Sarajevo is definitely a larger city when it comes to geography and population, but socially it feels much smaller. I’ve stopped being surprised when I am out to coffee with a new friend I’ve recently met and she tells me that she knows a student or staff member with American Councils, or if she happens to be good friends with one of my teachers. Friends happily run into each other by chance in the street, on public transportation, and in cafés on a daily basis. Sarajevo is a remarkably friendly city, and almost all of this socializing takes place over coffee. Coffee is such an integral part of life here, that it is close to impossible to write about the daily culture without at least mentioning
I sometimes spend a few hours alone in cafes getting work done, but I always feel more out of place than when I come with friends. Socializing is a much more integral part of life in Sarajevo, and I hardly ever see someone sitting in a café or shopping (or anything else) by themselves. After two months, I’ve begun to learn how to drink coffee like a real Bosnian.
The first thing I learned about Bosnian coffee is that it’s much stronger. Drunk from tiny cups with the coffee grinds still at the bottom, one cup of Bosnian coffee is probably packed with as much caffeine as a full cup of filtered coffee from back home. Bosnian coffee is served in a džezva, along with sugar and Turkish delight. I was surprised the first time I saw someone dip their sugar cube into the coffee and proceed to suck the coffee out of the cube, but I have since learned that this is pretty normal.
Also, drink coffee with friends, not on the go. I have not yet seen one person carrying a travel or disposable coffee mug. I have seen one café which advertised as offering “coffee to-go” as an option, so I’m not saying that no one takes coffee to go, but it isn’t so common here as it is in the United States. While Bosnian coffee is much stronger than coffee in the United States, you don’t drink it to wake up here. I drink coffee in the morning with my host mom, and another cup in the afternoon once class is done, usually with some friends or one of my teachers. Bosnians also drink coffee in the evening after dinner while talking to their family, neighbors, or other friends.
The last thing I’ve had to become used to is drinking my coffee slowly. I have a bad habit of eating and drinking a little too fast, and I will be surprised if four months in Sarajevo won’t break that habit. One evening my host mom took me to her neighbor’s apartment for coffee. Struggling to follow the conversation, I reached for my coffee more frequently while listening to the rapid-fire Bosnian around me. This resulted in my cup being refilled a few more times than everone elses (cups and plates in Bosnia do not stay empty for long). After I finished my second cup, our host smiled and leaned over, telling me “jedan čas, jedan sat,” meaning “one cup, one hour.”
“Jedan čas, jedan sat,” is probably the best summary of coffee culture in Bosnia. Take it slow, and appreciate the few hours you’re about to spend chatting with your friends.
By: McKinzey Manes
Program: Balkan Language Initiative
Term: Spring 2016