Monday, 28 July 2008

The Serbs' Dilemma

At six in the evening, the bells of the St. Mauritius Church in Zofingen start tolling. Being winter, it is already pitch-dark outside and it is eerie and depressing to sit inside your room and listen to the heavy, sonorous sound of the church bells.

Not that there is much you can do outside. The tour of the entire town, consisting of the church, a cinema, a few shops, two hotels and three restaurants including a pizzeria can be completed in less than ten minutes and I have already done it twice.

In an alcove near the hotel reception, I come across a small cache of German and French paperbacks and amongst them, a historical romance in English which I take up to my room and try to read. It is heavy, ponderous stuff and combines well with my travel fatigue to act as an excellent sedative. I fall asleep.

The two Serbians check in the next day morning. They are to attend the same training as I and we travel together to the office of the Swiss company who is hosting us. The Serbs speak little English and are taciturn to the point of being rude when I try to make conversation with them. They chain-smoke and look unsmilingly out of the car window at the snow-blanketed countryside flashing past. They look depressed.

For the next four days life follows a fixed, familiar routine where we are in training from 8 am to 4 pm and dropped back to the hotel by 4.30 pm. Once we reach the hotel, for the rest of the evening the Serbs disappear only to manifest themselves at the breakfast table the next day, looking like death.

On Friday evening, the Serbs ask Rolf, our trainer, about night life in Zofingen.

Rolf, a cheerful young man with a fine physique tells them there is no night life in Zofingen. “You guys should take the train and go to Zurich,” he says.

The Serbs smile, showing yellowed, tobacco-stained teeth: “Yes, we went to Zurich... last four nights,” they say.

Rolf shrugs his shoulders and tells them maybe they should try Zurich tonight also, this being a Friday evening.

There is a long silence when one of the Serbs speaks up.

“What about the bar lady in Hotel Garni?” he asks Rolf, “She is very friendly.”

Rolf looks at the Serbs for a moment but his expression does not change: “The bar lady at Hotel Garni is the sister of my best friend,” he says evenly. “If you guys so much as try to act fresh with her, I’ll mash you both up into a Rosti”.

The silence this time lasts even longer.


Anonymous said...

Funny and well written!.

padmaja said...

Good one!

Amrita said...


Arun said...

goody good one rads


Ravi said...

Serbs as a whole like Romanians are not known for their humor. I manage 3 of them in my group and they are very funny indeed, nice you get to know them.

For some classic Serbian,humor, I recommend that everyone watch an old YUGOSLAV film called: BLACK CAT WHITE CAT,_White_Cat

One other thing" serbs can drink like no one else can-but they do get rowdy.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.