After describing the interesting, yet sometimes incomprehensible mentality of the people from the bipolar Balkan peninsula (WE CAN’T KEEP CALM, WE COME FROM THE BALKANS) – I simply had to write a post about a very common phenomenon in this geographical area – the ‘Ignoring the – No, thank you’ phenomenon.
‘Ignoring the – No, thank you’ phenomenon exists since forever and is a sort of a Balkan trademark. It is characterized by ignoring one’s ‘No, thank you’ and pursuing what you think is best for them when it comes to food, beverage, their lives etc. To make it a bit more clear, there is a general Balkan opinion on what’s best for everyone, which amongst other things includes drinking a lot (100 rakijas (Balkan hard liquor) a day keep the doctor away) and eating a lot (note: a meal without meat is not a meal).
I’m not a huge fan of alcohol. I used to drink more (like most students do – when they realize they can use the ‘I don’t remember what happened last night’ line and get away with anything) but in the past few years I came to the conclusion that I was doing it more because it’s a social thing rather than enjoying alcohol. Rarely, I like to have a glass of nice champagne (and I mean rarely only because I can rarely afford it 😉 ), but other than that I’m fine with going out, socializing or partying without alcohol. So a normal person’s reaction to this story would be: Ok, it’s her own choice; we should respect it; she spends less money when she goes out and she avoids hangovers. A Balkan person’s reaction on the other hand is somewhat different: What do you mean you don’t drink alcohol? Is there something wrong with you? What happened to you? Are you Balkan or what? Have something to drink for God’s sake, it’s good for you.
The other day I went to a bar with 2 friends. I didn’t want to drink, but since one of them is leaving Croatia we had to make a toast and God forbid you do that with a non alcoholic drink. After the toast, drinks just kept coming to the table even though I have explicitly said: ‘No, thank you’ about a million of times. I’m still not quite sure if Balkan people have a hearing problem or they don’t have the word ‘No’ in their vocabulary – but every time I say ‘No, thank you’ (not because I’m being shy or polite – cause God knows I’m neither of the two) somehow mysteriously a drink appears on the table, followed by a classic Balkan line: ‘I’ll seriously get offended if you don’t drink it’.
The same thing happens with food. The worst thing you can do before going on a Balkan family lunch is to eat something before. Cause what we do at Balkan family lunches is eat until we explode. Therefore, come prepared – with an empty stomach. Once you’re done with your meal – faster than the speed of light another portion will miraculously appear on your plate. Even if you’ve said: ‘No, thank you’ repeatedly. When you say you truly cannot have another portion, because you’ve eaten 10 times more than enough – brace yourself for the same classic Balkan line: ‘I’ll seriously get offended if you don’t eat it.’
An even trickier situation happens if there’s something you don’t like, have decided not to or cannot eat/drink. A friend of mine once brought his foreign friend – who is a vegan btw, to his family house, when she was visiting the Balkans. When you say the word ‘vegan’ to Balkan people there is a higher possibility they’ll think veganism is a kind of a new religion or a fashion style rather than not eating food of animal origin. Because what sense would that make? There was this big family lunch (which obviously included meat with a side dish of meat) and my friend had to tell his father that his friend doesn’t eat meat. After a confused: ‘What do you mean, she doesn’t eat no meat?’ question, his father, as cool as ice, turned to the guest and said: ‘Don’t worry – I’ve cooked it, it’s no longer meat.’
So, as an advice on how to survive a trip to the Balkans without getting drunk or overeating constantly (that is – if you’re one of the few people that don’t want that) I suggest three things: 1) If you don’t really feel like drinking and you’re tired of explaining what catastrophic event occurred that caused not having a drink or 30 at a party – always have a half full glass in your hand as a ‘of course I’m drinking’ sign for the people around you. 2) If you can’t possibly have anything else to eat, I suggest leaving some food on the plate as a ‘no can eat’ signal to the host. 3) As for your personal life and being repeatedly told what’s best for you I suggest earplugs. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee the effectiveness of these methods. Other than ‘Ignoring the – No, thank you’ phenomenon and our slightly bipolar temper – we truly are a happy-go-lucky kind of people!