Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Confessions of a 'Serbaroo': What it means to be a Serb in Australia & New Zealand

Serbs.  I love them.  I love them so much, I had them for parents.  Australia loves them!  So much so in fact, that in the nineties, they constituted one of this country's largest imports.

Not long ago, I was asked to summarise what it means to “be Serb in Australia and New Zealand”.  Now, to attempt to answer this question seriously is pretentious, to approach it with good humour is essential and to tackle it at all is, honestly, too much effort for most.  Maybe it's because being Serb here is something almost as inexplicable as it is unbelievable, or perhaps it's simply that too few people know how to tell the story properly.  I say this because there's an important message here, but any answer to this question, which makes you think without laughing or laugh without thinking, is ironically, laughable and thoughtless.  In any case, anyone who knows me would know that I don't do "serious" but I do however, do stories.  "Serious" is boring, unimaginative and ours is a story deserving of far more.  So below, in less than 500 words, I'm going to answer this question in the only way I believe it should be answered; with overwhelming positivity, with simplicity and through a series of collective experiences that you, the reader, can both laugh at and relate to.

Being Serb in Australia means having to supply alcohol when attending Australian parties as well as supplying alcohol when Australians attend your parties.  It means you can’t legally drink until you’re 18 but that your dad let you sample beer and rakija before the age of 14.  Being Serb in New Zealand means roasting a sheep every weekend rather than making love to a sheep every weekend.

Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means sharing in a common history of fighting the Turks.  It means eating ‘cevapi’ rather than ‘snags’ and paying twice as much when buying sausages that are half the size.  It means oak Christmas trees instead of conifers, with green oak leaves instead of brown and it means seeing someone starting a fire on the Christmas tree before starting a fire at the barbecue.  It means celebrating winter Saint’s days in summer and summer Saint’s days in winter.  It’s attending school for half a day on Saturdays and it’s knowing two national anthems.  Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means living in two countries that recognised Kosovo’s illegal independence but still identifying your nationality as belonging to the most important country not to have recognised it.  It means loving a country that shares more than half a dozen borders, but living in two countries that share borders with no one.  Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means you’re allowed to march in the ‘ANZAC Day’ parade.  It means attending the Australian Open but cheering for Serbs and it means going to the footy with Serbs and barracking for Australians.

Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means living in one world but having the best of both.  It can mean feeling like you constantly have to defend your own people whilst always taking care not to offend other peoples.  It can mean working a casual job and studying in one country, and all the while having to be a permanent ambassador for a country on the other side of the world.  It means correcting friends when they mispronounce your names and then apologising when your parents mispronounce theirs.  Being Serb in Australia or New Zealand means living in a country that approves of genetically-modified food but has wild animals on its coat of arms, yet belonging to a country that disapproves of genetically-modified foods but has a double-headed eagle on its coat of arms.  It means late nights watching Aussie sports followed by early mornings at an Orthodox church.

Ultimately though, being a Serb in Australia and New Zealand means little to those that aren’t, but it means everything to those that are.  It means you can raise one glass to two countries while you hold-up three fingers.  It means having the freedom to love where you are whilst still celebrating where you’ve come from.  In short; it’s meaningful.