Ya Ya Serbia And The Zen Mind

In my early days in Serbia I thought the phrase ‘Ya Ya Serbeeyaa’, oft heard, meant ‘egg egg Serbia’, or ‘Eggy Serbia’, because I’d learnt that ‘Ya Ya’ means egg in Serbian. However, as I heard this phrase more often, predominantly by older people, and usually with a shake of the head or a roll of the eyes, I realised it was actually a phrase of disparagement and resignation. Basically the person was saying, ‘well this is Serbia, what the f+ck do you expect’? And this one statement could explain everything from the price of milk to corrupt politicians.

My theory is that anyone who has lived a long time in any country usually becomes sensitive to injustices or inefficiencies in that country. And so as people grow older, in any country, they are more inclined to include in their conversation with others some lament about their particular grievance with that country.

In Britain that lament might be, depending on one’s views, any one or more of the following: the condition of road surfaces, the number of speed cameras watching the roads, the rudeness of the young (or old, or shopkeepers), the amount of bureaucracy, the levels of taxes, the European Community’s laws regarding the proper size of a banana, etc, etc, etc.

I suppose a similar phrase in Britain to ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ might be ‘Only in Britain’, and any of the afore-mentioned situations could invoke that statement from neighbours as they talk over the garden fence and crossed their arms, and shook their heads from side to side.

What’s interesting about the phenomenon of ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ or ‘Only in Britain’ is that it’s far less likely to be spoken by foreigners. A Serbian in England or an Englander in Serbia is far less likely to be bothered by those events and situations that really drive the natives crazy? Why is this?

I think that the majority of those issues which really bothers people who’ve lived in a country for a long time are more likely to be the ‘stone in the shoe’ affairs than the life shattering ones.

And so when I hear of, or see, any such minor irritations in Belgrade I shrug but don’t think too much of them. My wife, however, might feel a great sense of ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ because she has heard/felt/experienced a multitude of such specific events in Belgrade over her lifetime and each one planted a ‘small stone in her shoe’ and now each stone feels like a boulder. Her ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ is the cumulative effect of all these little specific events.

So how does ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ tie into Zen? Well apparently Zen monks acquire a sense of peace because they don’t allow all the small irritations and attachments to grow inside them. Unlike us regular human beings they live in the present and don’t harbour a growing list of annoyances – they let things go.

Perhaps, being a foreigner in any country puts one in more of a ‘zen-like’ state. All you see and hear is new, and you are more focussed on the present as you go about your activities. You don’t harbour a long list of location (or personnel) specific minor resentments that can boil over whenever some new (but similar) minor incident occurs because you haven’t been in the country long enough for those ‘stones in the shoe’ to feel like boulders.

Don’t believe me? Take a 3-month holiday in another country and notice how your sense of ‘Ya Ya’ disappears as you focus on your new environment and temporarily let-go of your pet hates.