Leaving a country you like is always a crapshoot. If you think about it, it’s like being at a party where you are having a great time and suddenly you hear about another party and decide to go check it out. It might be the ultimate raging party or it might be kind of lame.
That’s how it is when you leave someplace cool to see somewhere that may or may not be cool. I’d heard from quite a few people that Belgrade was an amazing city. I’d heard it was like Paris but undiscovered. I’d heard it was beautiful, sophisticated, and cultural. When I’d looked for a couchsurfing host, a guy came up on the couch request board and offered to let me stay at his place.
I was stoked on what Serbia would be like. My host had tons of amazing references, I’d heard great things about the capital and the people, and on top of that people kept telling me how great the food was, how beautiful the women were, and how fantastic the nightlife was. Great.
The only problem was that to go to Belgrade, Serbia I had to leave Sofia, Bulgaria; a city that had welcomed me with great friends, exciting experiences, fantastic night life, plenty to do, and an overall great vibe. Hard to leave, but sometimes you have to take the chance if you want to ever see something new.
My host and friend from Sofia was considering going with me but at the last minute decided it wouldn’t work because of some scheduled appointments he would have to rush back for. I got on the bus and things started off well when I met Alexandra, a Serbian woman who was just on her way back from a ski trip in Bulgaria. As the first Serbian I’d met, she was about as MILFY and MILFY gets. In fact, regardless of that she was just beautiful. She worked in the government and fought against corruption, a very interesting and beautiful woman. She was anxious to get home to her husband and daughter but had just had a much needed break in Bulgaria with friends.
Alexandra told me again about the great Serbian food, how the Serbian women were the most beautiful in the world, and about how Serbia had saved the world several times during wars by stopping the Ottomans (but frankly, I think the world would be better if the Ottoman’s had been completely victorious). In any event, it was all easy to believe coming from her. At our first stop we drank coffee and then we transferred buses in Nis and went on to Belgrade.
It was around 9:30 when we got to Belgrade and to be honest, once I said goodbye to Alexandra, everything in Serbia went downhill.
Here, I freely admit that my experiences in Serbia were colored by my first few days there. That great host I’d found – actually a sort of Serbian redneck who spent his days drinking and spewing bitterness.
I tried to follow the sort of spastic directions to the house of my host. Along the way, I was surrounded by a pack of wild dogs. It was icy and I was walking through a park and suddenly I heard dogs to the left. Then dogs behind me yipping. Next I heard dogs to my right. Finally, in front of me a very big bitch German shepherd moved to block my path. There were at least ten dogs all around me. I moved steadily towards the bitch trying not to show any alarm. She growled as I got closer but I kept going. Finally, she moved aside and I walked away. I heard all the dogs behind me but kept my back stiff and didn’t look back. Two blocks later I found a cafe and moved inside. Fuck, I never expected my life to end being torn apart by dogs in Belgrade, Serbia, but it sure felt like it was going to happen.
I finally found my host’s house. Going inside, I was pretty disappointed. It was a fucking pigsty. Incredibly filthy and the couch I was presumably going to sleep on covered with food crumbs and dog hair. My host wasn’t there, but his room mate was there. He offered me Serbian coffee and Rakia and we fell into an easy conversation about politics. He was the first but not the last Serbian to tell me how little he thought of America and Americans. He was also the first but not the last Serbian to suggest that I was a spy.
Just as I started to feel like maybe I could fall asleep, my actual host returned and he was as loud as his house was filthy. Loud, overbearing, unable to take the hint that it was past 1 a.m. and I was exhausted, and also quite happy to tell me about how he didn’t like Muslims, America, or Americans. I had made no secret about the fact that all three apply to me.
It’s at this point, I should point out what I consider to be the essentials in the host/guest relationship whether it is through couchsurfing, friends, or business. First of all, if you are going to host someone – provide them with a clean place to sleep. Second, your bathroom should at least be a little bit clean. Third, be a bit sensitive to the state of tiredness of your guest. Fourth, it’s probably in bad form to insult the national origin or home country of your guest. Finally, being host is not the same as being the boss. Allow your guest a chance to set their own agenda if they choose to.
As a guest there are also responsibilities. 1) Clean up after yourself 2) Be respectful of your host’s space 3) Be sensitive to the state of your host 4) avoid insulting the religion, nationality, or character of your host 5) Allow your host to show you some of what makes their city special.
I don’t know who left such great feedback for this particular host (and a lot of people had) but I felt like he was one of the worst hosts I’d had. He was a nice guy in many ways, but everything from the hairy bed to the filthy toilet to his domineering attitude was pushing me into an unpleasant place.
In the morning, another of his roommates and I went to the market to get food to cook breakfast. When we got back, the host and another guest from Poland were already eating! They had known we were going to make breakfast for everyone. Our host had already planned out the day for us without regard for what we might have wanted to do. It was a good plan, but it would have been nice to have been asked. I’ll tell about that in a later post though…