East and West in a Sandwich

An extract from the book by Momo Kapor - A Guide to the Serbian Mentality


My elder daughter, Ana, studies art in Rome. My younger daughter, Jelena, studies piano at the Conservatory in Sofia.
I live in Belgrade, if you call this living.
Both my daughters come home on holidays, and we sometimes sit around and discuss their problems.
"It's very nice in Sofia, " says the younger daughter, "But I go to the Conservatory hungry because lessons begin at eight and I don't have time for breakfast."
Why not buy a bread and butter the day before, make a sandwich and eat it during the break, I suggest.
"Butter?" she askes in astonishment. "The grocer had butter a month and a half ago, but the queue was too long and I didn't manage to buy any."
"What do you mean, the grocer HAD butter?" asks my older daughter, the one in Rome. "Why was there a queue?"
She cannot comprehend, you see, that there is a country where one cannot always buy butter. Her grocery store in Rome stocks thirty different kinds of butter: salted, unsalted, dietary, Caucasian, with walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds and cinnamon, and mild or hot peppers. They even have Bulgarian butter, which, of course, cannot be found in Bulgaria!
I listen to them and smile to myself. I have daughters in the East and in the West. Whoever wins, I am in Belgrade... waiting...
Yet, even Ana, who lives in that western heaven, also has problems with breakfast! Like her younger sister, she too does not find time to eat before classes begin at the Academy, and she remains hungry all morning.
Why, I ask, when there are so many kinds of butter in Rome, do you not buy everything you need the day before and make a sandwich to take to the Academy and eat during the break?
"In a handbag?" she asks in astonishment. "I'm not so mad to carry a handbag to Rome. "Why not?" asks her younger sister.
"Because some guy will drive by on a motorbike and grab it, that's why!"
"What do you mean, grab?" asks the younger daughter, who lives in the most secure of all worlds; in socialist Sofia where no one dares grab anything from anyone, but where, unfortunately, there is nothing worth grabbing. She simply cannot believe that anyone would steal a handbag in the street!
Two sisters, two worlds; one Eastern, the other Western; but neither of them eat breakfast for quite different reasons!
That morning I realised I live in the best country in the world.
"Here in Belgrade", I said, "We have all the butter you want, and no one grabs handbags in the street. But today, unfortunately, we don't have money to buy butter."
Tomorrow, perhaps?

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