Serbian diaspora in the States is vast, especially if you include many and many descendants. Many still treasure their Serbian origin with customs and trips to Serbia. One of them is Greg Conner Jr. his mother is Serbian, from a town Smederevo. He has visited Serbia many times, as well as countries in the region. We found it interesting to hear his insight into both Serbian and American culture, the similarities and differences and a bit of insight to "regular American life" for people interested in hearing and visiting the States. 😁
Here you can read his interview with Redportal.rs 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻
Which year did you first come to Serbia and what was your first impression?
I first came to Serbia when I was around 8-9 years old with my mom, who thought it was important I get exposure to her home country. I was excited because, where I grew up along the Canadian border, most kids my age had only been to Canada, with the exception of a few. I have to say I was definitely shocked on my first visit. I kept asking my mom, why don’t they have baseball here? Why do the traffic lights go red, yellow, green instead of green, yellow, red? It was my first exposure to time zone difference as well so I was shocked to find out it was night at home when I was walking around Belgrade with my mom in the daylight! After that trip, I remember asking my mom almost every year when we would go back.
What is the weirdest custom you saw here?
I remember seeing a Serbian wedding procession go through the town and was wondering why so many people were honking their horns. In the US, that means there is a traffic jam or a car show going by. I also remember leaving a friend’s home and her mother pouring water behind me. I’m wondering, “Is this a water fight challenge? Why is she throwing water at me?” But actually she was wishing me safe passage on my journey I later found out!
Do you think Serbs or Europeans in general understand American way of life and culture and vice versa?
In some ways, I think Serbians and Americans are very similar. Barbeques and roasting meat remind me of the summer barbeques we had as a kid during the fourth of July, and Serbian ownership of guns. It’s almost like Texas in that regard. Sporting events are also a common item of worship I have seen in both countries. The eternal derby and the super bowl should honestly become national holidays in their respective countries.
What would you say are the most obvious differences between Americans and Serbs and what are the common traits?
I would say both Americans and Serbians have a love of life that they both express in different ways. A common American trait is to constantly work and have little play in life, whereas I noticed Serbians, even diaspora, treasure their social lives and abilities to go out and enjoy themselves more. I am not saying there is anything wrong with really loving your work, that is a personal preference. But I understand that this is a difference that shocks quite a few folks from the Balkans when they come to the United States for the first time.
What do you miss the most from Serbia when you are in the States?
I miss the food for starters, especially in the cities outside Belgrade. Cevapi, Pljeskavica, Ajvar especially are some of the items that you just can’t replicate well enough in my opinion. The laid back way of life is also one thing I miss. I have never felt a sense of fast paced urgency for anything, even in Belgrade! It’s a city that really n=knows how to love life and I tell all my friends about it in the United States and can’t recommend it enough.
Did you attend any big sporting events here and what was the difference between here and the States?
I went to a baseball game here and there, but nothing too big. Tickets were pretty expensive and it took a few hours to get to the stadium where the games were played. I did, a few years ago, go to a Red Star Match in Belgrade and was thrilled to be able to walk to the stadium and not have to drive hours to get there. Something that shocked me was seeing flares in the stands. That is a quick way to get thrown in the county jail in the US.
Did you go out here often, where did you get drunk the most and why did it include rakija?
I feel it’s a cultural experience to go out and get drunk here. I got nervous my first time and backed out with a friend who had invited me, but coming back, I started going out in Belgrade. With alcohol being astronomically cheaper here than in the United States, it was hard not to have one too many drinks. Staying out until 4-5 am and trying to ask for a cab in broken Serbian near the parliament is something I am sure I did and wish I could remember. I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when I took a shot of Rakija like I took a shot of whiskey. “You’re supposed to Sip it!”, is what he told me. I figured two shots of this, I’d be okay. I’m not driving, so no need to worry. Boy, did I regret that almost immediately after standing up. Thankfully he had offered his couch to me the day before, which ended up being a lifesaver.
What’s your experience in flirting here and in the states? How did you do?
Well let’s just say alcohol, especially rakija, gives a sense of false confidence to anyone no matter where in the world they are. From being rejected to getting to dance, and maybe going home afterwards, the results were mixed on both sides of the pond. I did notice it is easier to get a conversation going as a foreigner in Serbia, but you honestly just roll with what conversation material you have in the moment.
Since this is generally unknown here in Serbia and in Europe, how was it like “growing up with guns” in the household?
This is what scares most folks from Europe and it is understandable sometimes. I was fortunate to have a father who took gun safety VERY seriously from his time in the military, when teaching me and my brother to shoot. Simple things like making sure guns were unloaded and ammo separate, along with only pointing loaded guns down range, you grow up only using a gun when needed more likely as a tool and as a hobby every now and again to go to the range. Unfortunately, many young folks, and adults, give it a bad reputation treating guns more like toys, and thinking actions don’t have consequences, and it makes the situation much more dangerous than it has to be. I can consider myself fortunate to grow up in a situation where safety was valued more than the experience of shooting a weapon.
Which places or regions would you recommend for visitors to experience the American way of life the best?
There’s a quote from a television show that my brother and I used to watch when we were kids: “You haven’t seen America until you have seen the small towns.” I remember living in rural Vermont and seeing the family dinners, gun shows, and high school football (not soccer) and baseball games that brought the whole town out for the afternoon. And then there are bigger cities where people who want to experience a faster way of life would thrive. You can divide America into several categories based on interests and what kind of American life they wish to see: technology (Massachusetts, California), food (the American South), nature (Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, Maine), etc. The best way to do this honestly is to go to that region. Everyone comes out of it with their own interpretation!
What place do you think is underrated and what is the most overrated place in the States?
Easily, the most overrated are New York City and Los Angeles, California. I understand most people’s first impressions of America are from movies set in these cities, but they come and are shocked by how fast paced it is, how expensive and sometimes dangerous they are. The most underrated places are those that are often overlooked. I could name many in the United States, but I would say the most underrated metropolises has to be Boston, Massachusetts & New Orleans, Louisiana, the latter especially if you like music and festivals. Other underrated places are definitely the White Mountains of New Hampshire; Asheville, North Carolina; the State of New Mexico; Northern and Coastal Georgia; Western and Central Oregon, and if you are feeling extra adventurous, Alaska!
Does your mother often use Serbian sayings? Which ones do you like the most?
I remember her telling me and my siblings sayings such as a good reputation is better than all the gold; a book cannot be stolen; and believing too quickly is being deceived too quickly.
Message to our readers?
Aside from some cultural differences, the common folks in both countries are very similar, and in the long run, have the same life aspirations and goals that you do. If you do one day, I hope for you to see America, and when you come, see something outside the major metropolises that you would see in movies or hear about in music or television shows. There is much more to America than what meets the eye. I tell the same to my friends here when they travel to eastern Europe. Go to a place and experience something you never would before. I hope everyone who reads this gets the chance to do so!
Autor: Filip Mihajlović