7 Tips and Tricks To Understand Serbian Mentality

A welcome sign showing Serbian hospitality

“You could be hosted like a king among them and then pointed fingers for some historical stuff. All on the same occasion.” This is a spot-on description of the typical Serbian mentality on Quora. The other user added that we are “proud, brave, intelligent, with lots of inat.Yeah, we are fun at parties.

If you’ve ever met a Serb, there’s no doubt you were a bit overwhelmed and confused at some point by our national traits. Let’s go through the most common characteristics of Serbian mentality together over black coffee and a shot of plum brandy, cause when in Serbia… Don’t tell us you thought this would go any other way!

Dobro došli - Serbian Hospitality

Jesi li gladan? Dođi da ti spremim nešto da jedeš.

Are you hungry? Come, I’ll prepare you something to eat. 

It’s mission impossible to visit a Serb and not be greeted as a God. Don’t be surprised if a Serbian mum and granny offer you a several-course meal when you’re just passing by. Force you, actually, not offer. Let’s call things by their name. Check out a hilarious representation of what awaits you in a Serbian home when you ask for a snack here.  

Serbian hospitality comes in different forms, not just when you stop by or come to slava. We’ll share everything with you. Some of us won’t let you spend your money on hotels when you’re visiting. Moreover, everybody will help you if you get lost around Serbia. If you say hvala, zdravo, dobar dan, or any other phrase in Serbian, we’re the next BFFs.

E, Baš Hoću/Neću - Serbian Inat

Ti ćeš da popraviš ovaj automobil? Ma važi. (You’re gonna fix this car? Yeah, right.)

Misliš da neću? E, baš hoću. Samo me gledaj. (You think I won’t? Now I will. Watch me.)

There’s no stronger driving force for Serbian people to do something than when someone tells them they are incapable of that. We call this inat (pronounced ‘eenat’, a word you can’t translate into English). In English, we can describe it as spite, stubbornness, and defiance combined.

Inat even ended up on BBC news in 1999, where they called it “a Serbian secret weapon” during the NATO bombing. It was common to see people having barbecues on their rooftops or gathering in the streets, and wearing shirts with target signs attached despite the air raid sirens and bombs falling around. 

Community and Family-Oriented Serbs

A man sitting at a laptop outdoors and holding his head with both hands in confusion
A usual reaction when people try to comprehend who’s who in a Serbian family.

Dolazi brat od tetke sutra. Povešće i sestru od strica.

Our cousin* is coming tomorrow. And our cousin** is coming with him.

*aunt’s son (an aunt is mom’s or dad’s sister)

**uncle’s daughter (an uncle here is dad’s brother)

Rarely do Serbian people separate nuclear from extended families. We are so close to everybody that, for instance, we call our cousins “brother” or “sister”. Our family tree is notorious for causing headaches to anyone who wants to understand the difference between svastika, šurnjaja, zaova, zet, pašenog, šurak, and other in-laws. Good luck if a Serb starts explaining who’s who in their family to you. It matters to us because family comes first.

Being close to neighbors is a common trait of Serbs. We are always there for each other, whether some of us are building or painting houses, chopping wood, or even celebrating. In smaller towns and in the country, neighbors still drink their first black coffee together in the morning. 

Emotions On Sleeve

“In the anglosphere, people are passive-aggressive. Now, in Serbia, I would call them aggressive-peaceful.”

Is there a better way to describe Serbian mentality than in this manner? Probably not. A Canadian saw through us. We are pretty much straightforward. Expect warmth, friendliness, and hospitality from Serbian people. However, don’t be surprised if they tell you your opinion is wrong and why. And that color you’re wearing doesn’t suit you at all.

Emotion suppressing? What’s that? Serbs wear hearts on their sleeves. They won’t sugarcoat anything, and there aren’t fake smiles on their side. Moreover, we always openly express the exact emotion we’re feeling at the moment. It’s rather obvious when we’re ecstatic, furious, indifferent, or down in the dumps.

Myths And Honor

Serbs take pride in their history and are more turned to it than to present and future events. We tend to glorify heroes like Miloš Obilić who killed Ottoman Sultan Murad I during the most epic battle in Serbian history when we were outnumbered by large, or Marko Kraljević, who became the most renowned legend of Serbian epic poetry. 

If you ask a Serb to tell you anything about the past, it will get quite emotional. What’s more, we’re famous for holding a grudge. Vuk Branković is another important historical figure from the same era as the previous heroes (14th century, the Batlle of Kosovo). Although it was proved that his depiction as a traitor was wrong many times, the poor guy is still considered the greatest villain ever.

Otvoren Kišobran, Prazan Novčanik - Superstition In Serbia

A black cat walking towards the photographer
If a black cat crosses your road, it brings bad luck.

You’re already familiar with how draft, bare feet, and wet hair can affect your life, but that’s just the beginning of what you’re going to hear in Serbia. Believing in the wildest superstitions is an inevitable part of Serbian mentality. You know about the black cat, but you can’t have heard about these before:

  • If you open an umbrella inside your home, you’ll be unlucky. There’s even a belief that someone will die if you do so.
  • If you buy a wallet as a present, always put some money inside, even a coin. Otherwise, it will remain empty forever.
  • Knocking on the wood symbolizes good luck and chases the evil ghosts away
  • Pouring water on the floor behind somebody who’s leaving will bring them good luck in their exams

We recommend you follow these rules while in Serbia, just in case.

Know-It-All

Let’s get real here. It’s common knowledge that Serbs are experts at everything. We adore advising everybody on a wide array of subjects even if they don’t ask for our opinions. This trait comes to the fore especially when it comes to sports. 

We know why our football team lost their match and what should they’ve done differently. Most importantly, we’ve been unparalleled experts on tennis since Đoković’s career took off. It doesn’t matter if we’re teachers, doctors, or mechanics and if we’ve never held a racket before. You’ll get a detailed explanation of what happened at the court and what Nole needs to improve next time.

Is It Over Yet?

It isn’t really. This is only the tip of the iceberg. You must have recognized some of these traits in your nearest Serb friend. Serbian mentality is an inexhaustible source to explore. We hope we’ve sparked your curiosity about the topic. If you want to discuss further and need a speaking partner, feel free to contact us for online lessons.  

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