Guest writer number one- Do's and Don'ts for Bosnia etc.

Katie from must be trying to get herself into the Guinness Book of TEFL Records (which sounds like the title of another post to me!) , because after being the first person to review TEFLtastic she is now our first guestwriter too. Now, without any further ado, here she is, give her a big welcome round of applause ladies and gentlemen, it’s Kaaatiiieeee:

Do’s and Don’ts for Bosnia and the rest of Eastern Europe

I heard that teachers are beating down the TEFLtastic door with requests for information on Eastern Europe, especially Bosnia.  So I thought I could help out by sharing a few hard-earned do’s and don’ts for Bosnia and its region.

Do go there!

Do try local foods.  In Bosnia, try cevapcici [which I’ve heard described somewhat unappetizingly in English as “skinless sausages”] with kajmak [its mottos are: “The Most Difficult Cheese to Translate” and “Actually, Not a Cheese At All!”], and pita [pick one at a time: meat / cheese / spinach / potato pie].

Don’t eat these food every day.

Don’t drink boza.

Do ask locals to tell you jokes.  Bosnia may be the only country in the world where people are okay with laughing at themselves. Rest assured there are plenty of general jokes, so you don’t have to be in the position of laughing at Bosnians.  Don’t accept it when they say they cannot translate these jokes. 

Don’t think too hard about why DVD’s at the outdoor market might cost €2..just stock up!

Do make sure you do everything right with your metro ticket in Budapest, because they will seek you out, find you and fine you if you don’t.  Public transportation systems in other cities, most of which use the honor system, vary in their “ticket inspector aggressiveness” level…but you probably will get caught if you don’t stamp your ticket.  Not worth it.

Don’t assume that what you can read or google about Bosnia or other countries in ex-Yugoslavia reflects the views of people who actually know the country.  Some of it might; but stereotypes about this region and its people are unfortunately a dime a dozen. 

And a few for teaching:

Do try to speak the local language once in a while in class – a well placed and correctly pronounced “egeszsegedre” goes a long a way in Hungary!  And if you mess it up, that’s funny too.  Local language grammar may be a hurdle, but people everywhere like it when take the time to learn to pronounce their names correctly.  I’ve even reached the conclusion that, once you learn their basic pronunciation rules, Eastern European surnames are easier to pronounce as a group that surnames in the US.

Don’t expect anything less than a cloud of second-hand smoke during class breaks or if you join your students somewhere after class.  You’ll get used to it.

Do know that, while I suspect cheating happens fairly equally throughout the world, it seems to take the tone of “we’re all helping each other, I can’t let my classmate fail” in former socialist countries.

Do take of your shoes or at least offer to when you visit a home anywhere in Eastern Europe…but don’t assume those who remove shoes are necessarily adhering to any ancient tradition other than “keep the pretty carpet clean”.

Do visit residential neighborhoods out of the center; there is nothing quite like gigantic socialist high rise apartment buildings against a stunning mountain backdrop.

Thanks to Alex for giving me this opportunity to spread the word about tips in this region!  I hope it serves to address the mad rush for Eastern Europe info.

This entry was posted in Cultural differences/ cultural training, Teaching English Abroad, Teaching English in Bosnia, Teaching English in Eastern Europe, Teaching English in Europe, TEFL, TEFLlogue, TESOL and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Guest writer number one- Do's and Don'ts for Bosnia etc.

  1. Alex Case says:

    Thanks a lot to Katie for that, all that Japan stuff on TEFLtastic gets a bit much sometimes and this makes a refreshing change.

    If anyone else would like to contribute, just drop me a “Yes please” comment here and I will email you tout suite.

  2. Laurent says:

    ayo that’s tout de suite 😉

    that was a good read, makes me want to go back and visit eastern europe after my amazing time in the Czech Rep in 2005.

  3. Katie says:

    Thanks for the comments and nice words! Eastern Europe refreshing? Why not…

    I’m glad it makes you want to visit, Laurent! It’s always cool to go back to somewhere you worked/lived. And it’s always just cool to go Bosnia…

  4. Alex Case says:

    Just found a BBC radio programme on Bosnia if anyone is interested in more info:


    Haven’t listened to it myself yet, but it is on my MP3 player for the Mon morning train that is so packed I can’t hold a newspaper…

  5. Katie says:

    Thanks Alex, that’s a good find! I have been incredibly slow getting online recently but I’m going to listen to this soon.

  6. Sara Hannam says:

    Sorry to be picky, but Bosnia isn’t in Eastern Europe! Probably a bit late to say that now : )

  7. Alex Case says:

    Looks pretty Eastern on a map! Middle Europe? South Eastern Europe? Not sure either of those expressions are “conversational English”. I guess you mean Balkan, but where does the Balkans start and Eastern Europe end?

  8. Sara Hannam says:

    It’s a very good question. Geo-politics is a bit of a mine-field when you look at configurations of Europe in the past and present. No matter which description you choose, it is likely to offend (someone). For most people actually living in the region, they use the term “Western Balkans” or “South East Europe” and I think on the whole it is best to go with that (the latter is often used as a replacment for “Balkan” as it is considered by some to carry quite a lot of negative baggage). I think for me it was the “Bosnia and the rest of Eastern Europe” that seemed just a little over-generalised. Speaking personally, I refer to the countries of the Former Yugoslavia by name wherever possible and avoid making geographical references, but when I have to (in research) I use the term “Western Balkans” as that avoids the need to risk the debate around the borders of Europe. There are very mixed feelings in the region itself about whether to become part of “Europe”.
    As I said, sorry to be picky, but I just thought that for someone considering a visit or to work there, it is better to know these things in advance.

  9. Alex Case says:

    My advice is- when in Greece and surrounding countries, always refer to the area as “Ottoman Europe” in order to avoid any possible offense

  10. Sara Hannam says:

    I am not so sure. In Greece referring to anything as “ottoman” is likely to cause negative reaction, though in Greece the relationship with Europe is clearer so not a problem to say “Europe”. They are long term members of the EU and made a separation not to go with Russia after WW2. The same goes for many other countries that were under the ottoman cloak for so many hundreds of years (i..e countries of former Yugoslavia and beyond). Most countries of the “western balkans” fought pretty long and bloody wars to get their independence from the ottoman empire. Best not to remind people too much about that period of history which often resulted in follow-up civil war. I think “western Balkans” is clearly the least loaded of the terms, or just referring to countries independently as it is clear that individual identity has been a very significant issue for the last 25 years for all countries in the region and they wish to be seen as distinctive and different rather than part of a former unity. I am not making comments on the rightness or wrongness of that (as there is a lot more to say there), just offering some insights into how names are never just about toponymy – they always signify a ‘position’ on the country being named that is inevitably seen differently by the populace to the visitor.

  11. Alex Case says:

    Obviously I don’t really think anyone should call the Greeks “Ottomans”, it was my “My hovercraft is full of eels” moment- made me chuckle when I thought of it and so couldn’t resist posting

    More seriously, you are of course right, but the problem is that ALL geographical terms are loaded- Southern Europe (mafia, donkeys, old men on benches), Balkans (tinpot dictators, endless wars), Eastern Europe (ex Soviet and grim) etc etc. And yet, you can’t list the countries everytime you want to refer to a group. So I say just call them all Ottomans (preferably just after pointing out that modern Greeks are really Slavs who took on Greek culture) and just tell them that it’s the British sense of humour!

  12. Sara Hannam says:

    On your own head be it Alex 🙂 I tried to reason with you, but you are clearly too much of a force to be reckoned with when confronted with my feeble reasoning! I think you’ve got the order of historical events a bit confused, a heavily contested ‘truth’ it is fair to say, but there are some discernable ‘facts’ in there somewhere too if you examine the various histories from all different perspectives. That in itself is a red herring anyway. These ‘details’ are what caused the problems in the first place, due to multiple and subjective interpretation, so making reference to them by using the term ‘ottoman’ is no less loaded than the other alternatives you have so neatly catergorised as “loaded”. The point is to seek terms which avoid entering into that very subjectivity you allude to above – not buying into it at all. I am shaking hands and leaving the ring – we may have to agree to disagree on this one? 🙂

  13. Alex Case says:

    I am of course joking. Also please avoid saying “Yes, I love Greece. It reminds me of when I worked in Turkey”

  14. Sara Hannam says:

    You big blog tease you! Perhaps its for the best that you are located on the other side of the globe and only an occasional visitor to these here parts. I think it all goes back to the fact you didn’t like Athens 🙂

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