The place in which we are born does not necessarily mean that it is a place where we actually belong and that gives us a purpose. Often, we can find a home on the other side of the world, in a country we know so little and people that make us feel like we know them for our entire life. This is exactly what happened to American Charles Cather who has been living and working in Serbia for seven years and says he can not imagine his life without this country.
It all started in 2010 when he came to Serbia for the first time to two weeks vacation. His life has changed drastically and he says that he absolutely belongs here.
He revealed how his adventure in Serbia began, how the people accepted him, what he likes to eat from our food, and what is his favorite brandy. He openly said what he thinks about Serbian women and that he would like to make a family one day.
- You recently moved to a new apartment in Novi Sad. Tell us something more about it?
I returned to Serbia several days ago, to Novi Sad, and I am a bit late for apartment searching. Almost everything was already gone. So I found one which is a bit more costly than I wanted, but it is at a good location. Novi Sad is the best city in my opinion in Serbia and the city where someone can live. The place is beautiful, everything is close, you have cafes everywhere, bakeries, and Belgrade is just 45 minutes away. People are lovely, and there are more foreigners every year. A lot of people speak English, which is very good because I speak Serbian poorly.
- Do you plan to learn how to speak the Serbian language?
I plan to do it this year. I have to find a professor. I told him that I will learn the language by October but that didn't happen. The language is difficult, and it seems to me that it is impossible for me to learn it. I easily lose confidence when it comes to that. And I also have another excuse, and that is that people usually like talking in English with me.
- What do your neighbors think about you?
I don't like having neighbors. I haven't met the new ones, and in the old building where I used to live, some older ladies would sit in front of the building all the time. Each time I would pass by I would say hi. They were always kind to me, but I knew that they most certainly talked about me when I was gone. They probably said "Spy, spy". One older lady where I where I lived before, was a great admirer of Slobodan Milosevic. That is a granny of my friend, and one day she told me: "I am a great admirer of Slobodan Milosevic, he was thrown away from his own country because of your country, but I like you, you can stay in my home as long as you like".
- When did you come to an idea to come to Serbia and why did you pick our Country?
That was in a period when I worked as a manager in the car industry, and one colleague has told me about the Facebook page "I hate the USA". I was a great patriot back then, so I wanted to see who hates America so much.
I started talking with the admin of the page, Dragan. He invited me to come to Serbia in May 2010. So I did. Now I can't imagine my life without it. Now I see that all thoughts I had about Serbia before were just stereotypes and that nothing was true.
I was mostly afraid of the people's reactions, but everybody was wonderful. They invited me to their homes to have lunch and dinner, they met me with their families and friends.
- What opinion Americans generally have about Serbs?
It all depends on where you live in America, but around 90% of people certainly know nothing about Serbia or Serbs. We are really bad when it comes to geography and many people I am friends within the USA connected Serbia and Yugoslavia with war. Some people even think that Serbia is in Russia, so they often ask me "What are you doing in Siberia?". Now, a lot of my friends can find Serbia on the map, my mother is one of them. She worked with the USA government and she was very nervous when I first came here.
- How did your family and friends react when you told them that you were moving to Serbia?
My mother was pretty scared about that when I have told her that I am coming here in 2010. Imagine that you are telling your mother you are going to meet someone who is an admin of the Facebook page "I hate USA". My father was a bit more relaxed. After spending around two weeks here I returned home and I told them I quit my job and that I will move to Serbia. Everybody thought I was crazy.
- Do you plan on staying here for good?
I can't imagine my life without this country and its people. What attracts people to come to Serbia is precisely its people. I have many friends in the USA, but that can't be compared with the friends I have here. People are prepared to sit down with you, to drink coffee, to listen to you, while everything comes down to phone calls in America, social networks, and e-mails.
I have a goal and a purpose to stay here. This country has been stigmatized a lot in the world and there is a wrong image about it, and I am glad if I can change that. People often search for their purpose in life, and when I make some video about Serbia and influence someone's opinion about Serbia, it is worth something for me.
- Do you plan on marrying a Serb girl one day and having a family?
I would love that, but I don't know when will that happen. I am forty years old and I know I have to decide quickly what I am going to do. I like moving a lot and traveling and I am afraid that if I have a family, I won't be able to do that anymore. I would like my child to be half Serb, and half American, to bring some Serbian genes into my family. They would be better athletes and they would look more beautiful.
- Do you feel like people have accepted you here completely?
I do. A large number of people did. They send me messages on Facebook every day where they thank me and tell me how nice it is to see an American in Serbia. They call me to their birthday parties, saint days and other celebrations. But there are those who don't like me and they don't feel comfortable seeing a stranger in their vicinity. A lot of them told me that I was a "spy", "to go away from here", they ask me what am I doing here and similar.
- Do those comments scare you?
They don't. I have a lot of friends here, I know a lot of people so I am not afraid. What worries me the most are threats coming from neighboring countries, like Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina... Some even threaten me with death, which scares me because there are a lot of terrorist attacks these days, so I even reported some threats to the American embassy. They are really up responsive about that.
- You made a lot of videos where you say how much you love our food. Tell us what is your favorite.
I miss your barbeque the most when I go to the USA for four months every year. The meat here has extraordinary taste. I like to eat your cevaps (kebabs), gourmet burger... You don't put a bunch of sauces like we do, you just eat meat, which tastes phenomenal.
Vegetables and fruits have a great taste here, it is really different from the American food. There is no GMO food, everything is natural, everything was hand-picked from the garden. And there is also rolled cabbage. I never liked eating cabbage in my life, but ever since I came here, I put it in everything, mostly in burgers. I especially like skewers, chicken and cevaps rolled in bacon, like a roast.
You have sour cream, kajmak (cream), ajvar and everything is very fresh. I love your candy too. There are so few things I don't like eating here. But if I had to choose what I don't like, I would have to say that it is svargla (dry pieces of meat) and galantine.
- What do you like drinking the most?
I have to mention rakija (brandy). I have around 20 bottles given to me by my students. I like drinking apricot, pear, plum, fruit rakija... My favorite is definitely the quince rakija. I would like to have my own store of rakija right here in the USA. That would be interesting.
Grandpa of my friends from Nis gave me a bottle of plum rakija which is 70 years old, which he made especially for his wedding. The taste is incredible.
- Have your friends from the United States come to Serbia to see where you live, what are you doing, how did you manage around here?
Only one friend from the USA was here. Some of them don't even have passports, which is incredible. The one who came here was amazed by what he saw. Whenever I go to the USA they beg me to speak a bit of Serbian, to tell them about Serbia. Even my parents plan on coming here one day. But there is a long trip ahead of them from Chicago.
- Did you have the chance to travel around Serbia and what place left the greatest impact on you?
What is really interesting for me are small villages. I have to mention Sicevo, because I had the opportunity to see that every house makes its own honey, its jam, they grow everything by themselves. They don't even go to the city, they have everything they need at home. I like that way of life very much.
I like Mokra Gora, I think that the south-west part of Serbia is truly the most beautiful. I like ethno-villages because they show what it was like back then. I lived in eight cities in Serbia, from Vojvodina to Nis. People in the south are really friendly and open to strangers.
- Do you often come to Belgrade and where do you go out when you do?
I used to live in Zemun, in Kotez... so I come here now around three or four times a month. Skadarlija is unavoidable. Every time you go there it is always crowded, there are a lot of people, music can be heard... There is a lot of good food, drinks, and good atmosphere in general. When I came here again when I returned from the USA, I went to Kalemegdan on a rainy morning and it was really wonderful.
I like living here more than living in the USA. I feel like I fit in here and that I belong here completely. It is good for my health because I am pretty hyperactive. I have been drinking medications for years to calm myself, and people are helping me calm down and relax here. Everybody tells me "easy, take it easy".
- You said that you like to visit the Student Park when you are in Belgrade. Why exactly that place?
It's much more fun than going to a club or a bar. It's quiet and peaceful, and most importantly it's legal to sit in a park and have a drink, which is not allowed in the US.
- What's your favorite restaurant in our capital?
I like going to the restaurant "Three hats" or the tavern "Question mark". Every time some foreigner come to me I usually take them there. When it comes to fast food, I like "Pinokio" in Zemun, where I usually eat pancakes.
- You say that you don't like going to the clubs, but when you go out with your friends, where do you usually go?
I usually go out around Novi Sad and I usually go to taverns. When I think about Serbia, I first think about the taverns. You have the music, the people dancing on the tables... When I was in a tavern in Zrednjanin for Serbian New Year, one man smashed glasses around the tavern, which surprised me. I thought that he will be thrown out but people said that it's normal and that he was just struck by a song. A tavern is really a place where you can truly relax. I don't like clubs and I don't like splavs (clubs on boats on the river).
- Do you like listening to our music?
I like especially Toma Zdravkovic and people told me that he practically lived in a tavern. He had so many songs he dedicated to many women. I also like listening to Sasa Matic.
- Do you like watching our movies?
I do. When I first came here I thought I won't like them because I come from a country where we claim that we invented the movies. I have watched the movie "Balkan Spy" and I could really identify with the character played by Bata Stojkovic. I like "Pretty Village, Pretty Flame", which is an extremely sad movie, but has a great emotion. I have seen "The wounds" and I was really surprised the way everything looked like here in the nineties. "Who's Singin' Over There?" is also a hilarious movie. I really like watching the works where Bata Stojkovic played some part. Another good one is "Ivko's Feast". Since I like watching horror movies, I have watched "Leptirica", which really scared me.
- What do you think about our football clubs?
I was really happy when Serbia qualified for the World Championship, and America hasn't. Whenever I cheered for Serbia my American friends would say I was a traitor, so now I can cheer for Serbia without thinking that they will think that I am a traitor.
I am afraid of going to the derby between Red Star and Partizan. I was at a smaller game when Red Star played against some smaller club. My friend has recorded the event, and then he was hit in the head. That person told him not to record because the fans could think he was a cop because a lot of cops are coming in disguise and record the fans on these events. After that, I was afraid of going to the games because of the fans.
I like watching basketball games when Red Star is playing, and my friends are cheering for both clubs, so I will choose Vojvodina because I live there.
- What do you think, why are Serbs so good in any sport?
That is amazing to me. I keep repeating that you are a small nation, which has a small budget, which has been through so many wars. During the First World War, you lost a large percent of the population, also during the Second World War, and then during the war in 1999 when my country destroyed your factories, bridges, everything... However, you manage to compete everywhere and to be best in everything.
I have heard an interesting story from Milorad Cavic. He is my friend, we went out once to smoke hookah. He went to the swimming pool in Uzice on one occasion, and they asked him to pay for the ticket so he can go in to train, although he was an Olympic champion.
- What do you think, are Serbian girls more beautiful or American?
That is a good question. I often talk to my friends about that when we are in a cafe in Serbia, from 10 girls that walk by, 8 are beautiful at least. While in the USA, that number comes to three or four. So Serbian girls have the advantage there. Most of them seem gorgeous, they are tall and they have beautiful face lines. They like to hang out with you and they are very intelligent, so you can talk about various subjects with them, even in several languages.
I have also noticed that no Serb girl wants to go out of the house if she doesn't look pretty or if she is not dressed up, even if she goes to the market. They want to look good and to dress nicely, so each of them looks like a millionaire, by the way they dress.
- If someone told you that you received a Serbian passport and that you became our citizen, what would be your reaction?
I would be overjoyed. I would really love that. I don't want to sound immodest, but I think that I deserved that passport more than some others, like Steven Seagal or some athlete. Those people don't appreciate that red passport, and I would be proud to have it. I think I have earned it. I know a lot of people and I would love to have the opportunity to vote in this country.
Some people told me that you have to know Serbian to get a citizenship, so I will try my best to work on that. One man wrote to his president for the first time and asked him to give me Serbian citizenship. That really touched me to the tears and it showed me how good people Serbs really are.
I became a better man because of Serbia because, while I lived in the USA I was often grumpy in the morning and I didn't like talking. Now when I wake up I say to myself that I will always be nice to everybody I meet, because, I might be the only American that person has ever met, I want to leave a good impression.
- What do you think about the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999?
I have changed my opinion on that matter. I was a great democrat in the nineties, I even voted for Bill Clinton. When I heard that he was attacking Serbia in 1999, it was all shrouded in the veil of propaganda. They said that Serbs are murdering Albanians in Kosovo, and as an American, I thought why would anyone do that. When I came here I realized, I had the opportunity to meet the children that had to run away from Kosovo due to war. I was introduced to the other side of the story. Madeleine Albright received great benefits to create that new state, even Wesley Clark invested millions of dollars into telecommunications and into mining. We actually did all of that for our own financial gain.
Watch the latest videos Charles has made in Serbia:
(Telegraf.co.uk / A.Taskovic - firstname.lastname@example.org)