Laura Dennis

About Laura Dennis

Laura Dennis was adopted and raised on the East Coast of the United States. A professionally trained dancer, Laura gave up aches and pains and bloody feet in her mid-twenties to become a sales director at a biotech startup. Then with two children under the age of three, she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and in 2010 they escaped to his hometown, Belgrade. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, A Memoir. She blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy

Air-Conditioning–Modern Convenience Or Instrument Of Death?

It’s a valid question, in more ways than one.

When I read Time commentator Eric Kleinenberg’s Air-Conditioning Will Be the End of Us, I had to laugh. The point of the article was to highlight just how much Americans rely on A/C, how much energy it eats up, and how bad it is for the environment. He writes

After all, despite our other green tendencies, most Americans still believe that the wise way to use air conditioners is to crank them up, cooling down every room in the house — or even better, relax in the cold blasts of a movie theater or shopping mall, where someone else pays the bills.

Here we have the opposite problem.

Temperature
Although not technically promaja (the Deadly Draft), air-conditioning is considered a welcome–but somewhat suspect–modern convenience in Serbia. You see, technically (in reality?) air-conditioning is MOVING AIR.

Worse, it’s COLD, moving air, which in itself is inherently menacing.

A/C in Serbia is like the new, young and charming Catholic priest starting his service at the diocese.

Most of the time it’s all good, but there’s a chance of danger if parents are not super-watchful.

A/C might cool you off and even prevent heat-exhaustion, but it can cause … dum dum dum. Sickness and Death.

It’s true! It happened!

Last summer, in a news story that has since become urban legend, a couple with an infant drove from Sweden to Serbia (why not just fly with the baby, I do not know) in the middle of a heatwave. They used the air-conditioning, set on 71F/22C. Apparently when they removed the baby from the car and directly into the oven-like heat, the poor infant went into some type of cardiac arrest and sadly, died.

And so, even if you have air-conditioning, you cannot use it.

For the rest of that summer, whenever I got into a taxi with my two kids, the driver dutifully made a show of turning off the air-conditioning. I had to specifically request that we have A/C.

“Are you sure? What about the children?”

“Yes, please, they are very hot and sweaty.”

Shaking his head, he reluctantly turned the A/C back on.

Perhaps during the day, but definitely NO air-conditioning at night
Especially around sleeping children.

Generally, apartments here do not have central air. Each room, and sometimes not even then, has its own unit, and they actually work pretty quickly. They can cool down a room to sleep-able levels in five-ten minutes. In my view, this is a fast, convenient aspect of homes in Serbia.

However, locals view it otherwise. I’ve learned that it can be very dangerous to leave the air-conditioning on in a room with a sleeping child. Why? Because if a child sweats when he sleeps (and he is very likely to do so, with or without A/C), and the parent is unable to wake the child and change his clothes quickly enough (because a child can never wear sweaty clothes) … Oohhhh, that is not going to be pretty.

I know one kid who begs his parents to let his sleep in only underpants–because he knows better than to ask for the A/C to be on at night.

No. way.

IMG_7013
Sleeping with only underpants on! What if a breeze comes by! That’s a recipe for sickness!

Truly, no one in that house is getting a good night’s sleep … not the kid who’s being woken up two or three times a night to have his clothes changed, and definitely not the parents!

But hey, at least Serbia isn’t contributing to global warming nearly as much as the U.S. For that, we should all be thankful.

www.laura-dennis.com

Baby Wearing In The Balkans

I wore both my kids. Of course I believe all of that hoopla about closeness, bonding and safe security, but I did have an ulterior motive: baby wearing was the easiest way to keep my hands free when my then-infants insisted upon being all up in my grill.

There were phases in which maneuvering for an inch of personal space on my part would send either of them into a fit of anger.

Hence, the sling, the Bjorn, the wrap, etc.
LD1

I wore D for about a year, until she was a stable walker. She was light enough, but my son got very heavy very quickly. So, by the time I moved to Belgrade when Maksim was five months old, the Bjorn just wasn’t cutting it for either M or I. Baby wearing is definitely a thing in the U.S., but I wondered about the Balkans.

It turns out, yes, people wear their babies here in the Balkans … even dads.

LD2

But Baby Wearing with a pink, hippie-esque wrap? Not so much.

I met Alice and Vladimir about ten years ago through my husband’s rather vast network of born-and-raised-in-the-Balkans-but-live-in-Los-Angeles-now friends. Alice is not from the Balkans, she’s American of Vietnamese ethnicity, so it was rather a funny coincidence that we both became parents and moved to Southern Europe around the same time.

Alice marches to the beat of her own drum, makes her own clothes, and is a very cool girl all around. When I saw this picture of her now husband, Vladimir–baby wearing their daughter, in pink no less–I had to ask about it.

Side notes: Have I mentioned before that Serbia is a very homogenous culture?

Differences of even the smallest kind are readily noticed (replete with raised eyebrows and head shaking in unabashed surprise).

Differences are nearly always commented upon. I guess I should be happy it’s done to my face. Observations are not necessarily said in a bad way, but it does get annoying when in only one morning, five grandmas ask why my daughter isn’t wearing socks with her shoes. (It’s only okay in summer, apparently. It’s still technically spring, and even though it’s 80+ degrees F outside, it’s not okay.)

[End of side note.] Now, Alice and her family lived in Croatia (a different country than Serbia, but still the Balkans). She said

Croatia’s collective mind simultaneously imploded at the sight of Vladimir walking around like this. He got many concerned warnings that he might be considered a “homo.” *Gasp!*

We were at the mall and I swear, he must have caused some severe whiplash among the shoppers.

Full disclosure: when Vladimir wore the pink wrap with their son inside years before, it made no sense even to Americans. Alice, she had “no ulterior gender motives or political statements–orange was just out of stock.”

Still awesome, nonetheless.

My husband did wear our daughter, for what it’s worth, but that was in “progressive” Southern California, and only to give my back a break … with a decidedly black carrier. If I ever see a dad baby wearing with a pink wrap in Serbia, I’ll be sure to take a picture.

source www.laura-dennis.com/baby-wearing-in-the-balkans/

How I Acquired A Serbian Godfather

It’s not a new movie; or a revelation of a heretofore secret mafia organization in Belgrade. No. This is a post about Serbian family and married life.

The direct translation for godfather in Serbian is kum. However, kum means much, much more. The concept runs deep, enriching friendships and social life.

First, things, first. … Let’s get pronunciation out-of-the-way. “Kum” is pronounced coom, like it rhymes with room. Kum, not come.

At recnik.com, kum means godfather, and kum/kuma (female version) also means sponsor. I’ve never heard of this, but I am only an American.

Finally, with the help of my friend, Google, I got down to Slavic.net and found a proper explanation for kum: best man, godfather, godparent, and of course, sponsor. Whatever that means.

Yes, kum can refer to the person you choose as the godfather when you baptize your child in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The kum/kuma is the one to witness when an adult is baptized. But then, that also means that your kum has been baptized himself. And in an increasing secular society (left over from communism), more and more people are not even baptized.

I know, right? Scandal!

Kum is more than “just” a best man.

This is where dictionaries don’t do the language justice. Today, among my friends at least, in addition to the religious/baptismal purpose, a kum is a best man, kuma is a maid-of-honor. You choose this person to stand with you when you get married; but the responsibility and the sense of closeness go deeper than that.

When you make someone your kum/kuma, it essentially makes them a part of your family. But better, because it’s someone that you actually choose and genuinely like. Your kum/kuma is probably someone you went to college or have a long history with. It’s a person you’d wish to be related to, if you could. And in Serbia, it’s possible!

Nuances

1. A kum/kuma is probably not from the same family as your parents’ kum/kuma. What! Why?

Because when the parents got married, they also had a kum and kuma. (Duh.) The children of the kum/kuma’s families then became the kumice, or “little” best men and “little” maids-of-honor. (This is where literal translations get a slightly ridiculous.)

2. People don’t seem to choose their brother or sister (siblings are already family), although sometimes Orthodox priests require you to choose a male family member. No kuma allowed.

3. The kum/kuma thing generally goes only one way, although I have seen exceptions. So, if Ivan chooses Sasha to be his kum, Sasha will likely choose someone else to be his kum.

4. From as much as I can gather, kum status remains, even in the case of divorce. If Ivan gets divorced, Sasha is still his kum!

5. A man chooses a kum, and a woman chooses a kuma, generally. After marriage, these connections transcend gender. So, Ivan’s wife may now refer to Sasha as kum.

All of this gets very complicated, I know. But, this kum/kuma/kumice actually makes for wonderfully close friendships.

My Wedding

I chose my brother to stand at my wedding. It was all very “Californian” to have a man-of-honor, instead of a maid-of-honor.

Nikola was my husband’s kum, chosen well before Misha and I even met. Nikola is a good man. He flew from Serbia to Los Angeles, and we met for the first time a few days before the wedding. After our lovely celebration, Misha and I had a “day after” brunch for our close family friends.

Amongst all the people, chatter, food and generally busy-party-goings-on, kum Nikola pulled me aside, and spoke a gruff whisper, pulling out a jewelry box with lovely earrings inside. After the thanks you’s and the assurances that he didn’t have to do that, Nikola got serious. He took my hand and looked me squarely in the eye.

In his thick Serbian accent and deep voice he said, “Lora, I have something to tell to you. … Lora. … If you ever need anything, anything at all. You call me. You understand? You. Call. Me. … Yes?”

“Yes, yes, thank you, Nikola.”

“No, Lora. I am very serious, any problems. You call me, okay?”

And with that, I realized that I, too, had my very own kum.

* * * * *

Curious about Laura’s other writing? Laura’s memoir, Adopted Reality is available for FREE ebook download internationally through April 26th, in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase Laura’s book at storycartel.com/adoptedreality/

The Cyrillic Alphabet As Political Act

So Laura, seriously. Why didn’t you start learning Cyrillic sooner?

Zing!

should have bitten the bullet and taken a Serbian language class at a university as soon as we arrived in mid-2010. I should have committed to driving 30 minutes to one-hour each way (thanks to cluster-fuck bridge-construction traffic into Belgrade), rushing home to feed my infant, while playing with my toddler.

Hell, I should have even been able to get tons of studying done. What better moment than middle-of-the-night bottle feedings?

Alphabet_Laura-Dennis-300x225

Mommy’s homework

True, so true. Because the best time to tackle a new, very difficult language, is when one is sleep-deprived, culture shocked, and juggling two little kids.

may have believed Cyrillic was “just a phase” …

The truth is, I resisted learning Cyrillic initially because I took the “dual-lettering” (words are often written in Cyrillic and Latin) in malls and stores to mean that Serbia was on its way to “European-ize” itself, as it attempts to join the E.U. [No, I’m not an idiot. It’s just that the complexities of Balkan history and culture were fairly limitednonexistent in terms of American social studies education. And Western media, exemplified by the “All Serbs are war criminals” stereotype.

So anyway, Cyrillic as a phase? Um, not so much.

Reality check: Cyrillic is the alphabet of the Serbian language. While the West may lump ethnicities together, creating “Serbo-Croatian” dictionaries, locals will tell you that there is no such thing as a language called Serbo-Croatian. [I have nothing against Croatians, heck I was raised Catholic!]

Serbian is a language distinct from Croatian. (Let’s be real here, they’re verysimilar). Several words are different, and dialects and accents vary. But. Thealphabet of Serbian is Cyrillic, and the alphabet of Croatian is Latin.

Rebel Serbs, really?

The difference in alphabet is not to be taken lightly.

In February, thousands of Croats rallied against a new law to display Cyrillic Signs in Vukovar, which is now a part of Croatia, but has a large ethnic Serb population. According to Reuters, Vukovar is “a town destroyed in the 1991-95 war with rebel Serbs.”

vukovar_Laura-Dennis-300x206

WARNING: I may be more nationalistic now than some Serbs. I may be a foreigner and truly have no beef against anyone because of their ethnicity, but I do have opinions … If you are 100% sure that the American media reporting of the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s was balanced and unbiased, skip this section, please. I wouldn’t want to risk inadvertantly un-washing-someone’s brain.

Another quote from the Reuters article that exemplifies the Western perspective on the Balkan conflict

… the easternmost town of Vukovar, which many Croats still see as a symbol of destruction and suffering brought on by the Serb rebellion against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. [boldface is mine.]

To clarify … the above referenced “rebel Serbs,” and the “Serb rebellion” … these were Yugoslav citizens. If they carried a passport, it was for Yugoslavia. People of Serb ethnicity were fighting to keep Croatia from gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

Stop! Caveat Time: Yes, the Serbs “lost,” yes, there was bad behavior on both sides. (This happens in war.) History is written by the victors, saying who’s a “rebel” versus who was “justified” and a “freedom fighter.”

Imagine for a moment …

Florida_Laura-Dennis-300x262

If Florida declared independence, who would YOU call “rebel”?

Cuban-Americans [insert your mixed American ethnicity of choice] in Florida decided they were fed up (they, too have their reasons) and declare a free and independent Florida. … Would it be appropriate to call U.S. soldiers and citizens who take up arms against those seceding–rebels?

Would we call the ones who are fighting to keep Florida in the U.S., rebels?

Before anyone starts flaming me in the comments Consider this: during the Civil War, the Confederate Army was the Rebel Army, because they were the ones seceding.

Remember the American Revolutionary War? Yep. In that case, our constitutional Founders were Revolutionaries. Those who were remained loyal to the British throne (for whatever reason, surely they had at least one) … were “loyalists,” because they tried to keep the American colonies from gaining freedom.

The rebels were those who wanted to break away.

Cyrillic Alphabet as Political Act

Back to the Balkans …

What happened in Vukovar is that the Social Democratic-led Croatian government sought to implement a law (yes a law that passed by a democratic process). The law allows for Cyrillic public signs in places where there is at least a 1/3 Serb population. A significant number of Croatians (approx 20,000 rallied) have a problem with it.

The Croatian government is attempting to soothe ethnic tensions. … Protesting a law intended to recognize ethnic diversity, a law that your own democratic government carried out? That’s bad juju.

There you have it: Cyrillic is a political act. Ethnic tensions die hard.

Now please excuse me while this quote-un-quote rebel expat (and proud American citizen) takes some time to study her Cyrillic.

*  *  *  *  *

Vukovar protest image. Florida image from freedigitalphotos.net

When Mom And Kid Learn Cyrillic, Guess Who Succeeds Faster?

As I alluded to last week in Expat Confessional – I am barely literate… I am learning Cyrillic, or at least trying to, for the sake of my daughter.

When Danica was 2 1/2, I was determined to make sure she would be “kindergarten ready,” and spent many stressful hours teaching her to write her letters. I started with her name.

Once we were through the Latin alphabet, I had the brilliant idea to show her how to write in Cyrillic.

I know, I know, I’m still operating on the American “push to succeed.” Few other parents here are as actively worried about their child’s academic development. There’s more of a “you’re only a kid once,” and “what kid doesn’t know how to read?”–type of attitude.

First Foray into Cyrillic

She was three when I started on her name in Cyrillic. The first letter, D, is: Д. When I showed it to her, my daughter immediately screamed, “That. is. a. TRIANGLE! That is not my letter,” and stormed off.

It’s a trapezoid, I wanted to say, but knew well enough not to argue.

Two years have passed, and I haven’t pushed the issue further. Now, at Danica’s preschool, they are learning their Cyrillic letters, and within the context of school or from any mommy besides her mommy, she’s fine with learning the Serbian alphabet.

In fact, she now knows how to write her name (in only all caps, hey, you can’t have everything) in both Latin and Cyrillic letters. It’s no easy feat, take a look:

D A N I C A

Д А Н И Ц А

Okay, it’s not sooo different, but notice that you have “N” in Latin and then backwards “N” is an “i” sound, and is written as И in Cyrillic. Luckily, Danica learned her right from her left fairly early so, the “slide” (diagonal line) in N faces right and the “slide” in И faces left.

If all of this is making your head spin, just skip it. I did … going on three years, and I live here.

The Perils of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

One afternoon, Danica’s preschool teacher and I were chatting about home schooling. Because I’m a masochist Just for fun, I asked my daughter, “Would you like to be home schooled? I could be your teacher.” Danica had no words.

Ignoring me, she looked at her teacher and rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Can you believe this shit?” and finally turned to me and simply shook her head, “no.” And that was the end of that.

And so, I’m slowly learning my Cyrillic letters, and I’m looking forward to the day when both Danica and I can read Cyrillic.

That’s the beauty of the completely phonetic aspect of the Serbian language. Whereas in English, a child has to learn the name of the letter, the sound it makes (“A” says aaaa, etc.), and then deal with all of the “exceptions to the rules.” In Cyrillic, once you recognize all your letter-sounds, reading is pretty much a done-deal.

Although, by that time I’m sure Danica is going to be correcting me, as she already does with spoken Serbian. Good times.

Expat Confessional – I’m Barely Literate

Yoo-hoo! Over here! That’s me!  The barely literate American …

Last week in Expat Confessional–3 Ways I Suck at Driving in Serbia, I wrote about nearly hitting various pedestrians what a great driver I actually am. But there’s a fourth thing that impedes my ability to find my way around Belgrade, and that is … The Cyrillic Issue.

What, pray tell, is The Cyrillic Issue?

And why do you insist upon making up phrases for everything?

fish-restaurant_Laura-Dennis-300x300

Sometimes it’s quaint that I can’t read Cyrillic, like when I first arrived in Serbia and wondered if

PECTOPAH

as in PEC-to-pah (which is how I pronounced it in my head) … meant, “fish.” Because the sign said, PECTOPAH with a picture of, you guessed it, a fish. Right.

Months later when my husband asked where I wanted to go for dinner, I said, “Pectopah, you know, that fish restaurant by the river.”

“What the hell is a Pectopah, Laura?” [In point of fact, there a hundred or more “fish restaurants by the river.” It’s hard being my spouse. Understatement of the year.]

And this is what I mean by The Cyrillic Issue. … Because P-E-C-T-O-P-A-H isRestoran, written in Cyrillic. Restoran means RESTAURANT.

Not a proud moment.

Finding my way (poorly) when half the signs are in Cyrillic

When I wrote of the perils of applying my American driving skills to Belgrade traffic, I didn’t even go into the Belgrade Street Sign clusterf**k.

“Old” street names are often in Cyrillic, and generally new (post-1990s messiness) signs use the Latin alphabet.

Additionally, streets have been renamed and renamed, again. After WWII, Tito called a bunch of stuff “Tito-grad,” and Tito-this and Tito-that. Then, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, streets were changed again, presumably to make Serbia appear less “communist dictatorship,” and more “socialist democracy.” Yes, there is a difference.

How you describe the location of something–including the street names used, depends upon how long you’ve lived here, and when and if you ever left.

Oh … you ask, What about google maps? It’s true, the Serbian counterpart, Plan.rs is a lifesaver, IF you can figure out which address to input. You might find “an address” that roughly resembles where you want to go in Plan.rs … written in Latin. When you get to driving there, you may find only Cyrillic street signs.

At these times, I feel as if I’m endeavoring to complete a crossword puzzle while blind-folded with two screaming kids demanding I put on a new movie.  I’m not even good a crossword puzzles.

Instead, people tend to rely on descriptions of where to go and how to get there, like when I needed to figure out how to take my daughter and her friend to gymnastics class:

Do you know such-and-such high school [insert unrecognizable name here]? Yes? Okay, well, the bank down the street from that high school is where you want to turn left.

Then go around behind it, yes, by the dumpsters. [Dumpsters are everywhere, they are not what one might call “distinct” landmarks.] That’s where you’ll find parking. Look for the sign that says “Gimnastika” and you should be fine from there.

Completely fine. Which is why, I made the other mom drive with me the first time. Because you only learn by actually paying attention to the road  doing.

And so, I’ve resigned to remedy my illiteracy. That’s not to say I’ll be able to read Cyrillic street signs fast enough while driving anytime soon. I will have to continue to rely on the Landmark Method, watching for the dark grey run-down building (among all the generally grey concrete buildings) and making a right.

At least I know now how to find a damn restaurant in this country.

*  *  *  *  *

image from freedigitalphotos.net

Inat – A Secret Weapon Of Resilience?

Asking around about inat, I’ve received interesting some feedback. … Let sleeping dogs lie, just write more cute anxious-mommy stories.

It all started when I wondered about the 1999 Nato bombing. The thing I wanted to know was, with bombs falling on your city: Why not just get the heck out?

Me: I know there are exceptions to all stereotypes …

Fellow mommy friend: Of course, they never hold true for everyone.

Me: But what about inat?

Not an actual 1999 t-shirt, but (I hope) a decent approximation …

Friend: Ha! That one is completely true. Inat means spite, but not exactly. Not in the sense of retribution. Inat is something like, “You gave me sanctions, and I survived. Now you want to bomb me? I’m not going anywhere. Bring. It. On.” That’s why all of us were walking around Belgrade wearing t-shirts with a target on them.

The Anxious Mommy Perspective on National Emergencies

Here’s the thing, after 9/11, many Americans came up with emergency contingency plans. (Serbs—feel free to throw salt over your shoulder or to spit on the ground … )

No joke, I know exactly what I’m going to do if some shit hits the fan here. Who I’ll call, what I’ll bring if I have 10 minutes to pack the family in the car and leave. Not to be macabre, but even before Libya, my plan did not involve knocking on the heavily fortified doors of a likely targeted American Embassy.

I know, I know, there are a lot of reasons people didn’t leave Serbia. Some had no place to go, let alone the money to go there. The bombing didn’t just occur at night, and only on military installations. The entire country was targeted, and travelling—even across local city bridges—was as treacherous as staying in one spot.

Etymology of Inat

Originally a Turkish word that means “persistence,” inat takes on a deeper meaning in Serbian. (The Ottoman Empire ruled over the Balkans for 500+ years, hence the language influences.) From Open Democracy, Aleksandra Kovac said

The meaning of the Serbian word inat in a bilingual dictionary like Morton Benson’s is often defined in terms of malice, spite, or grudge. None of these is a direct equivalent and each contains only a partial component of the emotional complexities the word suggests to the Serbian ear.

A closer correspondence for inat would be, in the words of Dragan Milovic [London’s Institute of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies.] … “an attitude of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation—sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.” (2004)

A closely held secret

Back in April 1999, the BBC called Inat: “Serbia’s Secret Weapon.”

Nato’s bombing of Serbia is bringing inat even closer to the surface of its people’s raison d’etre.

They get up, go to work, and carry on with life as normally as possible, not through any notion of presenting a stiff upper lip—but because Nato doesn’t want them to.

Inat is doing something on purpose, even though it’s forbidden, perhaps because it’s forbidden.

No one ever mentioned inat to me 

Over the last ten years, I’ve had many dear friends and wonderful colleagues who are from ex-Yugoslavia, living in the US and Europe. People who’d lived in places that are now called Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Serbia. I’ve met Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and agnostics. Even atheists (I know, scandal!). All sorts of mixes, too.

The point is, I know a lot of people from the Balkans, but no one mentioned inat.

Talking about politics and even something that might be construed as a cultural identity (and therefore dangerously “nationalistic”) is still a complex, emotional subject. Truly, depending upon whom I ask, inat is either seen as a nasty, negative quality, or one of survival and resilience.

Nevertheless, I feel like I got a satisfying answer. … When Nato started bombing Serbia, why didn’t people just leave?

Expat Confessional – 3 Ways I Suck At Driving In Serbia

Driving in and around Belgrade is not easy. [Understatement.]

Things simply doesn’t make sense (literally, as in I’m illerate in Cyrillic). It’s New York City-type-driving on steroids. Lanes are more narrow, drivers cut-it-closer, with just the slightest bit of aggression. No, I’m not implying all Serbs are aggressive, I’m still a semi-PC-American, remember? People are skilled, not nasty drivers.

I will never understand the traffic patterns here.

While I do consider myself a competent, safe driver, but please don’t ask my husband his opinion, I will now provide a few examples to elucidate why and how I truly … suck at driving in Serbia.

1. The Protected Green Left-turn Light.

Doesn’t sound so hard, right? It (should) mean I have the right-of-way to make my left turn safely.

Not so.

These lights coincide with green walk signs for pedestrians who are crossing the very intersection through which I’m attempting to drive.

Seriously. It is extremely disconcerting to see grandmas slowly shuffling and I hope to dear god they don’t fall and break a hip crossing these intersections. What I want to know is … Why give me the go-ahead with a protected green light? Why Serbia-traffic-laws, why?

Those sneaky protected green lights mess with my head.

Which brings me to Confession #1: may have slammed my breaks on more than one occasion to keep from flattening a man-in-a-jaunty-white-jacket-who-nearly-lost-his-life, sorry! pedestrian who sprinted into the intersection at the last possible moment.

2. Un-marked lanes, which are actually reserved for … trams. Yes, as in electric trains on the street

Belgrade has electric trams, like those quaint street cars in San Francisco. Here, they sometimes have own dedicated lanes. No big deal, right?

Confession #2: Ummmm, I may have driven in tram lane once or twice. Don’t judge … it was empty, as in tram-free!

These lanes aren’t properly marked (see above, re: Laura’s illiteratacy), so to thestupid American driver and even a casual observer, they are merely unused lanes perfect for getting a leg-up on backed up traffic.

3. Invisible traffic lights

On the subject of unmarked-things-you-need-to-see-when-driving-a-car (and, yes, I was wearing my glasses, thank you for asking) … Most traffic lights have some “protective material” that reflects the light, thereby making it nearly impossible to ascertain the light’s status … until one is nearly in the intersection.

Confession #3: I may have run a red light (let’s call it pink, not quite red) but not on purpose!