Lessons from the Balkan women in my life: ‘Spotting the Balkan mother’

It’s almost like a sixth sense, and one which ignites my fight or flight response, but I feel I can always tell when a Balkan mother is near. Perhaps it’s out of a need to protect myself from the consequences of my own actions, but I’ve found that the Balkan mother is a character best not disturbed or defied. In order to help others, and muse on cultural stereotypes which I find at the very least humorous and at most – true, I’ve created a list below of physical and emotional qualities that define the Balkan mother.

The puffer jacket (preferably from TK Maxx if in the British diaspora) – Practical, comforting, and at times stylish (although not often), the puffer jacket is the embodiment of the Balkan mother. Seemingly surgically attached as soon as September hits, it provides a post-Soviet (or ex-Yugoslav) charm to the sartorial expression of Balkan mothers. These jackets seem to get replaced every few years with a slightly better looking model, but they remain a wardrobe staple no matter. Their greatest ability in protecting the Balkan mother from the horrors of the draft mean they’ve become perhaps the most treasured item in a Balkan mother’s closet.

A mid-range, not too expensive, but also practical designer bag/wallet – When it comes to ‘quality’ leather goods, the Balkan mother is seldom seen without a sturdy moderately expensive designer bag, or a wallet of the same brand/price range. Not to be taken as a status symbol, these items tend to be reflections of the Balkan belief in quality, these bags are supposed to look nice, but they’re also supposed to hold whatever items the Balkan mother may pack. No matter how short the excursion, the Balkan mother will usually have packed at least 2 types of snacks, some kind of a beverage, hand sanitiser, hand cream, and optionally cigarettes. These bags should be able to be used on the shortest of shopping trips and on distant vacations. Ultimately, they need to remain packed with enough items so if an emergency happens the Balkan mother has everything she needs to make a quick escape.

(Optional) A cigarette – should the Balkan mother also be a smoker, these too will usually be found as a marker of the Balkan mother.

Practical but also nice looking shoes – If the Balkan mother is particularly brave, she may choose heels or a wedged sandal as her shoe of choice, but this is usually for advanced level Balkan mothers only. The rest tend to opt for a more practical, well-dressed trainer, which in case of emergency will provide the Balkan mother with enough comfort or speed to go about her daily tasks whilst not bothering her feet too much.

Talking loudly on the phone – Perhaps the most tell-tale sign, the Balkan mother is not particularly quiet. Although respectful of public places, the Balkan mother will sometimes slip out of this respect and opt to speak loudly to whoever and about whomever on the phone. This could be in the native language or in English, the Balkan mother does not tend to be wholly self-conscious.

(Optional) A plane ticket to Budva – Although a seasonal accessory, a plane ticket to the ‘Miami’ of the
Balkans can be often found lingering amidst the Balkan mother’s usual items in her handbag. Advanced
Balkan mothers will usually drive but for those who can’t stomach the journey, flights to Tivat airport are
thankfully cheap and regular in most Balkan countries. When the Balkan mother needs a quick escape from her children (or currently land-locked Yugoslav countries), she can often be found boarding a 45 minute commercial flight to Montenegro as a way to both top up her tan, spend time on the beach, and indulge in the finest Montenegrin nature. Just don’t expect her flight or any of the transport to be on time – Montenegrins are notoriously late.

I hope this has been equal parts illuminating and practical so that spotting the Balkan mother becomes a
universal acquired ability.