A country that knows how to relax, enjoy and live life to the fullest every single day, Novi Sad, Serbia has won me over in more ways than one. Living in Novi Sad has brought peace to my day-to-day life that I just didn’t have being raised in the suburbs of Sacramento, California.
The city is busy but in such a gentle way. It’s not bustling with people pushing you out of the way to rush to work, a meeting, a date, or whatever it is. Instead, it’s a city that has thousands of people walking or biking with their friends, family, those that they love. Of course, people have jobs here and there are people heading to or from them, myself included. But the way that people run their working days are just so different, it’s almost difficult to put into words. I find myself at a loss of how to best explain what I’m talking about. It’s something that if you live here you would completely understand, and if you didn’t you’d find it hard to fathom.
For example, it’s not out of the ordinary for people to take an hour break from their work to just go sit, relax, and have a coffee either by themselves or with a friend. Once the sun comes out in Novi Sad, all of the cafes outside seating appears and the town center is packed with plenty of people enjoying the sunshine. That being said, of course, people take breaks in America from work, but not the same way. In Sacramento, you can hardly find someone sitting enjoying a coffee without their computers, or without making calls, drafting proposals, having a business meeting, etc. In Novi Sad, you just sit and not think about work for that moment of time. You let the future you worry about what you’re going to do for the rest of the day. It’s an incredibly beautiful, yet still productive, way to live.
Another thing that has drastically mellowed out my life: the expectations in customer service. I have yet to have a terrible experience eating out because there’s no such thing as being served like royalty, the kind of expectations that are set in America. Where I’m from, it’s basically offensive if you don’t check on how someone’s doing with their meal, if you don’t talk to them fast enough when they sit down, if you don’t get the bill fast enough, if you don’t smile when you speak. There are so many boxes that must be checked in order to have a perfect meal as the consumer and to feel like the waiter/waitress deserves a tip. Even if they checked every one of those boxes it’s still taken into consideration if they checked them well enough or just in an “average” manner. How is anyone supposed to keep up when you’re held to different standards with each person you serve?
In Serbia, the standard is to seat yourself, order, wait for your food, eat your food, pay and leave. Did you wait too long for your food? Don’t come back if you don’t want to. Your waiter didn’t smile? Don’t come back if you don’t want to. You didn’t like what you had to eat? Don’t come back if you don’t want to. There’s no such thing as an entitlement. You’re a guest the same as everyone else, regardless of how important you are or feel. I love that about this country. You find yourself to be less harsh on others and less entitled in general. One time Nenad asked the waiter if he could check on our food because we’d been waiting for an extremely long time. The waiter says, “The kitchen is busy, I’ll bring it to you when it’s finished.” We couldn’t help but laugh at the blunt and “you’re not special mate” kind of response we got.
A country that knows it’s far from perfect, the citizens of Serbia live their life in a way that would make you think otherwise. The people are happy with what they can’t change and relentless on what they believe they can. Full of potential, the world has a few things they could learn from this small little Balkan country.