November 14, 2013

Serbian Hospitality Part I

Adventures with Hens on Ice often take odd turns. We go to destinations from Paris and London to Erie and Evansville, and everywhere in between. Somewhere in the midst of that gamut is Belgrade, Serbia. This is a part of the world I never thought I'd have a reason to visit, and I thought Yugoslavia still existed. But given a ticket and a purpose, I'm glad I've been able to experience this land.
Where's the show?

With only stereotypes of Eastern Europe and outdated geography in my mind, I had very little idea of what to expect. I pictured grey. I pictured cold. I pictured stern faces, and I pictured Yugoslavia still being a thing. Sure, there are still plenty of grey buildings and a few grey faces, but Serbia has been filled with many pleasant surprises. They can't fit in just one Hen article, so I'll start with a truly local experience: the hospitality at McDonald's.

I like to try the local cuisine when visiting new places, so my first meal in Serbia was not at McDonald's - it was at KF... it was at a local fast food establishment. Before you start judging, I've had many proper meals here. But there always comes a time anywhere in the world where we give in to the golden arches and its cheap, fast, easy food that doesn't have too many surprises. And nothing funny happened at the nice, local establishments, other than petting a stray cat.

Thankfully, almost everyone Serbian I encountered spoke enough English to keep up with my zero Serbian. To offset the guilt of ordering McDonald's in foreign lands, I try to order a menu item not on the US menu. I ordered a Cheesy Bacon Burger meal, and being the difficult American, asked for no onions. It was a gamble, but I was relieved when she both agreed and smiled. When my food was ready, I found a seat in the mall's food court area. I ate fries for a few minutes and chatted with my hen friend, then a blur of the McDonald's cashier came running to our table. She flailed her arms and reached toward my burger.

"I'm sorry!" She said, our of breath from her sprint, "I'm sorry. Not yours! It has no, um, green things."

"Oh, Pickles?" I asked.

I said, "No onions!"
"Yes," she said relieved. She said she'd bring another sandwich to the table that had no onions and sprinted back to counter. Dumbfounded, this was not a big deal to me and I was grateful this girl prevented me from a mouthful of onions, so I walked toward the busy counter to save her a trip. In the midst of the bustling counter, one of the managers mouthed apologies to me while she took other orders. I tried to assure her that it wasn't a problem. I was actually grateful for their service, but multiple people now seemed flustered about my sandwich. No more than a minute went by before my now server whirled out the side door, sandwich in hand, pushing through the crowded food court to find me. I chased after her and met her back where I was sitting. Short of breath, she apologized again and I tried my best to express my gratitude. I had a fresh bacon cheeseburger with green things and no onions, and had just received the best McDonald's service in the world.

I imagined how that would have gone in the U.S., home of the golden arches. Even with all of us speaking the native McDonald's language, there's a good chance my sandwich would've been loaded with onions. And no one would ever fly over the counter if it was. At home, I'd be happy if someone reluctantly fixed my order, with a slight eye roll and no urgency. Five minutes later, I may have the right sandwich. But put that situation in an American food court and I'd barely expect barbecue sauce.

Sometimes we need to look to an unexpected place for an example or inspiration. Sometimes that place is Serbia. Take note, Ronald.

Keep reading! I've been to other interesting places, like Israel.

No comments:

Post a Comment