Australian born and raised, I never wanted much to do with my Serbian heritage. All my friends were Australian, you see, and I didn’t want to be the only one pulling out my cold meat snack pack every lunch.
It was one part embarrassment at being associated with the Adidas adorned old men who leered at you from behind a cloud of smoke and rakija fumes as they gossiped at their weekly boys catch-up at the local cafe. You know the ones. They’re always head-to-toe in a brand they can’t really afford and have no issue with parading about in their socks and sandals.
The other part was wanting to fit in, plain and simple.
My parents despaired at my total rejection of all things Serbian, especially the language. But I wanted to be Australian and that was that.
This was the early 2000s, mind you. Multiculturalism, at least for other white Europeans, was celebrated. Yet I still distanced myself from my Serbian-ness.
I never quite did reconcile the two aspects of my upbringing as a child. Around my blond-haired, blue-eyed mates, I was painfully foreign.
But when finally visiting the ol’ mother country at 11-years-old, I couldn’t believe how mortifyingly foreign they were. And I was as Australian as you could get, according to my fourth cousins, five-times removed or whoever they were.
On the very same trip however, I was loving experiencing the big Italian families, soaking up the Bavarian culture and daydreaming of my life in London.
Weird how I could fall so in love with all these other cultures but still be so adamant in rejecting my own.
Even my second trip to Europe, a class holiday to France at 16-years-old, only made me dream of being French or Italian, y’know, one of those cool European backgrounds.
It wasn’t until I was at the ripe old age of 21 that things suddenly clicked.
I didn’t even visit Serbia in those three months of travel (though by halfway I almost convinced myself to change route and hit up the family), but I was suddenly so very aware of all the things I was missing out on by not embracing my Serbian side.
I was now very much an advocate for all things Serbian, from the silly stuff like the insistence that a draught blowing in from under the door will kill you (“promaja“) to the big one – the language.
I even went so far as to proudly (and drunkenly) ramble the handful of Serbian words I knew to my cab driver in Prague because the language is close enough and my 2am brain thought it was a good idea.
I guess it was diving into all these other cultures as an adult that made me appreciate my own even more. Things that were right beneath my nose my entire life, finally meant something to me.
While racing around Europe with family and school checking out only those tourist sites deemed appropriate, this was essentially little more than seeing photographs brought to life.
Sounds great on paper, but it’s not quite real, is it?
Round three, however, was all at my own prerogative. And not only did I get to choose attractions and eating experiences at my own whim, I had to take charge of the itinerary, learn parts of languages and how transport systems worked.
It was up to me to get the most of the experience and I like to think I did.
I left Europe in 2015 with an appreciation and love for all the differences I saw across the continent. Even those coming out of Serbia.
And while I always loved the Balkan food (sarma come at me), I’ll never admit to Mum that Serbian music is actually kind of fun. There were far too many conflicts in long-haul car trips for me to EVER ‘fess up.
Have your travels ever changed your mind on something? Let me know in the comments!