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An American in Serbia: From a Writer’s Notebook

August 4, 2018

Saturday morning shopping outing with longtime friend; Three green shirts at green grocers’ market


  • Wonder of discovery
  • Wonder of creativity
  • Wonder of new experiences

Hunter-Gatherer sexual role reversal

A longtime friend and I went to his favorite Belgrade farmer’s market this morning – the Kalenić pijaca. So he can show me how it’s done, how “real men” shop. And have fun doing it.

I had to chuckle at the thought. It’s a total sexual role reversal. Back in the states, men would not be caught dead calling food shopping “fun.” It’s a necessity we put up with. Like going to a dentist. Yet here, I had already discovered on my own that shopping at a pijaca is indeed fun.

American women, on the other hand, revel in it. For many, shopping is a form of therapy. Or addiction.


But here in Belgrade, and I might say elsewhere in the Serbia, the roles are reversed. A number of women I have met say they hate food shopping. It is the man who goes to the pijaca and brings home the bacon. He is the hunter. The woman stays home and takes care of the children and household. She is the gatherer.

It is the traditional division of familial labor since time immemorial. I remember my father going to pijaca morning. And my brother-in-law for his family. There were always freshly baked goodies on the table, along with seasonal fruit, before I went to school.

I have not seen that anywhere in the States. The most people in my neighborhoods would do for breakfast is go to Starbucks. No, strike “go.” Most DRIVE there.

Now, from the perspective of the Belgrade lifestyle, I can’t believe how stupid and wasteful and antisocial that is. Because going to the pijaca is first and foremost a social experience. You meet old friends and make new ones.

Neša, my friend, for example, had been going to Kalenić for years. He has developed a number of friendships with merchants there which accord him a “valued customer” status. And a friend, almost like family.

Tu – Familiar vs Vous – Formal 

Neša and his merchant pijaca friends are all on a per tu with each other.

“Aha, what’s that?” – do I hear my native English-speaking reader wonder?

TU in French or TI in Serbian, a linguistic form which does not exist in English. Here’s the gist of it as it pertains to French which is just like Serbian or German in this respect.:

The informal, singular subject pronoun tu (listen) indicates an intimate, amicable, and/or equal relationship between two people, and as such it is used with family, friends, lovers, colleagues, and classmates. Kids always use it with one another, as do most teens, even when meeting for the first time. Likewise, adult friends of friends often use it upon being introduced. Tu is also used when talking to God, children, animals, and inanimate objects. Using tu with someone who doesn’t fit any of these categories is likely to cause offense.

I have always felt insulted when communist officialss, for example, would address me (and everybody else) in such a way.

So by merely hearing a TI being used in a conversation between Neša and his market friend, one knew that they knew each other well. Clearly, a foreigner going to market would miss such finer points of shopping in Belgrade,

Well, Neša and I did our rounds at Kalenić this morning. The lady in the black shirt is Ruška (short for Ružica). She is from Nova Pazova in Srem. has the best fruit, according to Neša. The lady in the lime green shirt is Verica. She is from Leskovas originally. And she had the best tasting tomatoes.

Indeed, before we bought anything we sampled everything. As a result, Neša and I have practically had another breakfast while shopping. For free. Neša even brought his own knife to be sure we did not pick up other peoples’ germs. 🙂

The whole experience took a couple of hours. Like going to a movie or a concert. Indeed, it was a cultural event not just food shopping.

And this is what it looked like. The colorful scenes of the bustling market might even inspire an artist’s brush to take to canvas.



Later on, Neša and I talked about our Jeeps and my experiences in Hawaii doing, what I called, “farmer’s yoga” every day (heavy labor landscaping).

I told him we used to call my farm work horse El Jeepo.

“The first day I brought it back from the dealer, I took the roof off,” I said. “And I never put it back until I was ready to sell it seven years later. I also never washed it till then.”


I also told Neša about our annual coconut harvest. A single pals produced enough coconuts to fill an entire truck. What you are seeing lying down on the ground underneath it was just a small share I had kept for us and the neighbors to whom I would give coconuts as gifts (see COCONUT HARVEST DAY 2015: DEJA VU OF SPIKELESS COCONUT HARVEST IN 2014, Aug 2015). The man who harvested them for me would sell them at $3 to $4 apiece at retail markets.

“You have fond memories? (of Hawaii)” Neša asked.

“Our conversation reminded me of it,” I replied. “Yes, I do think of it fondly, but not with nostalgia. All that was fun, but it is over.  And now I am doing something else which is fun.”

“Then that’s the best,” Neša replied. “You are moving on.”

Later on, that made me wonder – what makes something “fun?” What is it that generates fond memories. Here’s my cryptic answer:

  • Wonder of discovery
  • Wonder of creativity
  • Wonder of new experience





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