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3 Things that DON’T Freak People Out in the Balkans

by Laura on May 6th, 2013

I’m not exactly sure what it is about the Balkans–specifically the Serbian mentality that makes it so, but people are much less likely to freak out about many of the things we Americans do.

Don’t get me wrong; Serb parents freak out about stomach colds, children sitting on concrete, bare feet (inside) in the wintertime, and other things I consider completely crazy old school.

1. Nakedness

You won’t see anyone freaking out about naked kids running around at the seaside in Southern Europe. Generally, girls and boys wear just the bottoms of their swimsuits–briefs for girls and either boxer-briefs or, yes, the “European” style briefs for boys. Girls usually start wearing bikini tops around age ten, or when they start developing; sometimes not even then.

I know — scandalous!

I was chatting with a friend who grew up in Belgrade about this phenomenon.

Me: You know in the U.S. people kind of looked at me weird when D [my then 1-year-old daughter] ran around with just swim panties on. American moms want their little girls covered up on top, teaching them to “cover your nipples!”

Friend: I think the perception here is that if you look at a child in that way, then you’re the one with the problem.


Surely, pedophiles can be found in any country.  It’s just that blame is placed where blame belongs, firmly not on the child.

2. Toy guns

Given all of the recent, devastating violence in the U.S., I may catch some slack about this, but toy guns are not The Big Freak-Out that they’ve become in the West.

Wait, stop! Don’t let you kid form his fingers into a gun! Danger! Danger!

You won’t see any parents running to stop a kid from picking up a stick and using it as a toy gun. The parent may even join in the play, pretending to be shot. <<Collective gasp heard here in Southern Europe from across the ocean.>>

Here kid “gun fights” are considered normal, as in: Hey, kids (yes, girls, too) in a bang-bang phase are gonna turn anything into a gun, including a carrot. What’s the big deal?

3. Play-fighting

Play-fighting, rough-housing, “boys being boys” (although, my daughter does like to play rough sometimes) … it’s all poo-poo’ed upon in America. And I get it, all jokes aside, bullying is a big problem.

But even though my daughter likes to be physical and isn’t afraid to be tackled, doesn’t mean she’s going to become a bully. In fact, she’s not scared of much and she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself and her friends.

Then there’s my three year old boy’s boy, who’s in an “I’m s-t-r-o-n-g” phase. It’s not a mad, temper-tantrum-esque, aggressive phase, it’s more M enjoys testing his strength.

He likes to play “crush me” with any willing adult, who is supposed to ball him up, restraining his hands and legs. M tries to break free.

M also likes ninjas, pirates and swords. But let me be clear, M is a pussy-cat.

He’s not an angry person. He’s not hyperactive. He happily sits still and will color an entire picture (without scribbling). He has lots of friends and has taken it upon himself to send each child going home from preschool with a hearty hug and soft kiss on the cheek. He gets most upset when he thinks someone else is mad at him.

But, he likes to feel powerful and gets bursts of rambunctious energy.

All within the range of normal. No freaking out necessary. Not from this American mommy, at least.

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I need your help!! Please click over to the Expats Blog – like and comment so I can w-i-n the competition! Big Expat Decision #1: Where to Send the Kids to School?

“Two Affectionate Babies” by Victor Habbick and hands image both from



From → Expat Mommy

  1. An interesting subject on cultural differences. As an Anglo-Mexican living in the US for thirteen years, I still can't understand how people freak out over things that are seen as normal in other countries e.g. political correctness. The national obsession with kids' behavior seems to be turning childhood into a regimented, medicated, overprotected bubble with little or none of the freedom we enjoyed as children. You gave some good examples here.

    Loved the answer your friend gave you. Sums

    • Laura permalink

      Ohhh political correctness! I am so going to get myself in trouble when I go back to the States–here being P.C. is considered a kind of fakeness that's to be avoided at all costs.
      I agree–"The national obsession with kids’ behavior seems to be turning childhood into a regimented, medicated, overprotected bubble" … Yes!

  2. One of the best things about being a grandchild adopted by his grandparents is that is he being raised "old school". He benefits from our old ideas and even as a preteen, still has toy guns. Our country has been hijacked and it doesn't look like it will be rescued. I feel sorry for the collective children in our country who will never know the meaning of true freedom to be a child.

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks so much for writing — yes! I think that childhood should equal freedom, and it's so sad that the U.S. is faced with so many tragic events that seem to make us more scared and insular.

  3. Your post made me realise that I am still very European indeed…I think that sometimes, in the Anglo Saxon world, we tend to forget that kids will be (shock horror) kids…

    • Laura permalink

      Yes, I can see that the Brits and Americans have more in common, than Brits and Continental Europeans. The shock factor is quite prevalent!

  4. Interesting, Laura. From a South African perspective all three those activities seem normal to me too. In S.A., I'd never hesitate to hug and kiss my friends' children, whereas I'm a lot more circumspect in the U.S. when it come to showing affection.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! That's another thing. Here, it's totally okay to stroke a child's head–even one who you don't know. In the U.S.? Stranger danger!!

  5. The experience of childhood has truly changed due to the times, as well as due to cultural differences of course as you have pointed out. I'm glad you included the 'shooting game/ gun with fingers play' that kids do. Though some parents think it's simply over-paranoia that such behavior is now seen as unacceptable, it is a fact that sensitivity must be applied due to recent events. Inasmuch as we want to hold on to the same norms we grew up with, it simply must be accepted that culture is dynamic and of course this is what makes the world so interesting! ;-)

    • Laura permalink

      I agree — there are places where such behavior IS unacceptable, like pretend gun fights in church or at a solemn gathering.
      Thanks so much for commenting!

  6. Marija Taraba permalink

    The thing is , all those things you mentioned( naked at the beach, playing rough,etc ) is normal for kids to do and get it out of their system at the early age! What is happening now in The USa( I am sure it is in the last 20-30 years that things changed!) is that kids are forbidden to do anything that is typical for their age. Show anger at the other child, hit, play rough, etc….and then all of that anger shows later when already grown up… Maybe not 100% always the case but just my point of view!

    • Marija — I was just thinking about this this morning. When they play rough, they're getting out their aggression — sometimes that is distinct from being mad. It's just wanting to be physical and strong. And that feeling can be channeled in healthy ways — if it's surpressed, or if boys can never run and punch (something, not a person) in healthy ways … well, that too shows up later on. Thanks so much for writing!

  7. That is really something new about the Balkans and I am glad that I was able to know about it. I am always here to see the informative things that you have been sharing in this website.

  8. Neon permalink

    Serb people stay closer to nature and their children are simple in nature, but they need grooming.
    Know about Aadhar

  9. thank you for writing about culture. Your content help me expending knowledge about the differences.

  10. Hana permalink

    Thank your so much for sharing this article, we should control and guide the children follow the nice life.
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