A month ago, I took my boyfriend to my home country, Serbia. This was the first time for him to visit, and while he was super excited, I have to admit to being a bit nervous before the trip. As the trip drew closer, I started recalling all the things that I have said over the years about my country, and how, to be honest, they don’t paint a nice picture if taken out of context. So, I didn’t quite know what he expected to see.
To do some damage control, I took him to Novi Sad and Belgrade, the two most gay-friendly cities in the country, because I assumed they would also be accepting of the Italian-high-maintenance look (if one can tell the difference between the two). I also knew that I had to prove one point - good food, which can be a challenging thing to prove to Italians. I think I succeeded because he was eating the whole time, from burek, our “light” breakfast, punjena pljeskavica, a typical lunch, and karadjordjeva schnitzel for dinner. With so much meat and grease, I probably took a few years off his life, but he seemed to enjoy it. He also drank rakija first thing in the morning before visiting an Orthodox church, so he fit in perfectly.
Then, there was the meeting-the-family thing. One advantage of my mother and him not speaking the same language was that I didn’t have to worry about embarrassing Irena stories that my mother can incorporate in any random chit-chat. It was not for lack of trying on her part, though. When she tried to provide some material, I merely mistranslated the bad parts and we were fine. However, the most memorable part about this trip was his genuine love of what he was seeing. It was refreshing to see my own country through his eyes. Even though I caught every crack in the roads and facades, I also saw the hospitality of my people and their generosity despite their poverty and daily struggle.
Upon our return, I listened carefully while he talked about our trip. Everything sounded great, except one thing - he was constantly opening with a sentence “I felt so safe!”, as if he went to Syria instead. Apparently, based on my stories, he had expected to be sworn at, mugged, or at least teased for his Italian-accented English, and that is just not fair to my country.
Maybe in the future I’d better tone down my home stories.
Irena Boskovic, PhD candidate at FPN