Why You Should Buy Duct Tape In Serbia
I am not an amazing light packer. It’s totally not my fault; every time I’m about to leave for a trip my mum always arrives laden with things that, I quote, “I simply HAVE to have.” On a recent trip to Eastern Europe, one of those ‘absolute essentials’ was an umbrella. An oversized, aluminum-handled umbrella.
Come the Serbian town of Novi Sad, this ‘completely necessary’ oversized umbrella had punched a hole through the bottom of my suitcase. Google Maps hates Serbia, and I spoke all of about three words of Serbian, so finding a hardware store was difficult to say in the least. I tried the main strip of shops for something to fix the suitcase with, but it was incredibly deserted that day, with a large group of locals gathered at the central bridge.
Instead I went down to the local market, where I was lucky enough to come across a vendor who spoke very good English. After managing to communicate my predicament, he chortled an explanation of: “No, no stores for that! You need the tape guy.”
“Oh, of course, silly me!” I said, “Um…what is a tape guy?”
“He is the guy who sells you the tape.”
“Let me find out where he is.”
So, my very accommodating friend chats to a few other vendors and then comes back to me.
“Yes, he has new selling spot, he is outside market and two turns to your left.”
I leave the market and turn left. I pass the showerhead guy, selling nothing but showerheads from his roadside stall. His stand is next to the crepe guys and next to them is a vendor selling just light bulbs. Everyone is bustling around the three or four main shopping streets; everyone but me seems to know exactly which part of which street they can find whatever niche item they need to buy.
When I reached the second street, I could not actually find any ‘tape guy’. I walked the length of the street twice, evidently looking about as lost as I felt because a glove stall assistant called out to me asking if I was okay. I explained to her that I was looking for the tape guy. She called something in Serbian to an older woman behind the stall, who shook her head at me, “No, he is not working today.”
“Oh, I see.”
“He is at the bridge. He will be back tomorrow.”
“Should I go to the bridge?”
“No. He is at the bridge for the remembering.”
Not wanting to press the older woman about what he was remembering, I looked to the younger girl to see if that was my cue to move on. Generously, she explained to me that it was the anniversary of the bombing of the bridge. The town was hit hard in the Croatian War of Independence, and the bridge was a very significant spot for many who were involved, so they held a service there; that’s why there were so many people at the bridge.
The next day I visited the same street, walking past the glove vendor who gives me a smile and exclaimed, “today he is here!”
Sure enough, down the street is a stall with an exceptionally Serbian man with an exceptionally large array of tape to sell. He smiles at me from under his grand moustache and offers me all the duct tape I could possibly need.
“Two hundrrred dinarrr.”
“Sure. How was the service yesterday?”
“The remembering, at the bridge?”
“Ah! Yes. It is good to do. Good to know it. I remember the feeling. You understand?”
We exchanged smiles and I went on my way.
The tape lasted all of about two hours on my suitcase, but hunting for it turned out to be one of my fondest memories of that trip. I learnt more about Serbian culture and history in that escapade than I possibly could from any travel book. Since then, I’ve had a little soft spot for Novi Sad and its street vendors. If you ever go to Novi Sad, I recommend you buy duct tape!