Well, it is not exactly that way. It was in Foster’s “A Room With a View” that one of the main characters, proud of himself being “italianised”, says “L’inglese italianato è un diavolo incarnato”, i.e. “The italianised Englishmen is an incarnated Devil”. But most certainly we can say so for Serbians, Croatians, Montenegrins, Albanians. This part of the world is both traditionally italianised, and in modern times it just goes on with an unstoppable pace.
Is Eastern Mediterranean really so relaxed and vane?
Yes. One thing that always gets into the eyes of Northwestern foreigner is that everything in Serbia is in appearance. The people are not poorly educated nor spiritually poor, but somehow they tend to show their beauty first. And it was especially visible with women, but now it consumes both sexes: fashionable clothes, emphasising sexuality. No wonder gyms work so well these days! In contrast to the other countries (in the aforementioned Northwest), where casual is the king, here sexappeal is the king. If you are not instantly visible, you might not be visible at all. So you spend your last money on clothes, on a smartphone and on socialising… and the rest can wait. Like bills or furniture.
The other prominent feature is the laid-back mentality. In many other countries the streets are empty during working hours, while in Serbia they tend to be crowded with people hanging around in caffeterias. The Serbs are really keen on doing it all outside and taking it to the streets. It is a Mediterranean as well as Oriental tradition, where the people prefer outdoors activities. Oh, but not these activities! In Vienna or the Netherlands you see many people riding bikes or jogging. When we say “outdoor activities” it means fancy clother, a cappucino and a glass of beer, a pair of sunglassea and a central spot in an outdoor caffe. Or maybe a simple walk on “la via”. To see and to be seen. Oh, so Southern, we know that.
Increasingly, Serbs fell in love with restaurants and dining out. It was, of course, connected with the increased living standards, but as in Italy, we believe that “mamma knows best” and her cuisine is the best so… why spending money on food outdoors? But classy restaurants that do not offer the same as our mums do, well… it is entirely different story. Now the number of cosy places that are half-eating half-drinking full-time-classy, opened a new era in Serbian mentality. Don’t know about the rest of the world, but here, women are the main motor for this incentive. When I was a little boy, a restaurant owner told me “Our people will spend thousands of dinars for drinking out, but yero for eating out.” Now the times have changed.
Not entirely correct, though
But, this is all not too truthful to the Italian raw model and the pattern from the Apenines. Here, the women are the engine that propels style. Men are far more “rough and down-to-the-earth”. OK, we drink more beer than wine. OK, we are not that italianised, not completely. We are a strange mixture of roughness of hajduks who tended to be heroes and fight the occupying forces, of sophisticated Slavic soul, of mysterious and unpredictable Northern “barbarism”, what some would say, and the Romance and Byzantine culture that absorbed us when we came here. The Russians always notice how different we are, in spite of being the same, as well as the Italians. We somehow linger in between many worlds, Middle Europe and Ottoman Commonwealth, the forests of the North where we came from and the hot Southern Sun.
So, we sae constantly changing and need change. And foreign cultural centres in Serbia help us a lot to get a glimpse into other nations’ values and cultures. As usual, Centro Culturale Italiano in Belgrade gives us a fair share of the tastes of the Italian culture, with songs, food, and theratrical and artistic performances. Being under foreign invasion during the time of the Renaissance, we are hungry for what we could have done, but we never had a chance to do so. We are, maybe because of that, all of us from the Balkans, so enchanted by the first neighbour that had a chance to be themselves: Italy. And we are tremendously lucky. You know why? Because our nearest neighbour is exactly the one who has the most artworks, who created the Renaissance, who has the best pizza. And all of a sudden, while travelling in Brazil or America, I realised that our fashion is better than in most of the world, and that our pizza here is much closer to that of Naples than the pizza of São Paulo, which is packed with Italians.
And that is exactly who we are. A little bit of everything, and 100% ourselves.