Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cultural Confusions part 1: The Bosnian Grannys and me.

Being an English family in Tuzla we are fairly conspicuous. There aren't very many English families in Tuzla. In fact, I think it is just us. As such, there isn't a big expat circle to become a part of. Whilst this does occasionally make things more difficult, on the whole I prefer it this way. It meant that I didn't have any options, I had to get stuck in and involved in Bosnian life and this has, by and large, been wonderful. Bemusing most of the time, but pretty fun.

In particular it has bought me into regular contact with that very specific breed of Bosnian, the Granny. The Bosnian Granny (henceforth known as the BG) is a force to be reckoned with, particularly in any queue in the post office. Generally fairly sturdy and well wrapped up whatever the weather, nothing escapes her beady eye. Absolutely nothing. If there was ever to be a World Championships in gossip, the BG would win. Hands down. The rest of us, skilled as we may think we are in being able to pass on information about other people, are mere amateurs, school children in comparison. The BGs talk about everything, from the clothes you wear, to the time you go to bed, the behaviour of your children, to how they don't like to gossip but..., to how often you throw out your rubbish. There is nothing they don't know. We are obvious targets to speculate about and apparently they are fascinated by us. But I know that we are far from the only people being discussed, so it doesn't really bother me that much. They are enormously generous, always asking us over, stuffing us with food, never letting us go home without a bottle of homemade grape juice, some cake, a bit of pie and no doubt then analysing in detail how well my boys ate their food, our manners and how different we are.

I come into contact with the BGs a lot. Bosnian culture remains very family orientated. Many people continue to live at the same place as their parents/in laws after they get married, the Bosnians simply building another apartment as another story on top of their houses. Sometimes I envy this; the family all gets together for a coffee in the morning; aunts, uncles, other children all pitch in together for a big melee of people to hang out with. There's always someone around. What it does mean though is that the BG is often very actively involved in childcare, whilst the Mums go out to work. So the nursery gates are full of BGs gathered to chitchat whilst waiting for their grandchildren. They always involve me in their conversations; I don't often have much of an idea what they are talking about. They then pick up their immaculately dressed grandchild, who trots over straight away, leaving me chasing my two far from immaculate boys, trying to hold one down whilst getting boots on the other and stopping them from dismantling the climbing frame. The BG, who fully subscribes to the point of view that it takes a village to raise a child, has no qualms in stepping in to tell my two off (inevitably leading to tears, my boys not totally comfortable with being grabbed by a woman they have never met before and on the receiving end of a sharp volley of Bosnian). It took me a while to get over the 'leave my children alone' impulse - the English just don't tend to interfere like that. I have had to learn to not take it personally and the boys have learnt that if they run around in the supermarket, a BG will get on their case.

The BG's always have their children wrapped up warmly in layer upon layer of clothes, to me they look absolutely boiling. Mine are fully wrapped up at the moment, it is deep winter after all. But once in warms up, I don't tuck their tops into their trousers and they wear as few layers as I can get away with; my washing machine stuggles enough with the laundry pile as it is. The BGs look on at my boys in horror. 'That child is naked' one BG memorably hissed at me. 'Which child?' I wondered? Mine was the only child in the vicinity. His top wasn't tucked in. Ah, that will be my child then.

Then there is the chocolate issue. No BG is ever to be found without a bar of chocolate hidden in her bag, to be bought out whenever in contact with any children. My two, for who chocolate is a rare treat, love this aspect of Bosnian culture. They are present in a flash, suddenly all beautifully behaved, looking like little angels and waiting to be given the next sugar laden candy. Being the one who then has to deal with the inevitable sugar rush and less than angelic manic behaviour that will always follow, I'm less of a fan of this custom. However, I recently had a 'eureka' moment of understand finally realising that this chocolate thing is just a part of the BG assessment of my parenting. Usually in these situations I become very English and end up muttering something like 'gosh, thanks, how generous', wait until the BG is out of sight and then confiscate the enormous bar of chocolate from the boys sticky, sugary hands. I now realise that the correct response is to say, even insist, to the BG that the boys are not to be given chocolate and prevent the kids (despite protestations from the BG to the contrary) from laying their little paws on it. I only realised this the other day, when one particular BG who is a right terror for dishing out the candy and therefore adored by my boys, happened to bring her own grandson along. He was offered chocolate. She didn't let him have any. They offered again, she took it away. There was no way that this BG was going to let any chocolate anywhere near her precious boy's hopeful mouth. 'It isn't good for him' she offered to me as an explanation, leaving me spluttering and open mouthed in shock.

Ah hah, I thought, now I get it. So now there's a bar of chocolate that has taken up residence permanently in my pocket for the next time I meet them. I'll make sure the little boy gets some.  I might even stop him running around the supermarket and untuck his top whilst I'm at it. Heh heh heh.


momcat said...

BG should stand for Bad Grannies.:) You definitely need to fight fire with fire or in this case chocolate with chocolate. I would like to be a fly on the wall when your favourite BG catches her grandson stuffing his face with your chocolate bar. Haha

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

We have a similar thing here only with lollipops. Every shop you go in gives your child a lollipop. I remember once offering a toddler some of Joseph's raisins - the look on the mother's face was priceless, it was as if I'd given him arsenic, lollipops good, dried fruit bad!

London City Mum said...

Ain't justice sweet?


Paradise Lost In Translation said...

They're funny about overdressing children here too. Most babies look like little overboiled tomatoes. And complete strangers will come up to you & tell you what yr child isnt wearing & should be, or that they will catch their death etc. And it's not even v cold here!
My children hate the attention they get now. After 2 yrs in sri Lanka & now 2 yrs here where children get the cheek pinching, kissing, hair ruffling & over zealous attention, they have had enough! trying to get them to respond politely i s a challenge..

Heather said...

oh that would be funny. you really have to do this!

nappy valley girl said...

Ha ha. Naughty grannies with their double standards. Definitely do it.

Mind you, I think I could do with some BGs to tell my boys off when they run round the supermarket - most people here just smile indulgently and say 'aren't they just the cutest...?'

Santa said...

Dear FM,
I would be very surprised if you would say that you never write a story and published it, or even novel, at least some prose for magazine or papers.
I found your blog only recently, few days ago, and I am enjoying very much reading your stories, ever since. They are all exceptional !
Maybe, you wont make a mistake if you ask some one to translate your stories and publish them here - after all these are about your family meet Bosnia ...

(eh, this could be silly if I, actually, talking to already accomplished novelist or journalist..)

Anyway, thanks for great blog and I hope you found enough reasons to return to Bosnia as often as friend or/and family should.

Ciao from Sarajevo

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

The BGs sound like my mother!

Young Mummy said...

Ah my grandpa used to give me chocolate behind my mum's back!! Have nominated you for a sunshine award over at mine...

elvedina2006 said...

:))))) I really enjoyed your post. It is very funny and very true. When I moved to the US and gave my son's friend a huge bar of chocolate for his birthday the parents just looked at each other and hid it very quickly. Now, I stick to gift cards.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

MomCat - oh they are bad, but they are so lovely too. I can't wait to see them again though - he he he

VBC - would be the same here.

LCM - it will be. Oh yes. It will.

Paradise - what is it with the clothes thing? The houses are so hot in winter too. Good luck getting some polite responses... mine only do it because they live in hope for some choccie. They are fast learners.

Heather - I'm waiting. I can't wait to see how she manages to wrest the chocolate away from him. I might have to settle for untucking his tops though.

NVG - oh they are naughty, but they are so genuinely nice, gossipy but nice. The boys learnt very early on not to cross a granny in the supermarket!

Santa - thanks very much! I'm very flattered. Wish I could say you were talking to an accomplished journalist, but I'm afraid not. Anyone want to publish me though, should feel free to get in contact!

Trish - scary! But I love the BGs really.

YM - hooray, I could use some sunshine here. It is grotty and grey and generally vile. Love your grandpa though, think I shall endeavour to become a similar type granny. Revenge will have to be mine then.

Elvedina - glad you enjoyed it. I have a load more cultural confusion posts in the back of my mind (Bosnian meal times being the most pressing, I still have no idea when food will be served!).

manicmum said...

And these are the ones you're not even related to!
Got me thinking about my mother-in-law in Greece, especially the discussions about what the children eat/their behaviour/whether you give them too much attention etc. etc. "He's too hot - take off his T-shirt and let him feel the sun!" (it's 30degrees). "It's too cold, don't go in the sea!" (something about September being officially the end of summer, even though it's still 30 degrees...) I sometimes wonder if life would be simpler if I'd never learnt Greek. Is ignorance bliss?

Tattie Weasle said...

Do hope revenge will be as sweet !!!

Srebrenica Genocide said...

"If there was ever to be a World Championships in gossip, the BG would win."

- You're absolutely correct. Bosnian Granny's are like that, but they are - as you pointed out - also very generous. I am so glad you're enjoying your experience in Bosnia, it makes me very happy.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

You're going to have to move back to Bosnia in a few decades time - being a BG sounds a lot of fun!

marianne said...

Ha ha, that'll have the BG's talking about you non stop if you dare to do that!
Very funny and some similarities to Italian Grannys who I had the pleasure of getting to know for the 18 years I lived in Italy

Lynn said...

Oh, wow, that's a difference. While we're still in the US, we frequent an Asian supermarket (they have the BEST fresh fruit!) in our neighborhood, and the Japanese women offer my kids treats in the stores. It shocked me at first, but once I realized that it's part of the custom, I've allowed it to some extent.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

ManicMum - I know! I think igorance is bliss. I know when they are criticising or saying something I don't agree with, but those become the moments I magically lose the ability to speak any Bosnian at all. Amazing that!

TW - it will. I'm looking forward to it. Thinking about adding some sweeties to the mix too. Oh yes.

Sreb Gen - they are the most generous people in the world. I love them really (I hope that came across in the post) they do make me laugh, but culturally we don't understand each other at all. All adds to the fun though, we laugh through it.

A&U - doesn't it? Especially as I rather fancied myself for the World Championships gossip gold, before discovering that I am, in reality, a total amateur.

Marianne - I'm sure Italian Grannies are just the same. The drama were I to fight back on the chocolate front would have the BGs gossiped up for weeks - but I think I might be too English for it!

Lynn - I reckon it is best to go with the flow. The odd treat doesn't do anyone any harm (as long as I can get my boys outside to run the sugar out of their systems!)

Muddling Along Mummy said...

Good luck with the untucking and chocolate - that made me smile !

Matt Hollingsworth said...

In Zagreb, you have to be very guarded whilst in line because people will just go in front of you. So, you stand in line like you're protecting turf. And the people most likely to steal your spot are older folks, men and women.

Elisa, Croatia said...

Ha,ha I love this post!! You couldn't have said it better! All grammies are the same. Croatian and even Mexican ones. Funny!!

A Mexican mommy living in Europe

the cat herder said...

all this chocolate chat has me reaching for the biscuit tin! thank you so much for your award; as a newish blogger i've yet to work out how to put it on my blog though! any tips?! x

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

MAM - heh heh heh. I love untucking their shirts. I do it to their children as they tuck my boys shirts in.

Matt - SAME HERE! What is it with the older folks and queues. I can't take the pressure of the post office any more, my elbows aren't sharp enough.

Elisa - glad you liked it, I thought your blog was great, you really have a mix going on out there in Croatia. Can you speak the language?

Cat Herder - er, I'm prob not the best techie person to ask. It's in the layout section. Add a picture. Email me if you are struggling and I'll try to do a step by step guide. Oh, and I save a picture of the award onto my computer first. Sorry, that is probably about as helpful as a bucketful of dirty laundry. I looked to try and find your email but couldn't, but get in touch if you want to. My email is on the profile page. x