On July 30th, 2016, I was halfway through a study abroad program in the Balkans. I wrote the following as a reflection on some of the cultural differences between that region and the United States:
“ I began this trip with few expectations and I have yet to be truly let down by anything (except maybe our Belgrade hotel which seemed to have a ready supply of cockroaches and little capacity for internet access).
However, I am female. More specifically I am a 19-year-old female. I am also a female who spent four years at an all girls boarding school. It was at said boarding school that I learned what it meant to be myself, to be a person, and to be a feminist. Now for those who think feminism is a dirty word, think again. It simply means that I that all genders should be treated as equals; the world at large has made strides in this department, but unfortunately Eastern Europe appears to have lagged behind.
This was not a surprise to me, but the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) sexism that I’ve witnessed here continues to irk me. For example, in Sarajevo a bartender wrote down our total cost on a notepad and attempted to overcharge our group by about 200 KM. When I asked for a real receipt I was told that they don’t print them after 10 pm- a blatant lie. I made a second attempt as we exited and was blatantly ignored; a male friend stayed behind, alone, and was able to go through our orders with the staff and get our money back.
In Belgrade I went to dinner in a group of four: three girls and one guy. It had been a long day and therefore we collectively decided that we deserved some wine, so when the waiter arrived I ordered a bottle. A few moments later the waiter returned and explained that they didn’t have what I ordered, so I asked a few questions and tried again. When he brought the bottle over he showed me the label and then proceeded to pour a taste for the only man at the table- one who had deferred to me when asked for his drink order.
I recognize that there is etiquette/’procedure’ for these sorts of things, but in my experience most people throw those to the wind and let whoever ordered the bottle tell them if it’s alright- it’s the logical thing to do.
As we headed toward the Macedonia (FYROM)/Greece border yesterday we made several stops for food and bathrooms. At the last one before the border, myself and several other girls went inside the gas station to buy food. The first few people who made purchases had no trouble. However, the girl in front of me used cash (20 euros) for a bill that was about 5 euros or less. The cashier proceeded to give her 2 euros in change. She asked for a receipt and was ignored. I asked for a receipt in (admittedly poor) Serbo-Croatian and received a receipt that had only one of the 4 items she purchased on it. Eventually we decided it wasn’t worth fighting over and returned to the bus where we explained to our professor, a Serb, what happened. He promptly took the receipt and the coin and walked back across the street- not more than three minutes later he returned with the correct change”
While some may feel that just about all of this could be interpreted as anti-American sentiment, but I (and the other young women who were aboard with me) truly don’t think so; I’ve encountered that and it feels entirely different.
Cultural differences have always fascinated me, and as a young woman who is often traveling alone, I am usually the ‘butt of the joke’ so to speak in situations where the American perspective is not a typical one. Given my coming adventures I am curious to see if my above thoughts turn out to be an accurate assessment.
Have similar experiences? Comment below!