Contributed by Susie Xu. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
A week later, I belatedly realized that despite all my efforts, I was still looking at Serbia through the Americanized lens. It’s like looking through a fogged up window, except this fog keeps coming back to hide the outside world. All I can do is remember to wipe away the liquid drops from time to time.
There’re two things I wanted to touch on this blog post. Let’s get crackin’.
1. Dear whomever this may concern—I AM NOT AN OBJECT. I AM A LIVING, BREATHING, THINKING HUMAN BEING. Thank you very much. Cold regards.
No, but actually. I expect my friends or anyone else to roll their eyes when I say this, but y’all, the patriarchy game here is strong. The male gaze is stronger. The objectification game and even fixation with certain cultures is over 9000. (#DragonBallZ)
In my last blog post, I joked that I would take pictures of people—aka men—that made unwanted gestures, advances, or anything in between to me. Unfortunately, I realize, only a week later, that it would just kill my phone battery. It would be an understatement to say men here are straightforward. It happens to me on hourly basis. The last few days I counted two physical touches, a sprinkle of car honks, a lot of Manhattan lookovers, a dash of graceless winking, and some awkward conversations. (You think I’m exaggerating, but I swear on my GPA I’m not.)
I walk by others and get called “China” or “Tokyo” (because apparently Tokyo is a country and not a city). My eyes invalidate my insistence that I am born and raised in America. (Of course, this issue is legitimate in the States too.) At this point, my ability to deal with these things have improved on a exponential scale and my resting bitch face has evolved and ensured I won’t have wrinkles at age 70. I think now I could make children cry with T-Swift pumping in my earphones, aviators, and the RBF 2.0.
Now pause. Did you see what I did there? I described everything through a foggy American lens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying the actions of these men. I still think their actions are inexcusable and if I spoke fluent Serbian, I’d yell after them. Their actions are wrong on too many levels. However, it’s good to analyze why I feel so much more objectified here. I had asked the director of my program, Mirjana. My host mom confirmed her words. A lot of women here, apparently, are taught to like being looked at for their bodies. It can appear as a compliment or just a confidence boost of their beauty. (Serbian beauty and genes are no joke though.) There’s not a lot of traction like in the States criticizing cat calling and objectification. It’s still degrading, but it’s partially from the patriarchal culture that Serbia exists in.
As for the diversity, or lack thereof (by diversity I mean diversity in race—thanks Melanie) there’s a reason for that too. Serbia was devastated by the sanctions put on them in the ‘90s and the flow of visitors, cultures, and just non-Serbian people was null. Though there’s a Chinese population in the city, they keep to themselves. I still get excited seeing them walking the city streets outside of their zone. Like I said in the last post, diversity is hard to find, but it’s not Serbia’s fault. And they’re not aggressive or racist about it at least from what I’ve experienced.
2. Busy, busy, please let me be busy
I am a Duke student. Which means I prosper through stress, constantly doing something, and feeling accomplished. In which I don’t feel any of that here. I’ve switched an organization, so now I work for NGO Atina, a human trafficking organization with a focus on women and children. They’re actually too amazing. They recently opened a social enterprise bagel shop as well as a variety of other things. You can check them out here.
But work culture is literally the opposite of what I’m used to. It’s giving me metaphorical anxiety because I feel like I should be filling every single second of my breathing life with something. The chillness is getting to my head. I’m just itching to occupy all my time. But here, people don’t have a set time of work hours. Technically government says that people should work from 9-5 but to hell with that. Coffee breaks, lunch breaks, just a break—whatever. There are three coffee shops to one citizen here. (I made that up. But you get the idea.) Coffee culture here is huge and no matter what time of day I walk by, there are people in cafes everywhere. It’s killing my inner Duke student. I’ve invested in it though. Every day, I find a new café to drink and eat at. No complaints, tbh. (Check out my Carmel Mocha. #poundadaymakesthedoctorsgoaway)
This is Serbian culture and as a foreigner, I’ve got to respect that. I haven’t yet figured out why culture is so laid back here, but I’ll update once I do.
Most importantly, I’m having a blast here. With the rest of DukeEngage Serbia (antics all day every day and taking #American to the next level) as well as with my host family and my work colleagues, I’m really learning to enjoy life. My priority is to be happy and currently I’m #killinit in that category.
If you actually read this far, here’s a dope song for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLK09MUDu9o (Years & Years– Gryffin Remix)