robertisenberg

Bosnians Are Cute

In Bosnia on June 8, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 208

A ancient man at the Cafe Vienna leans over and asks, “Entschuldigung, sind Sie Deutscher?”

“Nein,” I say, “ich komme aus Amerika, aber ich spreche ein biβchen Deutsch.”

“Amerika!” the man proclaims. He’s senile and emaciated; he shakes convulsively as he hovers, his gnarled hand using my bistro table for support. “Bitte, können Sie uns fotografieren?”

He holds out his compact digital camera with a shivering hand. This is one of my favorite requests, and I take my time sizing up the shot. The two men don’t exactly smile; their expressions are meditative, as if they’re pondering their many decades of friendship, and the endangered years to come. The camera snaps mutedly, and they thank me, bowing their heads, before returning to their coffee. It occurs to me that they only speak German, but they themselves are Bosnian. They presumed that I, being blond-haired and sipping Cappuccino at the Cafe Vienna, must be Austrian, or at least German or Swiss.

I look up from my torn sugar packets and see a clothier across the street. Shirts and sweaters are hanging from a rack outside the shop, and the front sweatshirt reads: “Bosnians Are Cute.” It’s a disarming statement, more fitting in Cape Cod than in Sarajevo. The survivors of a war-torn, mostly-Muslim, former Communist city are actually pretty sexy, the shirt suggests. When you look past the casualties, the starvation, the genocide, the bullet-holes and the long tradition of praying five times in the direction of Mecca, our girls are downright hot.

“We’re not like that,” locals will tell me again and again, referring to regular prostrations and abstinence from sex and liquor. “We’re Bosnian Muslims.” And they’ll shrug, as if that explains everything.

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