If You See Something, Say Something

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: I’ve really been enjoying my time with the friends I’ve made here in Serbia. Below is a quirky exchange I had with one of them, illustrating how a symbol can mean two very different things to different people.

When I first came to Belgrade, I stayed on my friend Nikola’s* couch for a week. He was a wonderful host and we had fun talking about cyber politics late into the night and watching hacker documentaries together. With him as my guide, I quickly developed a fondness for Belgrade such that I decided to stay a few more weeks, so I found a cute little apartment to rent.

The night before I was to move over there, we were discussing the logistics of how to get my suitcase over there because we were going to a panel discussion in the afternoon but the landlady wouldn’t get there until 7pm.

“Why don’t I take it in a cab in the morning and just leave it outside, then go to the panel and meet her back there at 7,” I suggested.

“What? You don’t want to leave it outside all day,” Nikola cautioned.

“It’ll be fine, the place is inside a gate, and my suitcase locks anyway.”

“That’s not going to deter anybody.”

“It’s not like someone’s just going to take a whole suitcase if they don’t know what’s in it.”

“Well yeah… they probably will.”

“What! Why would anyone go to all that effort stealing a 20 kilo bag?”

“Because there might be money in it.”

I laughed at the absurdity of the situation that would lead to that happening.

“What? People are sometimes putting money in suitcases,” he said.

“Who do you know who’s found a suitcase full of money here??”

“Well, it’s not common but you never know. Why, what would Americans think was in a suitcase if they saw one sitting there?”

“Probably like a bomb or something.”

Now he was laughing at the absurdity.

“Yeah really, no one would touch it,” I said. “If anything they’d report it to the police.” I recited the routine MTA subway announcement by heart.

“No, we don’t put bombs in suitcases here.”

I’ve been rolling this exchange around in my mind for days, laughing to myself. It’s funny how a symbol like an unattended suitcase can have two completely different mental connotations in different countries, each equally unlikely.

He wound up sending my luggage over in a cab, which I told him would never happen in New York because then for sure you’d never see it again.

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