Fluent Serbian in 20 Minutes — Fake Your Way Through Any Rakija-Soaked Conversation

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2020-11-18
PUBLISHED ON  2013-07-15
serbian toasting in belgrade
If you need to communicate in Serbian, check out my boring language learning strategies and grammar and vocabulary articles about Serbian.
But if you’re looking to fake a high level of cultural awareness on a rowdy night out in Belgrade, this article is your solution.
The following lesson will get you speaking fluent-sounding Serbian in only 20 minutes, even and especially if you have no fucking idea what people around you are actually saying. This is the Minimalist Language Learning Method; we emphasize culturally specific ways to keep a conversation interesting, pleasurable, and free from the ennui of actual content.
So here are the few words and phrases you must know in order to feign fluent Serbian.
  1. ‘De si, brate! (day see, brah-tay) — Hello! Literally, this means, “where are you, brother?” but it is used as a general greeting for men. You can reply with “evo me” (ay-vo may, here I am) or simply “ćao” (chow).
  2. De si, u pičku materinu (day see, u peech-ku ma-ter-een-u) — A variant of the above greeting. Literally, it means: “Where are you, in your mother’s pussy?” but it is just taken as an informal hello, especially if you haven’t seen the person in a while.
  3. Do jaja and fenomenalno (do yaya, fay-no-may-nal-no) Meaning literally “to the testicles” and “fabulous”, respectively. Employ these to show how simply amazing you think something, nay, everything is.
  4. Šatrovački (sha-tro-vach-kee) — this is the coded lexicon of criminals and young folks. It is created by inverting the syllables of standard Serbian in order to make your discourse more difficult to understand, and thus more hip. Its French parallel, verlan, is something I’ve previously discussed. The wikipedia article on šatrovački explains the mini-language in detail, but all you really need is a few key words to pretend that you are with it:
    • Lošmi (losh-mee) — It seems that every other Serbian man you meet will be named Miloš. When introduced to such a Miloš, address him instead as Lošmi. (Serbian women will almost always be named Marija, Ivana, Ana or Jelena — but there are no common šatrovački versions of these names.)
    • Cupi  (tsu-pee) — From pica, meaning pussy (as in English, it can refer to both the body part and the woman herself)
    • Vopi (vo-pee) — Beer, from pivo
    • Tebra (tay-bra) — from brate, meaning brother or dude
  5. Ne seri? (nay say-ree)— You’re shitting me! Really?
  6. Munze konza! (mun-zay kon-za) — The first thing foreigners are always asked is where we come from, and that conversation is fucking boring. Derail it, when in Serbia, by bellowing “Munze konza!” (it’s šatrovački — see point #5) to show that you hail from Belgrade’s coolest borough, Zemun, and you believe that it totally rules.
  7. I’m joking! — When speaking a language that you don’t speak, it’s extremely important to be able to backpedal. If you get the feeling you may have said something wrong, or to make it clear that would you’ve just said was in jest, use the following:
    • Šalim se (shal-eem say) — I’m just kidding.
    • Zajebavam te (za-yay-ba-vam tay) — I’m just fucking with you.
  8. Rakija (RA-kee-ya) — Presumably this is the whole reason you are in Serbia, but if not, get up to speed on Serbian brandy here.
  9. Nationalist salute — Show how much you love mother Serbia by holding up your thumb, index and middle fingers, spread wide, as in the video at the bottom of this post.
  10. Straaaaaava! (straaaaaah-vah) — That’s amazing! Also: Horrifying!
  11. Straaaaašno! (straaaaaash-no) — That’s terrible!
  12. Sevdah (sev-dah) — This is a celebrated, tragic feeling of nostalgia. It’s actually Bosnian, but Serbs feel it too, especially after too much rakija. When you get your sevdah on, lift your glass, declaim the horrors of your life for twenty minutes, and throw the glass on the ground.
  13. Dušo (du-show) — A sweet way to address your love-muffin
  14. Nemam pojma (nay-mam poy-ma) — I don’t have a clue.
  15. Živeli (zhee-vay-lee) — Cheers
  16. Sve sam sjebao (svay sam syay-ba-oo) — I fucked it all up.
  17. Inat (ee-nat) — Serbians claim that this word has no translation in English. It means, essentially, vindictiveness, but Serbians celebrate their vindictiveness to an extraordinary degree. Don’t hesitate to do likewise. More on inat can be found here.

18. The Šipak Gesture (shee-pak) — This is a mildly obscene gesture that is used in the Balkans to refuse aid to someone or to show that’ve gotten/will get nothing. Insert your thumb between your first and middle fingers, as in the photo at right.

The šipak gesture — Serbians' way of showing just how little they care
The šipak gesture — Serbians’ way of showing just how little they care

19. Jebote (yay-bow-tay) — This is a filler word and is inserted everywhere in informal Serbian speech, somewhat like “like” in English. Use it, however, with some care, as it more literally means “fuck”.

20. Bre (bray) — Another meaningless interjection, used everywhere for emphasis.

21. Zar ne? (zar nay) — “Isn’t it so?” Add this to the end of any sentence, and voilà, you’ve asked a question.

22. And finally, since you should know one joke in every language: Sede dve babe u mraku, i uđe treće i upali svetlo! (say-day dvay bah-bay u mrak-u ee udjay tray-chay ee up-al-ee svayt-lo) — “Two old ladies are sitting in the dark, and a third one enters and turns on the light!” This is a famous joke among Serbians, and no, it doesn’t make any sense to them either. Alternately, you can try your hand at Serbian dead baby jokes (use Google for translations).

To je to! (That’s all!) Got your own additions or corrections? Please share them in the comments or by private email. This post will be continuously updated as needed.

For those who use Anki (the free memorization software for phones and computers), a deck has been created to help you study the above vocabulary. (Update: Anki has removed this because not enough people download it regularly, but you can email me for it (mose@ this domain name).)

Thanks to Ana “Frenchie” Stijelja for her input!

Serbian Nationalist Salute:

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2 thoughts on “Fluent Serbian in 20 Minutes — Fake Your Way Through Any Rakija-Soaked Conversation”

  1. Please, delete the link to dead baby jokes, they are awful 🙁

    otherwise, great article! keep up the great work 😀

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