Serbian Culture 101: 10 Rules You Need to Follow When Visiting Serbian People

Friends visiting Serbian hosts

Serbs are famous for their hospitality. It’s one of the main parts of Serbian culture  – but when they invite you to their house, some unwritten rules MUST be followed if you want to secure another invitation and leave a good impression on your hosts.

Serbs will do anything to make you feel comfortable in their home, so the most important thing you can do is to show them gratitude and praise them (sometimes even more than they deserve – but don’t tell them that).

So, without further ado, let’s dig into the rules when it comes to visiting Serbian people!

What To Do

Some rules make sense in Serbian culture, some don’t – but don’t worry, once you find out what to do, you’ll rapidly become a natural.

1. Greet the host with three kisses

In Serbia, everything you do, you do three times. The same works for kisses. Don’t be surprised when a Serb continues kissing you on the cheek after the first kiss; it’s a common courtesy in Serbian culture.

There are two ways to do such a thing: if you are lucky, nobody will even touch your cheek, and the kisses will remain in the air. However, if you’re incredibly unlucky, someone – in most cases, a 90-year-old granny, will miss your cheek and kiss you directly in the mouth.

You will survive, we promise. Been there, done that.

2. Take off your shoes

In Serbia, shoes are forbidden inside the house. You can leave them in the hall and enter the living room barefoot.

Don’t let the hosts confuse you – they will usually say Nemoj da se izuvaš (Don’t take your shoes off), but actually, they expect you to oppose them. So, one of the most important things you need to take care of when prepping for a visit is to find two matching socks and avoid embarrassing yourself.

3. Bring coffee and chocolate

Small gifts always matter to Serbs. You can bring a box of chocolates and coffee, which will be appreciated. Fun fact: the hosts probably won’t eat these chocolates, they will bring them to someone else, but the gesture still matters.

One more benefit is that once you enter the Serbian circle, you probably won’t have to buy chocolate for the rest of your life – you can just take the ones that you get and forward them to someone else. Just be careful to avoid returning the gift to the same person who gave it to you.

A box of chocolates
Bombonjera, a chocolate box, is a common gift for Serbian hosts

4. Ask for the recipe for the food or cake

You absolutely have to love Serbian food (even if it is too spicy, too… well, whatever). But the plain compliments aren’t enough for Serbs. You need to ask the host for the recipe for the dish you’ve just complimented. You simply ask Možeš li mi dati recept za ovo jelo? (Can you provide me with a recipe for this dish? Or even better, Moraš mi dati recept za ovo jelo! (You have to give me a recipe for this dish!)

Yes, you probably won’t prepare for it in your life, and yes, they know it too. However, this is how to express your satisfaction with the dish you’ve just eaten.

5. Talk a bit more while heading out

It is time to get back home. You stand up, take on your jacket, and head to the doorway. Brace yourself – you’ll stay at the doorway for at least five to ten minutes. There is always something to add to your previous conversation.

Also, the hosts will send their regards to all your family members, including your 90-year-old mother-in-law and the cousin they never met. Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember all the greetings. When they say Pozdravi ih puno (Send them many regards), you just need to say Hoću (I will) and head out. Nobody is expecting you to really send these regards.

Man in a car chatting with a friend
Serbian hosts will keep telling stories and jokes, even as you are leaving 🙂

What to Avoid at All Costs

There is also some stuff you aren’t allowed to do in the Serbian household. This brief guide will help you to survive your visit and don’t say or do something offensive to your hosts. Also, you will improve your Serbian language by learning some common phrases.

1. Decline the slippers they offer you

This is a bit contradictory: everyone expects you to take your shoes off when entering the house, but no one wants you to walk barefoot. Even if it is the middle of summer, everyone will say that the floor is cold.

They will say to you Obuj papuče, hladno je (Wear the slippers, it’s cold), and at some point, you’ll have to agree with them.

Nobody will find it insulting when you refuse the slippers, but it’s easier for you just to accept them because you won’t win this battle. Serbs can be pretty stubborn.

Man and woman wearing slippers at home
Never ever walk barefoot around a Serbian home

2. Say you don't mind draft

Serbs have been strong and brave throughout the many wars. They had been enslaved, tortured, and murdered. However, their main enemy remained draft, or as the Serbs call it, promaja.

They will shut the doors and windows the moment someone enters the room. Don’t you dare to say that you aren’t afraid or you don’t think someone can die from a draft. You’d be forced to listen to a story about someone’s great-grandmother who died from draft, and the windows will remain closed despite all your efforts.

3. Refuse rakija or coffee

The first things you’ll be offered in the average Serbian household are rakija and Turkish coffee (Može jedna rakija? Želiš li kafu?). If you say you don’t drink coffee (Hvala, ne pijem kafu), your host will probably look at you like you are an alien. If you say you don’t drink rakija (Hvala, ne pijem rakiju), they will start convincing you that you still haven’t tried THEIR rakija, the best in the whole universe.

They will ask you whether you want sweet coffee or one without sugar (Slatka ili gorka?). We recommend trying both versions and seeing which one suits you best.

Fun fact: if you are a woman, probably no one ever will offer you rakija. Yes, sad story, we know, but in Serbian culture only men drink rakija . However, you can always ask them to try it out, no one will find it insulting, and you’d be greeted with a laugh.

4. Refuse food

Don’t commit this deadly sin in the Serbian household. It would be best if you ate everything on your plate, and even in such cases, the host will ask you if you want some more (Hoćeš li još? or Uzmi još malo).

If you say yes, they will ask you the same thing even when you finish the second round.

If you say no, they will ask you a few more times. Try to stay strong – it can be a tough battle.

You have a right to refuse the second round, but don’t dare to refuse to eat whatever you already have on your plate. The legend says someone from the 1800s is still trying to convince the Serb that they aren’t hungry.

Young people clinking wine glasses at a restaurant
Do not refuse food or drinks, unless you really have to 🙂

5. Say something if you don't like the food

Eat as much as possible, even if you don’t like the food. The host will be gravely insulted if you admit you don’t like what they prepared for you, and you don’t want to see the gravely insulted Serb.

The same rule works here: ask for the recipe after the meal!

Don't Worry; You'll Survive

Serbs are brave, loyal, and friendly. They love a good joke and enjoy hanging out and spending their time drinking coffee with friends. However, if you want to remain their friend, it’s better to start accepting unwritten rules. The sooner you start accepting that, the better!

If you want to completely understand all the phrases that the Serbian hosts can say to you, and prepare for all unexpected situations you can run into in the Serbian household, let us help you! We prepared many lessons in our Serbian online course that will help you be confident in various situations – so book whatever suits you best and start learning Serbian. You will enjoy it, we promise!

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