So, here’s the thing expats are sometimes shy to admit: Culture shock is real! Yes, I was in Bosnia a few times before, visiting. Yes, I thought I know what to expect. Oh, but let me tell you: I was wrong. And when I arrived there were a few things that I had my troubles getting used to. And no, it’s not the things that you might expect – it’s normally the small things that are surprisingly hard to get used to.
But let me clarify something in advance: Having a culture shock doesn’t have anything to do with you being ignorant or not ready to get to know the culture in your new home country. It’s just human. And I know that many Bosnians living in Germany or Sweden or somewhere else in the world experience the same as I did, just the other way around. It’s a weird thing when things you grew up with are suddenly considered rude. And things you’d normally never do are the norm. Accepting that this is just a normal process – and if you take it with a laugh or a grain of salt, it makes some fun stories you can tell your friends. So, let me tell you a few things my husband and I found out about Bosnia and Germany – and I hope you find it as funny as me how different we are in some situations.
You know when people in Germany invite you over for a beer then a beer is what you’ll get. I checked the do’s and don’ts for German culture and even found out that it’s considered rude to force food or drinks on a German person. This doesn’t work in Bosnia. When we visit some friends – or my parents-in-law – for just a beer, there’s not only beer. There is beer and then rakija and then coffee to drink after the beer. And then there’s the food with the beer – at least some mezze and of course some sweets for the coffee. Not hungry? Oh, that doesn’t count for a Bosnian host. “Here, please, take at least something, just a little bit, you must be hungry, it’s not even much!” The funny thing is: In Germany it is completely acceptable to decline an offer for food or drinks when you’re at somebody’s house. Yup, Germans will just sit on your couch with nothing you could offer them and be completely content and happy.
What I do like though is to use the amount of coffee served to indicate to your visitor when it’s time to go home. No more people overstaying their welcome once you serve them the third cup sikteruša and they know: It’s time to go home. Germans sometimes have their difficulties with sensing when is the right time to leave.
But they would never drop by unannounced. So, when we had spontaneous visitors for the first time, I thought it would just be a one-time occurrence. But then it happened again. And again. And let me tell you: It stresses me out to know that people will be on my doorstep just 30 minutes from now. What can I offer them? What will they bring? How does the house look? Tell me, Bosnian people – how do you do this? How do you cope with people dropping by unannounced? Please, let me know your secret because I just cannot cope with spontaneous visitors. Well, and if you wanna drop by on short notice, at least give me an hour or so to prepare. Believe me, we Germans need this for our mental wellbeing.
There are a few things though that we all love: Good food, spending time with family and friends – and some gossip. Yes, I admit that even a German grandma from the suburbs can’t hold a lot against a proper Bosnian mahaluša. But in the end, it’s the small things that unite us all. And that’s something I also learned from living abroad: There’s always more that connects us than things that set us apart.