30 May Serbian Mishaps in Petrovac, Montenegro
Sun and Serbian. That’s what I craved on my trip to Montenegro, which is why I decided to kick off my eastern travels in the tiny seaside village of Petrovac.
I had been enthusiastically toting around my Serbian phrasebook for a month prior to the trip, and felt more than ready to use my new vocabulary to learn complex local histories, and ensure access to the tastiest meals and best beaches.
Little did I know that my Serbian would prove comical at first, and fail me in the end.
I spent my first Montenegrin evening at a delightful little Serbian restaurant, tucked under leafy trees and vines on the rocky shore of Petrovac.
A couple glasses of sweet red wine inspired me to practice a bit of my Serbian, and I managed to make very simple conversation with the shy waiter.
On my way out of the restaurant, I smiled and said “dobro vecer,” or “good evening,” to the waiter. To my bewilderment, he began to laugh hysterically – until he was literally red in the face!
“Dobro vecer!” he repeated laughingly, tears running down his checks. “Dobro vecer!”
“I must tell other waiter!” he said, and ran to his coworker, who, upon hearing of my faux pas, also began choking with laughter.
My waiter ran back to me joyously, taking no notice of my embarrassment.
“Dobro vecer means…good evening….ha ha!” he managed to say between giggles.
“I understand that,” I replied. “That’s what I wanted to say. So what’s so funny?”
“You say dobro vecer at night when you enter room! Not when leave! Ha ha ha! Ha!”
At this point the poor man couldn’t even breathe, and so I dropped a tip and quickly left.
(Note: I later asked my hotel receptionist why these apparently crazy waiters were laughing at the fact that I said ‘good evening’. She couldn’t explain this to me – for she immediately burst into hysterical laughter when she learned of my mistake, and couldn’t manage to speak.)
As you can see, my Serbian had proved comical. And the next day, at the beach, it failed me altogether.
That sunny morning my travel companion and I hopped onto an ugly little paddle-boat that one could paddle from the shore out to a distant rocky island. All of the locals seemed to be doing it, and so we rented one ourselves, and slowly, awkwardly set out from the shore into the Adriatic Sea.
We quickly realized that there was something wrong with our rickety old boat, which had clearly been designed prior to the fall of Communism. We simply couldn’t control it, and were suddenly whizzing around in ridiculous circles in the middle of the sea. We decided to row back to shore to avoid being rammed by some jet-skier.
However, as we rowed back to the Petrovac shore, we lost all control of the paddleboat! The sea waves caused us to pick up speed, hurling us toward the shore, and our boat began veering dangerously close to the floating heads of all the Montenegrin, Serbian and Russian children!
“Move away! Move away everyone! This boat is out of control!” we screamed, in English. No one could understand us, and I wasn’t exactly in a position to whip out my Serbian phrasebook for guidance.
We began to sail rapidly toward a sunbathing old man who was dipping his legs in the sea.
“Move away sir! Save yourself! Paddleboat out of control! We can’t stop it!”
He just stared at us lazily, failing to register that we could actually maim him with this floating old clunker. Then, the lifeguard caught sight of us as we blundered along in terror, and came running toward our jalopy boat, screaming in Serbian and flailing his arms angrily. We couldn’t understand a thing.
He plunged into the sea, and physically stopped our boat.
“I told you to petal backwards!” he yelled at us in Serbian, not even attempting to conceal his anger. “Why didn’t you listen to me? You could have hurt that old man!”
“I…don’t speak Serbian,” I gloomily admitted, as I shakily emerged from the worthless boat. Looking up, I saw that everyone on the shore—Serbians, Montenegrins and Russians -was staring at us disapprovingly as we walked uncomfortably to our towels to collect our things.
We never returned to that Petrovac shore.
Later that day, I accidentally tipped someone with money from the former Yugoslavia, which I had purchased from a street vender for only ten cents.
However, I did manage to understand him when he said to me “hvala,” or “thank you,” in the most sarcastic of tones.