The last time I was in Belgrade, some friends and I went out for drinks and I asked Uroš – a Serbian vegetarian, ie. a real live unicorn – why he was a vegetarian in a country whose love of grilled meat is surpassed only by the fanatical Argentina.
I found it especially baffling since one of his jobs was preparing Serbian BBQs for tourists and, from what I understood, he spent the rest of his time working out. He told me that, actually, he loved meat. But the problem was that ever since he’d eaten true Bosnian sausages he’d realised that there was no point in eating any other kind of meat – that’s how good they are. So, he eats meat when he goes to Bosnia and that’s it. All other meat is blasphemy.
During the course of this conversation he also told me a story about a Bosnian border guard and a moustache – in order to illustrate his point that Bosnians were the funniest people in the world (if black humour is your thing, this is true) – and introduced me to this week’s word:
vukojebina: (Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian) n. the middle of nowhere. Lit. where the wolves fuck.
Vukojebina reappeared in my life a few days ago while I was reading Saša Stanišić’s How the Soldier Repaired the Gramophone (which, fyi, I have finally finished! Very worth it). As I originally found Stanišić’s book through my thesis research and, since my thesis was all about how books written by multilingual authors tend to have a preocupation with words (how they sound, why they mean what they mean, the arbitrary nature of language, etc), this little excerpt made me very happy as there, smack in the middle of a conversation about something entirely different, was a little musing about what, exactly, vukojebina means. Although, on the next page, Aleksandr, the main character translates it (prudishly) as “Where the wolves…with each other…”. Bah!
Uroš’ story (more-or-less):
Uroš: So, once, I was coming back from Bosnia and I crossed the border where the wolves fuck-
Me: Sorry, the where?
Uroš: Where the wolves fuck. You know, the vukojebina. Far from everything, in the woods…
Me: Oh. The middle of nowhere.
Uroš: The middle of nowhere? That’s boring. I like where the wolves fuck.
Me: Fair enough.
Uroš: Anyway, I gave the border guard my ID. Except, I had a big mustache at the time and, in my ID photo, I was clean shaven. He looked at my ID, then at me, then at my ID, and said, completely straight-faced: I’m afraid you’re going to have to shave. I said: But I don’t have any razors. And he said: Okay, maybe I can just draw a moustache on your ID instead then. Bosnians. They’re hilarious.
Vukojebina remains one of maybe 6 Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian words I still remember from my short-lived attempts to learn BSC – and the only one not food-related.
(Featured image: Abandoned communist monument in Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia Herzegovina)