It is quite an experience, going on a holiday in Macedonia. This mostly overlooked Balkan country has a good deal to offer, such as beautiful nature, ancient history, plenty of sunshine and interesting culture. To make your holiday in Macedonia even more fun and memorable, it is a good idea to do what the locals do. This mainly revolves around trying to enjoy life as much as you can. Which is simple – you just need to eat, drink, sing and dance. If you also speak a word or two of Macedonian, then you are all set. What are you waiting for?
1. Drink (homemade) rakija
Most families have members living in the countryside who make their own rakija, a very strong liquor made of plums or grapes (similar to brandy). And if there is not a family member who moonshines, then there is definitely a family friend who does. As a foreigner, you will probably be asked to drink along. This is not for the fainthearted, with alcohol contents rising well above forty percent, but it’s worth it to feel welcomed. To still feel welcome the following day, it is a good idea to slowly empty your glass instead of draining it in one gulp. Luckily you do not have to do this on an empty stomach, because rakija is usually served with a salad prior to the main meal.
2. Buy Macedonian wine
While rakija is the number one drink of the country, Macedonians rarely buy it as a (dinner) gift. After all, every family has their own stash. Macedonians do not hesitate to drink rakija in a restaurant or ‘kafana’ (informal eatery with comfort snack food to share, simple main meals and alcohol), but not many people actually drink rakija from the supermarket. Macedonian wine is a good purchase instead. The vineyards of Macedonia, such as Stobi, Popova Kula and Tikves, produce many brilliant reds and whites. The small bottles of wine from the supermarket are also easily taken home as a souvenir in your suitcase (well wrapped in a plastic bag of course). And while the Macedonians rarely do this, you can of course purchase rakija to take home as a gift for a loved one or as a sweet memory for yourself. Tip: all types of alcohol are being sold in the supermarket, in the summer until 21:00 and in the winter until 19:00, even though the shop might be open until as late as 22:00.
3. Accept all and every food you are offered
Guests sometimes seem to be seen as starving creatures. “Eat something! Drink something!” Just deal with it. You have to eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow. Just realize that the faster you eat, the more food will be added to your plate. So learn to eat slowly. And learn to eat cooled down food. By the way, it doesn’t matter at which time you arrive at someone’s home (or a restaurant). There will always be food. To make things even more interesting, while visiting a village, rakija can be on the menu as early as breakfast. And another good piece of advice: make sure your teeth are healthy, because if there is one thing that’s certain: sweets will be sweet.
4. Speak some Macedonian
Macedonians are very proud of their language, which uses a Cyrillic script. The beauty of the Macedonian language is that each letter is always pronounced in the same way. Which means that you can read words exactly how they are written, and therefore you can also write as you speak. Double consonants are not necessary and you sometimes feel like a kid in first grade. This is a treat for learners of the language. And a source of great joy when you realize that even movie stars and English terms are ‘cyrillized’ – Michael Jackson becomes Мајкел Џексон (Majkel Djekson) and consulting turns into консалтинг (konsalting). The fact that all words have male, female or neuter endings is something annoying you have to live with (see below: good morning, good day, good evening). Another Macedonian language fact: The modern Macedonian alphabet consists of 31 letters and is based on the first Slavic alphabet developed by the saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century.
Here are some essentials:
Zdravo – Hello
Dobro utro, dobar den, dobra vecher – Good morning, day, evening
Na zdravje – Cheers (when clinking your beer)
Na zdravje – Bless you (when someone sneezes)
Zdravje da imash – Health to you (when someone blesses you after you sneezed)
Fala, blagodaram – Thanks (more polite)
Ciao – Bye
Prijatno – Goodbye (when you leave)
Prijatno jadenje – Bon appetit
Ja sakam Makedonija – I love Macedonia
5. Dance some oro
This dance is really very simple, but participating will earn you many appreciative glances, words and/or pats on the back. The oro is danced in a long line, with people holding one another by the hand. The dance is mainly used to celebrate occasions such as weddings, but can really be embedded into making any gathering a happier occasion (for instance a night out in a kafana). All you need is some national folk songs and some space. With one person taking the lead, preferably with a handkerchief (or paper napkin) in hand. There are some different kinds of oro, but if you master the simplest one, you will already make most Macedonians proud. How to do it, you ask? Well, you do need some sense of rhythm, but basically you just put two steps forward (sideways to the right) and one step back. Do not worry if it seems that the dance never stops, because these folk songs often unnoticeably blend together. It is well accepted to sneak out of the line after some time.
Do you already have plans to visit Macedonia? Let yourself be seduced by the sweet Macedonian life. Immerse yourself in the local customs and experience a holiday you will never forget.