AN AMERICAN IN SERBIA: WHAT LIVING IN BELGRADE IS LIKE AFTER 50+ YEARS IN AMERICA
Over four years ago, I arrived in Serbia. The idea was to see what living in my native city for about six months would be like after spending over half a century in America. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Three months after my arrival, a temporary living arrangement became a permanent wedlock. I married my landlady. I grew a beard. I still wear it. I lost some weight. I put some of it back. So it goes… The food is great here.
The rest… well, it was a culture shock. So much rudeness. So much senseless bureaucracy. So much unnecessary regulation. So much intolerance. So much disregard for the welfare of pedestrians and bicycle riders.
Now we have been back in Belgrade for a fifth summer in a row. And on my first bike ride, this is what happened.
A “HIT AND RUN” THE BELGRADE WAY
SERBIAN POLICEMAN: “IT’S MADNESS OVER HERE. THIS IS A CRAZY COUNTRY, THESE ARE CRAZY PEOPLE, THEY DO CRAZY THINGS.”
AND IT’S ALL CONSIDERED “NORMAL”, INCLUDING DOUBLE-PARKING AND BLOCKING OTHER PEOPLE’S CARS
Last Thursday, I parked our car on “our” street. Milutina Bojica is “a quiet dead end,” as people would describe the 100m-cul de sac. It sticks out like an appendix perpendicular to Palmoticeva St, a well known tree-lined residential street in the heart of Belgrade which runs straight down from the Serbian Parliament.
Parking in this congested area is always at a premium but especially now when the vacations are over and the kids are back in school. So we were lucky to find a spot so close to our apartment. We call this “carsko mesto” (an imperial spot). 🙂
Well, three days later it turned into a pauper’s spot.
On Monday, my wife left to go somewhere by car. A few minutes later she rang the doorbell. She was in tears.
“Somebody wrecked our car,” she declared.
Indeed, when I walked out with her a good portion of the back righthand side of the car was banged up and scraped up. “It will be a major repair job,” I thought.
Of course, whoever did that did not leave a note or anything. He/she slunk away like a weasel in the dead of night (probably). It was a “hit and run” the Belgrade way.
Soon, other neighbors gathered around us. Everybody had something to say but nothing useful. Nobody saw when it happened or who did it. And there are no CCTV cameras in this part of the street. We don’t have optional insurance because I was told that they were expensive and useless when the time comes to pay up. BTW – I did have it for the first three years but stopped paying it two months ago.
So my wife went on foot wherever she was heading. And I started also on foot toward the Taš swimming pool. But then I thought, “why should I just let the jerk get off without any trace?” So I called the police.
Eventually, a nice police officer and a female partner arrived. After checking out everything they pronounced the obvious, the chances of catching who did that ranged from slim to none. But they took pictures and prepared an accident report so that there is a record of this travesty.
And I then called our mechanic and booked an appointment for repairs at a local body shop.
DAY 2: DOUBLE PARKING WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES
Two days later, there was another incident to do with the car. I needed something from the trunk. When I got to the car, I saw that someone was double-parked and was blocking it.
There was no courtesy notice or anything on the dash so one could contact the owner. So I called the Parking Service (Pauk – Spider) and asked for them to tow it away.
They arrived eventually but the street was too congested so the truck could not get in. They parked at the intersection and one of them walked toward the offending car. He spent a few minuted there talking to some neighbors. Then a woman walked out our of the building at the end of the street and opened the passenger door.
Thinking that was it, I left for my daily swim. When I got back, an hour or so later, that VW was still there in the same spot. So I called the Parking Service again.
They said that since the owner was located they are not allowed (by law) to tow the car.
“So what is one to do then? That person, whoever it is, is obviously deliberately breaking the law.”
“Well, you can call the Komunalna Policija (Community Police). They can send a patrol car and issue a ticket.”
“Ok but that still won’t free up my car,” I protested.
“Sorry, but that’s all we can do.”
I called the Community Police. After about a 20-min wait, a woman grumpily answered the phone. When I explained what was happening, she said reluctantly, “okay, I’ll fill out a report.”
Of course, the Communal Police patrol car never showed up. She probably just hung up and lit a cigarette, took a sip of coffee, and continued chatting with another colleague. And that car stayed illegally double-parked through the evening. And not just that one.
I then remembered a nice police officer whom we sold our second car this summer. He said at the end, “if you need anything (to do with police), just call me.”
So I did. We have a nice and friendly long chat. At the end, after he had hear my story, he said, “you did absolutely everything that you could correctly.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear but that still did not solve my problem,” I said.
“What can I tell you,” he continued. “IT’S MADNESS OVER HERE. THIS IS A CRAZY COUNTRY, THESE ARE CRAZY PEOPLE, THEY DO CRAZY THINGS.”
“One should not have a car in the city center,” he added.
“I agree,” I said. I did not for the first seven months I lived here in 2018.
Back to now, September 14, since it was a nice evening and the local cafes and restaurants were bustling, there were several other cars in our street also double-parked, not just the once blocking ours.
I then wrote a (polite) note a stuck it to the windshield of the offending car – BG 1620-JL – thinking maybe “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
So far, it has worked. No one has been blocking our car since. Fingers crossed.
Till the next time. Bye from Belgrade.