I have been living in Montenegro for more than 45 years and I have often been thinking about the differences between the Montenegrins – which also refers to my own children and grandchildren who consider themselves Montenegrins – and people from Western Europe, in particular from Holland. Well, I must say that most Montenegrins are not very different from Western people in the way they perceive things or in their desired lifestyle. However, there are certain peculiarities, which mainly emerge from old times and traditions. If you are a foreigner and you decide to come and live in Montenegro, you can use this blog post as a guideline!
In Holland there is a very typical saying: “Frugality with diligence builds houses like castles”. This is one of the reasons why I left Holland when I was 20 years old. I just did not like the way of living: working hard, saving money, always obeying numerous rules and regulations, paying all kinds of insurance and tax necessary to “buy” your complete security… In my opinion, the fact that almost everything was predictable – at least in the times when I was young – made life boring.
In Montenegro I learned that life is not only money and exposure, security and stability. I also learned the meaning of SOLIDARITY. People are taking care of each other, they help their relatives and friends in case of need. And that is, of course, the logical consequence of poverty, but also of the fact that Montenegro has been a tribal society for ages. It has always been a tradition to be there for the members of your family, tribe and clan. Moreover, the state obviously does not have money to build homes for elderly persons or for handicapped children; old-age pensions do not enable a normal standard of living; it is very difficult to get a loan from the bank, etc. What a difference with the Netherlands! Thanks to the excellent system of social and health care, Dutch people do not depend on family or friends – the state resolves all problems. Unfortunately, nowadays many things are changing in Western Europe and people are asked to “participate” in health and social care.
In the meantime, I have become familiar with some typical character features of the Montenegrins. First of all, Montenegrins are LAZY, or we might also say that they have a special attitude towards work. Most Dutch people feel an internal need to work, they feel guilty when they don’t have “obligations” (this also refers to me…) – Montenegrins enjoy doing nothing, sitting for hours in a pub and discussing all possible world issues, just waiting until they get a chance to earn money in an easy and fast way. Of course, I am well aware of the fact that the younger generations have changed.
I have always had a very high opinion about the GENEROSITY of Montenegrins and I highly appreciate their HOSPITALITY. It is always difficult to explain to Dutch friends how to behave when they are invited for a meal in Montenegro. I recommend them to leave some food on their plate and leave their glass full, otherwise they will end up badly… Why? Because an empty plate or glass is the sign that the guest did not eat or drink enough – which means that the host has not fulfilled his traditional obligations! Sometimes it is also necessary to explain that it would be nice to reciprocate the host in a certain way…
What else could I say about the Montenegrins? They are not only tall and handsome (the average height for males is 186 and for females 171 cm), but also VERY PROUD and SELF-CONFIDENT. Don’t talk to them about their vices, many of them think they are perfect. You will often hear from them that their clan has played a special role in Montenegrin history and they can tell you all the details about their ancestors. What a difference with Holland where “boasting” is a sign of bad education!
Many things have changed in Montenegro in the previous decades. But Western individualism still has not found its way into Montenegrin society. Like before, the whole country is interconnected and almost everyone knows everyone else. I still have the impression that Montenegro is one large family…
As I have not mentioned Montenegrin women and family life, this will be the topic of another blog post!