Learn how to say “no thank you” in Serbian and stop overeating
Why Serbian hosts are so insistent when offering food or drink to you? How can you say no thank you and not offend anyone? If you’re visiting Serbia, this is a must read! In this post you’ll learn how to deal with “slatko” and how to say NO THANK YOU in Serbian politely. And trust me, that is one Serbian phrase you are going to need when faced with Serbian hospitality practices.
If you’re getting ready to visit a Serbian home, be prepared that you’ll probably be offered a variety of foods and drinks. Probably beyond your appetite. For that reason, one of the most important things to learn is how to say no thank you in Serbian: how to deny your host’s offers politely, but firmly, so you don’t end up sick, or drunk, or offending anyone.
The first thing you’re offered in a traditional Serbian hospitality ritual is “slatko”. Ever heard of it? In English you call it ‘spoon sweet’ or ‘fruit preserve’. It’s actually a typical traditional sweet in all the countries in the Balkans, coming from the Middle East many centuries ago.
Then the treats continue: homemade coffee and rakija, wine or beer, full lunch or at least a meze, and more sweets. With all that, your hosts will repeatedly check if you want more, or if you need something else. They’ll keep telling you things like:
- help yourself: “Služite se”,
- don’t hold back: “Ne ustručavajte se”,
- don’t be shy: “Nemojte da se stidite”,
- feel like at your own home: “Osećajte se kao kod svoje kuće”.
Why are your Serbian hosts so annoying sometimes? It’s because the guests are normally a little shy and refuse at first, even if they want something. People were very shy and modest, they wouldn’t want to take at first. They will give their hosts an opportunity to take that offer back.
Therefore, on the other hand, your host must give you plenty of opportunities to take what you actually want, but are reluctant to take or ask for. Don’t get annoyed with them: they are only trying to make you comfortable as much as possible.
In the following video you can see what ‘slatko’ is and what to do when it’s served to you. You’ll also learn how to refuse food or drink without offending anybody: how to say no thank you in Serbian.
In this video you’ve learned:
- What is “slatko” and what exactly you should do with it, how to help yourself and what to do with the spoon, and
- How to politely say NO in Serbian and stop overeating or overdrinking, without offending anybody
Let’s expand a little bit on that.
1. Šta je slatko? – What is “slatko”?
Slatko means “sweet”. You can use it as an adjective:
- Čokolada je slatka. Chocolate is sweet.
- Sladoled je sladak. Ice cream is sweet.
But as a noun, slatko is the name for the traditional Serbian dessert made of different kinds of fruit cooked in a thick sugary syrup. Think of it as a marmelade made of whole fruits (if the fruits are tiny like cherries, strawberries or small figs) or big chunks of fruits (if the fruits are bigger, like big figs, quinces or pears). The same kind of sweet is made in Greece, as well as in the whole of the Balkans.
It’s a tradition to serve this sweet to the guests in a small crystal bowl, like in the picture below, or simply in a jar where it’s normally kept, with a glass of water.
Here’s what you’re supposed to do:
- Take the teaspoon (uzmete kašičicu) and
- take one mouthful (i uzmete jedan zalogaj).
- Then you should drink some water (onda popijete malo vode)
- and leave the little spoon in the glass, if there’s no other place reserved for that.
Sometimes the spoons are held in a special container, like this:
where clean teaspoons are held on one side, and used spoons are put on the other side, but it’s always the safest to put the spoon you’ve used in your glass of water.
If you want to take more slatko, then you should take another clean teaspoon.
2. How to say no thank you in Serbian
If you have friends or family in Serbia, Bosnia or Croatia, you’ve noticed how insistent they can be in offering food and drink, and making you take some more, još malo, another glass, još jednu čašu, another piece, još jedno parče.
We often make jokes about Serbian grandmothers urging children to eat some more, just a bit more, even without bread – bez hleba!
Now, as a guest, you don’t want to offend anybody, but you also don’t want to harm your body. How to reject them with no offence?
The best way is to be firm and polite, and to use the right words. Before visiting someone in Serbia, make sure to learn two simple words:
It means simply “I can’t”.
So it’s not your fault! It’s not that you don’t want their food, or that you don’t like what they’re offering, you just can not eat or drink.
Here are a couple more phrases you might want to jot down, remeber and use when trying to say no in Serbian:
Ne mogu, hvala ti puno. (I can’t, thanks a lot)
Stvarno ne mogu. (I really can’t)
Ne mogu više. (I can’t /eat or drink/ any more)
Sit sam (I’m full), sita sam (feminine form)
Najeo sam se (I ate till full), najela sam se (feminine form)
Dosta mi je (I’ve had enough)
Hvala puno, bilo je odlično (Thanks a lot, it was excellent)
Understanding the way things are done in a different culture is very important, as I illustrated in the previous post. Now equipped with this understanding and the right phrases you can use, you are ready to visit your Serbian friends and relatives!
by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic
Founder of Serbonika
Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller. Read more about me.
My mission is to create the best method for learning Serbian. Would you like to learn Serbian with my lessons? Try free.
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