anyone special to their sons as special to them.
Q: What had you heard about Serbian parents prior to meeting them?
A: I had heard only good things, honestly! I heard that Serbian mothers were extremely welcoming, pushy, will make you eat til you’re stuffed, will freak out if they think you’re cold, will prepare more than enough food, and that they’re the best hostesses. ALL things turned out true. Nenad’s mother is a classic Serbian mother and that means she has all the traits that I just mentioned! It’s just part of being a Serbian mom, it’s in her blood! I didn’t hear anything about Serbian dads. I think the stereotype isn’t as tight there. All I knew about his dad was that he had to be a great man because Nenad was a great man and you could tell he’d been loved his whole life.
Q: Most embarrassing moment around them?
A: I wouldn’t say anything embarrassing has happened but with language barrier you always get funny moment! We were sitting outside having coffee at their house and I was trying to explain to them that our puppy, Hailey, was being a very naughty girl all week and sometimes when I don’t know the word I have to make do with the vocabulary I do know in Serbian! So to try and get my point across I said that Hailey was a “mala kurva” that week… basically I said she’d been a “little whore”. Needless to say I was kind of shy when the words came out of my mouth, but they burst out laughing and I ended up giggling too. Cursing and saying horrible phrases is one of those things that you get away with when you’re learning a language. It doesn’t matter WHAT I say, if it’s in their language and I’m trying, they will be cracking up and smiling at me.
Q: Do you get stressed about not being able to speak with them?
A: Short answer: yes, very. It’s not only them, it’s extremely stressful to be in a room with anyone that you can’t communicate with. The only difference is that they know I don’t understand what they’re saying and they might just say it louder or slower, like it makes a difference. I totally do the same except I also just add a heavy accent to the word in English in hopes that it’ll ring a bell lol, it never does but I still try! I’ve gotten far better in my time living in Serbia regarding managing my stress levels, but it’s inevitable and I’ve accepted that.
I feel like this covers the most common questions people as me, but feel free to reach out for any extra! Especially if you’re a reader in an intercultural relationship, it can be very intimidating – you got this.