Information about Serbia. The dos and the dont's, business etiquette, general information about the country. The document was created for the project Info4migrants. Project number UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
Serbian dinar (RSD)
Official name: the Republic of Serbia
Location: the central part of the Balkan Peninsula in Central
Capital and largest city: Belgrade, 1.135 million
Climate: In the north, continental climate (cold winter and hot,
humid summers; central portion, continental and Mediterra-
nean climate; to the south, hot, dry summers and autumns
and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfall inland.
Languages: Serbian (official) 88.1%, Hungarian 3.4%, Bosnian
1.9%, Romani 1.4%, other 3.4%, undeclared or unknown 1.8%.
Note: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, and
Rusyn all official in Vojvodina.
Ethnicity: Serb 83.3%, Hungarian 3.5%, Romany 2.1%, Bosniak
2%, other 5.7%, undeclared or unknown 3.4%
Religions: Serbian Orthodox 84.6%, Catholic 5%, Muslim 3.1%,
Protestant 1%, atheist 1.1%, other 0.8%, undeclared or un-
Coat of arms
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The official language is Serbian, member of the South Slavic
group of languages, and native to 88% of the population.
Serbian is the only European language with active digraphia,
using both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Serbian Cyrillic was
devised in 1814 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić, who creat-
ed the alphabet on phonemic principles. The Cyrillic script
itself has its origins in Cyril and Methodius’s transformation
of the Greek script in the 9th century.
Recognized minority languages are: Hungarian, Slovak, Al-
banian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Rusyn as well as Bosnian
and Croatian, which are completely mutually intelligible
with Serbian. All these languages are in official use in mu-
nicipalities or cities where more than 15% of the population
consists of a national minority. In Vojvodina, the provincial
administration uses, besides Serbian, five other languages
(Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian, Romanian and Rusyn).
The name Yugoslavia previously designated six republics:
Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Croatia and Slovenia. The word means “land of the south-
ern Slavs.” Within Serbia, there are several national cul-
tures. In addition to the dominant Serb tradition, there is
a large Hungarian population in the northern province of
Vojvodina, where Hungarian is the common language and
the culture is highly influenced by Hungary (which borders
the province to the north). In southern Serbia, the prov-
ince of Kosovo is primarily Albanian, and has an Islamic
culture that bears many remnants of the earlier Turkish
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Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) was a world-renowned inventor,
physicist, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer of
Serbian origin. He is regarded as one of the most important
inventors in history. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work
form the basis of modern alternating current electric power
(AC) systems, including the polyphase power distribution
systems and the AC motor.
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Belgrade is the capital of the Republic of Serbia. It has been
the capital of all of the many versions of Yugoslavia through-
out history (starting with the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and
Slovenes in 1918, through the communist Socialist Federa-
tive Republic of Yugoslavia, and ending with the romp Fed-
eral Republic of Yugoslavia that lasted through the 1990’s to
2003). It is located on the outfall of the river Sava into the
In Serbian, the city is called Beograd. The name (meaning
white city: beo - white, grad - city) is the Slavic version of its
old Celtic name, Singidunum.
Ethnic Serbs constitute a majority in Serbia, at about 82.86%
(excluding Kosovo). There are 37 different ethnicities in
Serbia. Ethnic Albanians are concentrated in the Kosovo re-
gion of southwest Serbia. Ethnic Hungarians make up about
3.91% of the population and live in northern Serbia near the
Hungarian border. The remaining population consists primar-
ily of Slavic Muslims, Bulgarians, Slovaks, Macedonians, Cro-
ats, Roma, Montenegrins, Ruthenians, Romanians, Vlachs,
Bunjevci, and Turks.
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The Slava, also called Krsna Slava (Крсна Слава, “chris-
tened Slava”) and Krsno ime (Крсно име, “christened
name”), is a Serbian Orthodox Church tradition of the rit-
ual glorification of one’s family’s patron saint among Serbs
and Montenegrins, and also Serbs in Macedonia. The fam-
ily celebrates the Slava annually on the saint’s feast day.
Unlike other major Orthodox Christian nations, i.e. Greeks,
Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Georgians etc., Serbs
do not celebrate individual name days, as when a person
named after a saint would celebrate that saint’s feast day,
but instead they do it collectively as the name day of a
certain family and/or clan. Serbs usually regard the Slava
as their most significant and most solemn feast day.
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Kosovo Serbs (Serbian: Kosovski Srbi/Косовски Срби) are
the Serbs living in Kosovo, where they are the second larg-
est ethnic group. During the 12-13th century, Kosovo was
the cultural, diplomatic and religious core of the Serbian
Kingdom. It was also an important part of the 14th century
Serbian Empire, but was occupied by the Ottomans follow-
ing the Battle of Kosovo. After five centuries as part of the
Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed by the Kingdom of
Serbia in 1912, following the First Balkan War. It was then
part of Serbia (and later Yugoslavia), until the 1999 Kosovo
War resulted in the de facto separation of Kosovo from the
rest of Serbia, followed by its final secession from Serbia in
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1-2 January: New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is a pub-
lic holiday in many places
around the world and Serbia
is no exception.
7 January: Julian Orthodox
Orthodox Christmas or Božić
is based on the Old Julian
It is the anniversary of the
First Serbian Uprising in 1804
and the first Serbian Consti-
tution in 1835.
Moveable date during
spring: Orthodox Good Fri-
Easter Monday is the day
following Easter Day.
Moveable date during
spring: Orthodox Easter
This day celebrates the res-
urrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead.
Moveable date during
spring: Orthodox Easter
Easter Monday is known as
“Bright Monday” or “Renew-
1-2 May: May Day
Celebration of the interna-
tional Labour Day
This day is commemorated
since 2012 to mark the ar-
mistice signed between the
Allies of World War I and
Germany at Compiègne,
France, for the cessation of
hostilities on the Western
Front of World War I.
The employees of Chris-
tian, Muslim and Jewish
religion are allowed not
to work on some of their
• Moveable date during
spring: Good Friday
• Moveable date during
• Moveable date during
spring: Easter Monday
Serbian Orthodox Chris-
• Moveable date: Slava
The celebration of patron
saint day of the family, the
dates vary among families.
Western Christians and Re-
vised Julian Calendar Ortho-
• 25 December: Christmas
• 1 Shawwal (Moveable
date): Eid ul-Fitr
Feast of the end of RAmadan
• 10 Dhu al-Hijjah (Move-
able date): Eid al-Adha
Feast of the Sacrifice
10 Tishrei (moveable date
during autumn): Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement is the holi-
est day of the year for Jewish
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Belgrade’s landmark fortress was originally built as a Roman military camp during the 1st
century. Visitors who look closely at the walls will notice that they contain dozens of lay-
ers, one for nearly each of the 38 fires set in Serbia’s capital over the 2,000-year history of
the fortress. The Turks added outer fortifications in 1760, after which the fortress’ appear-
ance has remained relatively unchanged.
This island-turned-peninsula on the Sava River has become Belgrade’s most popular re-
laxation spot, attracting up to 300,000 visitors on summer weekends. Over four miles of
beaches line the manmade Sava Lake’s shores. However, Ada Ciganlija also contains most
of Belgrade’s sport facilities - including those of the extreme variety – as well as tracks for
walking or cycling. Ada Ciganlija also transforms into the city’s hottest beach party and
concert venue after dark.
Fruska Gora National Park
At least one full day is recommended to fully explore Fruska Gora National Park, named
after its highest mountain, and frequently referred to as ‘the jewel of Serbia’ thanks to its
picturesque countryside. Riesling and Traminer are just two of the wines produced from
the grapes that grow on the mountains, and visitors can even harvest honey from bee-
hives in late spring. Hiking, cycling, and rock climbing in Orlovo Bojiste are the park’s most
popular activities. However, Fruska Gora’s most famous landmarks are its 35 15th and
16th century South Backa monasteries, all of which can be admired on a single guided
Tara National Park
The Drina River running through this western Serbia park forms part of the country’s
Serbia has a lot of history packed within its relatively small borders, including
some of Europe’s oldest settlements and the birthplaces of no fewer than 17 Ro-
man emperors, all of which left monuments and palaces behind. Dozens of cul-
tures and ethnic groups have left their influence on the country, which has acted
as one of Europe’s major crossroads over the centuries. Belgrade’s famous 1st-
century fortress has survived at least 38 fires and 60 invasions over its 2,000-year
history. Another popular landmark in Serbia’s capital is the former island of Ada
Ciganlija, now a popular holiday spot for locals and visitors alike.
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border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The park is named after one of its most impressive
landmarks, Europe’s deepest canyon, but also contains countless forests, waterfalls, and
deep caves waiting to be discovered. The Drina River Gorge is one of Serbia’s most chal-
lenging whitewater rafting spots. One of the park’s rarest trees, the pancic spruce, has
grown here since pre-historic times.
Devils Town (Djavolja Varos)
These 202 stone pyramids lining southern Serbia’s Tuta River, which range between just
one mile and nine miles in height, were created by an extensive erosion process. Two
natural springs, Red Well and Devil’s Water, spew mineral-loaded water up to 1,000 times
more acidic than average drinking water.
The healing powers of this serene five-mile long lake near Subotica have attracted af-
fluent visitors from around the world since the 19th century. The lake’s Great Park has
more than doubled in size since its original 1840 opening. Today, Lake Palic is an officially
protected area filled with cycling and walking paths around its 11-mile coast. The lake’s
surrounding area now contains several beaches, restaurants, hotels, sports facilities, and
even a zoo.
Nis Skull Tower
The 58 skulls forming this tower, along with the historic Constantinople Road towards
Sofia, belonged to Serbian rebels Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, ordered to be killed during
the 1809 Battle of Čegar. Serbian commander Stevan Sinđelić killed not only himself, but
also the rest of his troops and several Turkish soldiers when he deliberately fired at his
gunpowder depot rather than surrender to the Turks. Hursid Pasha, the Turkish com-
mander of Nis, ordered the dead Serbian soldiers’ heads be mounted on a tower as an
ominous warning to anyone else daring to oppose the Ottoman Empire. A monument to
Sinđelić, whose skull sits at the tower’s summit, stands in front of a nearby chapel.
Gamzigrad - Romuliana
Among the most impressive of Serbia’s many buildings from the Roman Empire is this
palace and memorial complex. The construction was ordered by Emperor Caius Valerius
Galerius Maximianus between the 3rd and 4th centuries. The emperor named the Felix
Romuliana palace after his mother Romula. Numerous basilicas, temples, fortifications,
and even hot baths are found within this UNESCO World Heritage Site and spa resort.
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The great variety in Serbia’s cuisine originates from its geographical, nation-
al and cultural diversity, and the jigsaw of centuries of population changes.
Influences on Serbian cuisine have been rich and varied – it first began as a
mixture of Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish and Hungarian cooking.
Ćevapi (or ćevapčići) are small sausage-like grilled portions of minced meat. Serbian
ćevapčići are made from either beef, lamb or pork or mixed. They are usually served as
5-10 pieces on a plate or in a flatbread (lepinje or somun), often with chopped onions,
sour cream, kajmak, ajvar, cottage cheese, minced red pepper and salt.
Pljeskavica is a popular patty dish, second only to ćevapćići. It is often served with ka-
jmakmilk cream, ajvar sauce of peppers and urnebes mixed spicy sauce. Leskovačka
pljeskavica (pljeskavica from Leskovac) is one of the most famous types in Serbia and
is usually made of beef or pork, very spicy and served with onions. There are however,
many other ways of serving it such as Šarska and Hajdučka. Šarska pleskavica is made of
beef and stuffed with kashkaval cheese. Hajdučka pljeskavica is made of beef mixed with
smoked pork meat. Recently, pljeskavica has gained popularity in Europe and is served in
few speciality fast foodrestaurants in Germany, Sweden, and Austria.
Pečenje basically means roasted meat (whole roasted pork, lamb and goat), and it’s one
of the most popular dishes in Serbia, especially during all types of celebrations such as
weddings or slava. Pečenje can sometimes be very greasy, especially when served cold,
which is not uncommon.
Bečka šnicla (Schnitzel) is a traditional Austrian dish made with boneless meat thinned
with a hammer (escalope-style preparation), coated in bread crumbs and fried. It is a pop-
ular part of Austrian cuisine and German cuisine, though variations are present all over
the world. In Austria, the dish called Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese schnitzel) is traditional-
ly garnished with a slice of lemon and either potato salad or potatoes with parsley and
butter. In Serbia, the dish is called bečka šnicla (Viennese schnitzel). A local urban legend
states the dish originated in Serbia and not in Italy, but no one knows why.
Also referred to as “the girls’ dream”, Karadjordje’s steak is a dish named after the Serbi-
an Prince Karadjordje. It is a rolled veal or pork steak, stuffed with kajmak, breaded and
baked (or fried). It is served with roasted potatoes and tartar sauce.
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Soups, stews and other “spoon” dishes
Sarma is basically ground beef and rice rolled into cabbage, greens or grapevine. In Ser-
bia, the most popular is the cabbage sarma. Some people prefer it
with sour cream (pavlaka), while others like garlic with it. If you
are in a fish restaurant by the river, make sure you try the
traditional Riblja čorba or Riblji paprikaš (fish stew with
tomato juice and paprika). Even people who don’t
really like fish enjoy this dish.
Punjene paprike (stuffed paprikas) is a dish
made of paprika, stuffed with a mix of meat
and rice in tomato sauce, the ingredients
consisting of green or red capsicums, eggs,
spices, salt, tomato, minced meat and rice.
Škembići (Tripe soup) comes in many
varieties in the Eastern European cuisine.
In Serbia, Škembići is one of the oldest
known dishes, dating to the 13th century.
Škembići are Tripe in vegetable stew with
herbs, served with boiled potato.
Gibanicais a cheese pie typical of Serbia. It’s one
of the most recognizable types of Serbian pastry. It is
made of layers of thin dough with cheese, and usually
an egg poured over.
Burek is a family of baked or fried filled pastries of Ottoman origin made
of a thin flaky dough known as yufka (or phyllo). It can be filled with cheese, minced
meat, or mushrooms. There are also some modern variations without any filling, and
filled with cherry.
Proja is a Serbian dish made of cornbread. It used to be popular in times of widespread
poverty, mostly before the 1950’s, but is now a common everyday meal. It is often mis-
taken with projara, a somewhat fancier variant of proja.
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Salads and appetizers
Urnebes is a type of salad characteristic of Serbian cuisine prominent in the city of Niš
and southern Serbia. It is made of cheese and hot chili peppers, with salt and spices.
Kaјmak is a creamy dairy product, similar to clotted cream, very popular with Ćevapćići,
Pljeskavica, Prženice or Somun (flatbread).
Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and
sweetened with syrup or honey. It is characteristic of the cuisines of the former Ottoman
Empire and much of Central and Southwest Asia.
Krofne are doughnuts filled with jelly, marmalade, jam or chocolate. They can also be
filled with custard, or cream, but that is usually less common.
Uštipci, also called Mekike, are doughnut-like balls similar to krofne but with more of a
soft, bread-like feel to them. They are easier to make than krofne, and they do not nec-
essarily have to be sweet. In restaurants they might come with jam and kajmak or with
cheese, thus fulfilling the role of breakfast staple or desert or even a main course.
Palatschinke is a very popular sweet, served with Chocolate cream, ground walnuts,
ground biscuit, or honey. There are many palačinkarnice (pancake shops) where you can
buy them. There are also salty version with various types of ham, cheese, etc.
Popular Serbian drinks
The best known Serbian drink is Rakija, a strong brandy (the most common ones are from
plum – Šljivovica, Kajsijevača – from apricot, Dunjevača – from quince, and Vilijamovka
– from pear). The alcohol content varies usually between 30-40%, but some private distill-
ers get up to 50%.
Pelinkovac is a bitter liqueur based on wormwood (pelin). The alcohol content is 28-35%
by volume. It has a very bitter taste, resembling that of Jägermeister.
There are several breweries in Serbia making various domestic and international types of
beer. The most popular domestic ones are Jelen (Deer) and Lav (Lion).
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• Most Serbian last names end with the letters “ic”.
• In 274 AD, Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor, was born in the Serbian city of
• Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, a total of eighteen emperors were born on what is
modern day Serbia. That number accounts for a fifth of all Roman rulers.
• The only Serbian word that is accepted and used across the world is “vampire”.
• The Serbian clock-making industry is even older than the world-famous Swiss one. The
Serbs had their own clock 600 years before the Swiss did.
• The Old Downtown Church that stands in the downtown section of Cacak is home to a
religious building that has been turned into a mosque a record ten times.
• The very first video transmission between North America and Europe
that took place in 1963 featured the White Angel from the Serbian
fresco at Monastery Milesevo.
• Europe’s largest gorge, the Djerdap Gorge is situated in
Serbia. The mighty Danube river flows through it.
• Beograd (Belgrade) is one of the oldest cities in Eu-
rope, first settled in the 3rd century BC by the Celts,
before becoming the Roman settlement of Singidu-
• Serbia is the largest raspberry exporter, ac-
counting for one third of all the raspberries in the
• Serbia is the only country outside of CIS to have
a free-trade agreement with Russia.
• Serbia has the highest number of refugees and
internally displaced persons in Europe, a total of
• The Miroslav Gospel, written in the twelfth cen-
tury, is the oldest preserved Serbian manuscript.
• Silver lake, also called Serbian sea, is the largest
lake in Serbia. It is very popular for being one of the
clearest and the cleanest lakes in the country.
• Kalemegdan is the most popular park in Belgrade be-
cause of the park’s numerous winding walking paths, shady
benches, picturesque fountains, random statues, mammoth his-
torical architecture and incredible river views.
• The Cathedral of Saint Sava or Hram svetog Save in Belgrade is the largest
Orthodox Church currently in use.
• Over 30% of the land is covered by forest, with 5 national parks and 22 nature reserves.
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• When dining out, it is customary for the
host to pay. You may offer to contribute,
but do not ask to split the bill.
• Traditional food is based on grilled meat.
• Serbian food uses animal fats, eggs and
dairy, and therefore it is rarely suitable for
• Pork is very popular, whether bacon, sau-
sages or fresh meat.
• Dress in smart clothing for formal dinners,
dinner parties and business lunches.
• Remove your shoes before entering your
• It is customary to give the host a small
• Hold a fork in your left hand and the knife
in your right.
• Alcohol is normally served with the meal.
Rakia is a very strong liquor made from
• Try not to get drunk. Leave your glass
unfinished if you do not wish to be served
• Always make eye contact during a toast.
• You can show gratitude by offering to take
your host out for a meal at a later date.
• Smoking is common, so do not be offend-
ed if people smoke while you are eating.
• Indicate that you have finished eating by
placing your cutlery together and parallel to
each other on the plate.
• Dinners often have several courses, in-
cluding starters, soup, a main dish and then
• Round up the tips to about 10% of the
Upon arriving at someone’s home you will
be treated to a coffee (almost always black
coffee, called “Turska kafa” or “Crna kafa”),
juice and rakija, usually a home-made one
in which every master of the house takes
great pride (it’s a topic they’ll love to talk
Don’t miss trying the delicious sweet pre-
serves “slatko” (literary “sweet”) of which
you should take just a spoon or two ac-
companied by a glass of water. Upon your
first entry in a household, it is customary
to bring a symbolic present, for example a
bottle of an alcoholic drink, an assortment
of chocolates, or flowers.
In saying cheers, “Živeli”, touch glasses and
pay attention that you look into the eyes of
all the people you toast with while touch-
ing glasses. Note that your glass will be
replenished as soon as you’ve emptied it,
so if you don’t want to continue drinking,
leave some at the bottom. If offered to join
a lunch, you won’t talk your way out of it
easily (and why would you?), and once you
do it, you might easily be offered a supper
and breakfast as well.
During meals there are not many rules to
observe. Try to follow the pace of your host
but don’t hesitate even one moment to
take more if you like the food. The courses
(starters, soup, main dish, dessert) are ac-
companied by saying “Prijatno” (Bon Appe-
tite) and answering “Hvala, takodje” (Thank
you, same to you).
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Visiting for Slava
The greatest honor for every guest is to be invited to a “slava”, a celebration of a family’s
saint day. Do not forget to bring a symbolic gift, such as a bottle of wine. The most conven-
tional greeting is “Srecna slava”, followed by kissing three times on alternating cheeks while
shaking hands. Upon entering the house, you will be offered “žito”, a ceremonial sweet
made of wheat, honey and nuts; you are required to make the cross sign (if you are Chris-
tian), take one spoon and leave it in a glass of water. All that you have to do afterwards is to
enjoy the hospitality and eagerly answer all the toasts.
Paying Bills when Going Out
By Serbian custom, the host will pay the whole bill when drinking in a cafe or dining out. .
You can ask if you may add some money but try not to be too precise; it is better to offer a
round after you have enjoyed several paid by your hosts. If someone shows clear intention
of buying you a drink, do not try to pay for anything, as it might be considered offensive.
An almost complete lack of non-smoking zones in a country where a majority of the popula-
tion smokes could be an inconvenience for non-smokers. Feel free to ask for a cigarette even
if you don’t know the people you are asking. It is not considered impolite.
Language skills of locals depend on education and age: younger people even in smaller
places tend to have good to fair knowledge of English. Amongst the middle-aged and elderly
people, only those with better education will know English. Other languages that are often
spoken are German, French, Russian and Italian. Knowledge of any Slavic language will prove
useful, since many of the common words are the same.
Visiting Churches and Monasteries
Upon visiting churches and monasteries you are required to act politely, not to laugh or raise
your voice. The dress code does not allow shorts or mini-skirts, which could be a problem
in the summertime. When entering, take your hat off. If your visit coincides with a service,
you can enter, but stand in one place and don’t walk around. On all occasions women are
not allowed in the altar space behind the iconostasis. Ask for permission if you want to take
pictures with a flash, especially in a church.
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PEOPLE IN SERBIA
When people meet for the first time, they
say their first name, shake hands (try to do
it sturdily with men) and say “Drago mi je”
(Nice to meet you). If you meet people you
are already acquainted with, you will just
shake hands and ask “Kako ste?” (more for-
mal) or “Kako si?” (informal, with friends)
(both mean “How are you?”). The usual
“Hello/Hi” is “Zdravo” or “Chao” among
younger people and “Dobro jutro” in the
morning, “Dobar dan” during the day and
“Dobro vece” in the evening for everyone
else. If you are seated, rise when you meet
people, especially women and older men.
When meeting after a longer time or upon
some celebration, such as a birthday, it is
customary to kiss three times on alternat-
ing cheeks while shaking hands, or, more
familiarly, embrace. The same procedure is
observed when saying goodbye (“Dovidjen-
ja”). Especially younger women will kiss
friends lightly on the cheek, just once in-
stead of a handshake. Eye contact is valued,
and you may expect more physical contact
with the people you meet with, but that
just means that they consider you a friend.
Since Serbs are, in general, open, friendly
and direct, personal questions showing
interest in a stranger’s life, politics, likes
and dislikes are often basis of conversa-
tions. You shouldn’t therefore be offended
if people ask you some unusual questions.
When asking for something politely, use the
phrase “Molim vas” (please). Always say
“Hvala” for “Thank you”.
Serbia is generally perceived as being a land
of ‘warm hearted people’ where hospital-
ity and catering to the guests is of central
As Serbian people are generally open, friendly and direct, showing interest in some-
one’s life, politics, interests and dislikes are often basis for conversation. Serbia is gen-
erally perceived as being a land of ‘warm hearted people’ where hospitality and cater-
ing to the guests is of central importance.
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Verbal and Non-Verbal
Serbians tend to stand closer to each other
than people in the rest of Europe. In the
first meeting, they may be more sensi-
tive to personal space, but that space will
gradually shrink when they get to know
someone better. Shaking hands is essential,
when you first meet someone and every
time you see the person again. A hand-
shake should be firm and friendly. Males
usually do not kiss on the cheek unless
they are relatives. Three kisses on the
cheeks are very common among women
or between a female and a male, although
especially among younger people and
non-relatives, it is fashionable to kiss only
once. If you are a female, you would not
be expected to kiss your colleagues every
time you meet; kissing is usually common
among very good friends or relatives, but
not at work.
Eye contact should be maintained, other-
wise Serbians may perceive you as untrust-
worthy or deceitful. Hand gestures are very
common when speaking and people are
very entertaining and will joke frequently.
They may touch you during conversation
(or just because they are happy to see you)
by patting you on the back (among males),
giving you a side hug, or placing their hand
on your back or arm.
The tone of voice is fairly normal, but it
may be slightly louder. It is very easy to
notice if the other person is happy, sad, or
angry. They will always show their feelings
in their facial expressions, even if they do
not know you well. It is important not to
take these expressions personally (except
if you are sure that they are directed at
you) because frustration is very common in
Serbia and people do not hide it well. Serbs
are temperamental people and years of
sanctions (1991-2000), influx of refugees,
and a poor economic situation have all
contributed to the flaring of short tempers.
In these situations, it is best to stand your
The best opening when meeting some-
one for the first time is to smile and be
approachable. First impressions are very
important to Serbians, and they may last
for a long time after the initial conversa-
tion. Serbians are usually very helpful to
foreigners and intrigued about their origin
and personal style. If the foreigner is from
an affluent western culture, Serbians are
likely to respect them simply because the
westerners are economically better off and
because friendship with a westerner can be
CUSTOMS AND ETIQUETTE
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The local population will love to speak
about their Serbian culture, give directions,
point to nice places one can visit, recom-
mend good food, travel and tourist spots,
etc. They will also ask many personal ques-
tions (eg: origin, education, lifestyle at the
home country, children, etc). This type of
discussion may carry on for a long time.
Serbians are very personable and like to
make friends, especially ones who are talk-
ative and have a good sense of humour. A
tasteful joke is an appropriate and success-
ful opening of a dialogue and puts Serbians
at ease. It is important that they do not
perceive a foreigner as someone who acts
superior in any sense (by being aloof, for
Politics is a free topic to explore, as long as
you avoid praising nations that Serbians do
not trust or that they might feel animosity
for. These may include Americans (due to
the bombing of Serbia in the 1999 Kosovo
war), Croats and Muslim Bosnians (due
to the 1991-1995 war that triggered the
break-up of Yugoslavia), and Germans (who
were perceived to be explicitly against
Serbia in the 1991-1995 war). These neg-
ative sentiments are generally directed at
the politics and foreign policies of these
nations, and people usually do not give a
hard time to the visitors from these coun-
tries. Nevertheless, when it comes to pol-
itics, it is better to listen to the complaints
that Serbians might have rather than give
your own strong opinions.
Serbians are perceived as aggressors in
Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (ex-
cept in Republika Srpska, the Serb domi-
nated entity in the latter country). Serbs
are very resentful of this perception and
feel it is very unjust. Serbs feel that the
western world has received a very biased
media representation of the conflicts in
Bosnia and Kosovo (they feel much more
strongly about Kosovo because they see
it as Serbian land). They are eager to ex-
plain their side of the story when given a
chance. A peaceful, inclusive and tolerant
approach to world cultures is appropriate
CUSTOMS AND ETIQUETTE
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The people of Yugoslavia identify primarily with their region.
Serbs are more likely than other groups to subscribe
to an identity as Yugoslav; many minorities see this
identity as attempting to subsume significant
regional, ethnic, and religious differences. Mon-
tenegrins also have a tradition of Pan-Slavism,
which led them to remain with Serbia even
as other republics were demanding in-
dependence. However, Montenegro has
had differences with Serbia, particularly
over policy in Bosnia, Croatia, and, most
recently, Kosovo. Religion also plays
an important role in national identity,
in particular for Muslims, the largest
religious minority (and the majority in
certain areas, such as Kosovo and parts
The Balkan Peninsula is a hodgepodge of cul-
tures and ethnicities. While most of the people
are of Slavic origin, their histories diverged under
the varying influences of different governments,
religions, and cultures. For example, Slovenia and Cro-
atia are primarily Roman Catholic, whereas most of Serbia
is Eastern Orthodox; in Kosovo and Bosnia there is a large Islamic
population. The north has a strong influence from Hungary, and the south displays more
remnants of Turkish culture. The union of these different cultures under a repressive
regime makes for a volatile situation; for this reason the entire region has been referred
to as the “Balkan tinderbox.” The virulent animosity among different groups has, in recent
years, led to civil war. The Serb government has brutally suppressed virtually all minorities
to consolidate Serb power. Under Milosevic, a policy of ethnic cleansing has attempted
to rid the country of Croat Muslims in Bosnia and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo when these
groups have agitated for self-rule; the results have been ongoing violence and the oppres-
sion of ethnic minorities.
Yugoslavia also has one of the world’s largest Gypsy populations, who are also treated
with intolerance. In the 1980s there was a movement among Yugoslav Gypsies for sepa-
rate nationhood, but it never materialized and eventually lost steam.
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Gender differences are not so pronounced in Serbia. Women have the right (de jure) to
equal opportunities. However, it is customary that women stay at home and raise chil-
dren or care for sick relatives. Men also tend to have more control over resources, but
Serbian women are quite assertive and persistent in meeting their needs, especially in big
Gender discourse is not very prominent in Serbia, and people do not usually consider it a
problem. At work, women are not regarded as having the same abilities as men and are
not trusted with certain duties perceived to be unwomanly (i.e. defence and military mat-
ters). In politics, there are far fewer women than men, and quotas put in place to address
gender representation are usually very difficult to fill.
At work, ethnicity does not pose a problem, given that the majority of the population is
of a one religion. In circumstances where ethnic Albanians and Serbs may work together,
there could potentially be some mutual resentment. The Roma are under-represented
in public and private institutions, and usually hold no official employment, so it is rare to
find cases of Serbians and Roma working side by side. There are no specific work-related
problems between Hungarians and Serbians.
In Serbian culture, granting certain privileges is definitely expected if you are friendlier
with some of your partners, colleagues and clients, as this indicates that they have some-
thing more special than simply a superior-employee relationship. If they come to you for
a favour or help (i.e. consideration of some of his friends and relatives for employment),
and you are in a position to do something, it will be expected that you do it. However,
that does not mean that you have to grant them a favour if you are unable to do so or
think it inappropriate. If you explain that special favours are inappropriate and that you
can give their friend an opportunity for an interview just like everyone else, this should
be a sufficient explanation. If things do not work out, your friendship may strain after this,
but as long as you explain your position, you can avoid misunderstandings. Colleagues
that are also your friends may expect you to keep them in mind for a promotion, but pay
increase without the credentials will never be expected in Serbia.
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Meetings and Negotiations
• Building a relationship is very important,
and it is therefore usually done before nego-
tiations take place.
• Men shake hands when greeting one
another and maintain direct eye contact. A
relatively firm handshake is encouraged.
• Two women will generally meet with a
light handshake, but a kiss on the cheek is
very common if they know each other.
• Business cards are very common
and are handed out without formal
• After suffering from years of economic
sanctions, it is common to see outfits and
styles that are somewhat outdated.
• Suits for both men and women are gener-
ally more conservative with dark or neutral
• As in most Eastern European
countries, having flashy clothing that flaunts
wealth is frowned upon and considered
• Strong colognes and perfumes are quite
• Much cultural sensitivity and knowledge
of history is needed as many Serbs have
been taught to blame Western countries for
their recent misfortune and poverty.
• Coffee (specifically Turkish) is taken very
commonly during breaks at work and during
the day, and it is usually the time for light
chatter and bonding.
• It is not uncommon for Serbs to drink
shots of strong liquor before lunch or
throughout different periods of the day.
• It is very common and polite to
ask about family and health.
Learning simple words in
Serbian is very flattering
and impressive. “Dobar
Dan” is hello and is com-
monly used in formal
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• Avoiding eye contact is considered disre-
• Drinking and smoking are common in al-
most every social setting, regardless of age
• Usually, personal space is not highly re-
garded. People often hug and tap each oth-
er on the shoulder or touch lightly while
• It is common to hear people speaking in
loud voices. This usually does not signify
anger, people just tend to be very
• Punctuality is a desirable trait,especially
in business settings.
Topics to Discuss:
• Sports, especially the country’s recent
success is tennis and water polo.
• Serbs like asking about cultural differenc-
es in lifestyles and systems.
Topics to Avoid:
• Kosovo, the wars in the Balkans, or the
• Discussing politics or US Foreign
policy until a closer relationship is
Major decisions in Serbia are made by the
management. Under Communism, em-
ployees had open meetings but they had
little influence. Unfortunately, this is still
the case, even with foreign investors and
firms. Idea-sharing and brain storming are
not very common, except in the new, lo-
cally-launched and pilot-type initiatives, in
such areas as alternative press and radio,
creative art, non-governmental organiza-
tions, and the like.
Learning simple words in Serbi-
an is very flattering and impres-
sive. “Dobar Dan” is hello and
is commonly used in formal
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The Role of a Manager
Intercultural sensitivity is necessary. There
is often a wide gap between managers and
their subordinates, although this is less so
in newer companies, high tech companies,
or other high growth industries. Managers
are expected to give precise directions to
subordinates when assigning tasks so that
there is no question as to what is expected.
In professional jobs, directions may be in
the form of broad guidelines with the ex-
pected method, format of results, and pro-
tocols to be observed clearly delineated.
Approach to Change
Serbia’s intercultural adaptability and read-
iness for change is improving although
changes are still made slowly, requiring a
considerable amount of thought, planning
Intercultural sensitivity is important with
Serbia’s attitude toward risk dramatically
impacted by the negative ramifications
of failure on both the individual and the
Approach to Time and Priorities
Serbia is a moderate time culture and there
may be some flexibility to strict adherence
to schedules and deadlines. Nevertheless,
the expectations of global business have
caused the people to adopt relatively strict
standards of adhering to schedules.
When working with people from Serbia it
is advisable to reinforce the importance of
the agreed-upon deadlines and how that
may affect the rest of the organization.
Successful intercultural management will
depend on the individual’s ability to pro-
vide and meet deadlines.
The business set up in Serbia is very formal and intercultural management will be more
successful if you bear this in mind. In business it is a good idea to use a third-party intro-
duction rather than making a “cold call”. After years of communist rule and internal politi-
cal skirmishes, many people remain suspicious of foreigners.
In many ways, Serbia is the last of the major European transitional economies. The gov-
ernment is attempting to enact privatization legislation that may offer opportunities for
foreign investors in the ownership and management of previously nationalized industries
as well as in the developing private sector. At the same time, business can often be a
maze of bureaucracy and red tape.
The best approach is to start out in formal mode and allow your Serbian counterparts to
determine when or if to move to a more relaxed demeanor. Always respect the hierarchy
and take care to treat people in authority with particular respect.
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In general, subordinates do not expect their managers to seek their concurrence. They
are comfortable complying with decisions. Again, this may depend upon the industry, the
professional level of the employees concerned, and the corporate culture. Serbia is un-
dergoing rapid changes which are impacting business life.
Boss or Team Player?
In post-communist countries, a tradition of teamwork has been inherited from the com-
munal aspects of the previous era, when groups and work units commonly met to discuss
ideas and create plans together. However, those plans seldom resulted in implementation
or results, leading to apathy and cynicism among the workers. Today the after-effects are
still evident among much of the older generation, resulting in a lack of drive and energy.
However, there is vibrancy among the younger generation, who seem to be eager to tack-
le many of the challenges and seize the opportunities presented. They will participate in
teams and share ideas, but they will need to be coached in the process.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Expect to have several meetings before ironing out business details. Developing a per-
sonal relationship takes precedence over business matters. Expect a good deal of bureau-
cracy and red tape, especially when dealing with government agencies. Patience may be
a necessary cross-cultural attribute. Decision making takes time, as each item must be
analyzed and agreed upon before moving on to the next item.
Negotiation meetings are not always straightforward. It is not uncommon for Serbians to
raise their voices during negotiations. Serbians are tough negotiators: your initial offer
should be reasonable, but should have some wriggle-room.
In Serbian language, superiors are addressed with a respectful pronoun. There is a re-
spectful, professional, but friendly relationship between superiors and employees. It is
common for management to share jokes and laugh with their staff. When addressing
your superiors, you refer simply to their professional title rather than to Mr./Mrs/Ms. For
example, if you are addressing your director, you would say: “Director, would you please
sign this form”. All other colleagues you can address by their first name. In formal corre-
spondence, or when you refer to a business partner in conversation, you should use Mr.,
Mrs. or Ms. before the last name of the person. Informally, people usually use clients’ or
customers’ last names without titles.
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