One of the most frequent questions I get asked about living in Serbia as a black person and traveling throughout the Balkan region is “What is my experience being a black person in the Balkans and Eastern Europe?” I think the reason I get this question so much is because, let’s face it, most Eastern European countries don’t have a significant black population.
This leads to black travelers perhaps feeling intimidated to travel to these countries. I know I was. I read a lot of blogs about this subject before I started traveling here. I even wrote about my specific experiences in EACH Eastern European country as well.
Black travelers often seem to worry that they might encounter people who are rude or bigoted due to not having been exposed to enough diversity throughout their life. But it is quite the opposite–extremely opposite!
So please, allow me to elaborate on the eight mostly wonderful things to expect as a black person traveling in the Balkans.
1. Let’s get this out of the way first! There is NO racism or discrimination
Before I get to the other points, let’s just get this one out of the way immediately. There is NO racism towards black people in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. After all, when a country has no history of a black population, how can people in that country develop the learned behavior of racism or bigotry without any black people to practice it on? They can’t! Which is why you will only find significant threats of racism and discrimination towards black people in countries like the US or England.
Don’t get me wrong; the countries of the Balkans have had issues with their neighbors and cases of ethnic tension within their own countries. But Eastern Europe and the Balkans tend to all be welcoming and inviting countries to foreigners they consider “exotic,” like black people and Asians.
So let’s just be done with that. There is no racism. Of course you have a few bad apples in any country and you will hear a negative story or two. But compare one or two stories to the HUNDREDS of racially charged stories you hear from the USA or Britain. NO Eastern European country will come remotely close.
2. Everyone will stare at you. Kids will stare at you. Even cats will stare at you!
Okay, maybe not cats. But you will receive a lot of stares in the Balkans, and you can check out my video below where I film walking down the street in various towns in the Balkans and the stares I receive as I pass people by. FYI: I filmed this video on my iPhone, pretending to be a typical person looking down at their phone while walking. So I was not recording people with a big camera to incur the staring.
Again, people in the Balkans are NOT racist or bigots. They stare because they are just shocked and happy to see you in their little, undiscovered country! Don’t let any other reason than that sink into your psyche as to why they would be staring. Okay?
Being constantly stared at is not for everyone. Personally, I welcome the stares because I love attention. It is really up to you to decided whether or not your personality can handle all the staring should you choose to be a black person traveling in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
3. You might get the celebrity treatment. Sucks. I know.
Some days here, I honestly feel like Justin Bieber or something. I’m not going to lie or be all modest and humble about this. A huge reason I LOVE LOVE LOOOOVE the Balkans is because some people and places give me the VIP treatment, and who would complain about that? Who?
The reality of the human experience is we often enjoy being treated extra special. We feel happy when people are extra nice to us. So when you travel to a part of the world where people are constantly nice to you, and I mean aggressively nice to you, it’s an amazing and an addictive thing to experience.
For black people and Asian people, this will happen in the Balkans. For blonde white people, they might get the VIP treatment in some Asian countries and African countries. Everyone somewhere in the world is Justin Bieber, okay.
Disclaimer: Yeah, I am a young, foreign, tall and skinny “exotic” girl here. So I am sure being a woman who wears make-up and fashionable clothing factors into a lot of my experiences. But I have met plenty of black men here who are constant VIP treatment recipients as well.
But back to me. I have been in so many situations where I felt like the red carpet was rolled out for me just because I was obviously considered “exotic” in the eyes of people here, which they were excited by.
I’ve experienced everything from being admitted to clubs when they weren’t admitting people anymore to being sat in VIP sections at very exclusive clubs with very expensive bottles of alcohol for free.
I’ve experienced receiving free passes, VIP seats and even press tickets to big sporting events. I constantly receive free drinks, food and even gifts at restaurants.
Just last week I went to a bar to see a live performer and my entire tab was on the house.
One of my favorite VIP moments is when I went to a private, exclusive Halloween party at one of the poshest, most expensive restaurants in town frequented by Novak Djokovic and other rich and famous Serbians. I showed up not knowing it was a private party. On paper, I was essentially a loser from America who had no business rubbing shoulders with the people there. I’m practically a backpacker! But I show up in my Halloween costume without my name on the list, and they let me in, no questions asked. One of the owners of the restaurant immediately comes to me and starts being very accommodating to me–ME! A practical backpacker!
I am not sharing these stores in order to brag. I’m just being honest about my experience here and I want to make it clear that if anything, people in the Balkans really enjoy having us black folk around. That is why I always find it a bit funny when some black people ask me about traveling here because they are a bit intimidated by the region, when in reality, their experience might be more glamorous than they could have ever imagined.
4. A lot of nice and/or cool people will want to meet you and talk to you and know your life story and then add you on Facebook and then like all your photos immediately after adding you and things like that
As someone who always travels solo, I have learned that a lot of my reverence for places I have traveled to is contingent upon how easily I can connect with and befriend locals. That’s why I travel.
I have been to some of the most beautiful places in the world like the great pyramids of Egypt, the 12 apostles in Australia, all the storied Mayan ruins of the Americas and the most majestic seaside towns in Italy. But none of my memories in those places have stuck with me as strongly as the ones that I have from my travels in the Balkans. This is the part of the world where I make the most local friends and frequently meet people. And I know it is because of me being a black person traveling in the Balkans.
The locals here love to meet black people. People in these countries have mostly seen us in TV shows, movies and listened to music by black artists growing up. So it is rare for them to see black people just gingerly walking down their streets. So understand that people are fascinated by you and want to talk to you, whether you are in the grocery store, the club, the bus stop, the restaurant… They WILL talk to you and ask you all sorts of questions out of curiosity. This brings me to my next point.
5. Get ready to answer the same questions over and over and over.
Be prepared to write answers to an FAQ because people will ask you the same questions again and again:
Why are you here? What do you do here? Are you a student? Can we meet for coffee? How did you discover this country? What the hell are you doing here again?
There is nothing wrong with that. Again, I always feel wanted and welcomed in these countries. I’m very grateful. But now that I have been living in Serbia, it is a bit funny to have to answer the same questions again and again and again. It’s just different from living in a place where you look like everyone else. No random strangers care to learn about you. But here, people will have many questions for you.
6. More attention from the opposite sex compared to where you are from
The reality of being considered “exotic” somewhere is that you will perhaps receive more attention and propositions from the opposite sex than you would in your native country. On average, I meet more guys on nights out here in one month than I do in half a year living in the USA. It’s kind of crazy.
Black guys and Asian people I have met here have spoken about experiencing something similar. It’s a bit crazy and overwhelming. It doesn’t help that everyone here is so tall, dark and handsome. And the women in the Balkans are some of the most beautiful women in the world. They all look like tall supermodels straight out of the pages of Vogue.
So whether you are a man or a woman, just know that you might get a lot of attention from the beautiful, tall and nice people here. And what you do with that is your business. You have my full support. 😉
7. To say “yes” or “no” to selfies?
As I intimated earlier, everyone somewhere in the world is a unicorn. When I traveled to Egypt, I was walking down the street with a guy with shaggy blonde hair. All these little Egyptian kids stopped him to take selfies with him. They were taking selfies with an Asian woman as well. However, none of these kids noticed me or cared to take a photo with me. In the Balkans however, as I stated above, you get A LOT of stares and occasionally, people wanting a photo or selfies with you. It’s an interesting feeling.
Photographic evidence: This is from 2 years ago in Giza, Egypt. Here are a bunch of kids stopping my Kurt Cobain look-a-like blonde friend for a selfie!
The question then becomes, “Do I take a photo with this total stranger?”
People I have taken photos with often upload their photo to Facebook, and I have seen some yucky comments on the photos that qualify as immature or sexually charged. On one photo of me and a girl I met at a bar who asked for a photo with me, one of her friends commented “that girl is as black as night,” which is scientifically untrue and also just an irrelevant and clearly immature thing to say about a photo of two new girlfriends smiling in bar.
When I have taken pictures with guys, comments have been more sexually inappropriate. I have seen comments like “Did you fuck her yet?” and “Kako ti znaš ovu burgiju,” which means in Serbian language something to the effect of: how do you know this easy/slutty girl?
Everyone has a few friends on Facebook that are immature or like to make bigoted jokes in some way. So it is up to you whether or not you are okay with the fate of your image being in the hands of a stranger or a very new friend.
I have learned that I prefer to take pictures with girls, or take pictures with a new friend if I have a good sense of their character. But I can never be sure. I really try not to take photos with total strangers, but I still get suckered into it sometimes.
8. Awkward Questions/Comments/Behaviors
When I first visited Macedonia 2 years ago, I was walking down the street in Skopje, the capital. Out of nowhere, some dude running out of breath catches up with me. Walking beside me, he asks, “Can I suck your toes? I always wanted to be with a black girl and I have a fetish for sucking toes.” No joke. NO. JOKE. *Mic drop*
Hopefully, this was reassuring that you should travel to the Balkans–maybe not the last bit, but hopefully the rest of it was. Please share this to encourage others to travel to the Balkans and Eastern Europe, and please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my sentiments and perspective. If you have any questions or need help with anything, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram. I hope to see you in the Balkans soon!