Sarajevo for the Neurotic: or how to build character in the Balkans

Introduction: Consider this post a self-help guide for those with severe personality quirks. It takes one to know one, and if you are anything like me then you suffer from a deranged need for control, personal space, cleanliness, punctuality, anonymity, silence, and solitude. You will not find one of these things in Sarajevo. However, that makes Sarajevo the perfect place to go cold turkey and tackle your neurosis head on. With a slightly less than totally negative attitude on your part, and a little well-earned advice from me, you can visit a fascinating place while shedding your more severe idiosyncrasies.

1. Choose a hostel in the dead center of the clubbing district. This will ensure that you get an immediate idea of what the cool Bosnian kids are wearing and listening to. (We will talk about blending in a little later). Staying in the area of Bascarsija will also ensure that you sleep only 2 hours per night, the optimal amount of slumber for triggering your various neuroses.

2. When staking out your territory, get to the hostel before anyone else. Once there, pick the room with the fewest people. Next, pick the bed that lies perpendicular to the others so that you do not feel like you are participating in kindergarten nap time. Also try to pick the bed that lies in the farthest corner of the room but still faces the door. This way you will be the most aware and the farthest from danger if your room is invaded by zombies or any other products of your sleep-deprived insanity.

3. When attempting to blend in, the idea is not to look Bosnian necessarily, but rather to not look American. This can easily be achieved by simply not smiling and showing off the thousands of dollars your parents put into those pearly whites. Just to be sure however, always avoid wearing jeans, baseball caps, tennis shoes, thonged sandals, anything with a logo or carrying backpacks. It is also important to assume a convincing demeanor that does not betray your tourist origins. Once again, no smiling, no talking, and do everything with confidence. If your are lost and have no idea where you are, do not under any circumstances look lost. Just keep walking as if your had every intention of passing through the middle of the life sized chess match.

4. Sarajevo is the perfect location for personal-space rehabilitation. Your bubble will diminish from a four foot radius to a negative three inch radius within one week. Be prepared to be bumped, jostled, touched, and battered by passers-by without any apologies for the shattered invisible cocoon which you have so lovingly constructing since the age of five. If this task is especially difficult at first, I suggest visualizing the sidewalk as if it were a game of tetrus, and your are the moving puzzle piece which must fit in to the improbably tiny space without touching anything (this is also effective when driving on any given highway). If the tetrus method is ineffective, I would suggest imagining that you are a football player (American) and it is your job to jab the opposing players with your shoulder in order to break through their defensive line. This just might get you through the pedestrian rush hour.

5. If you plan to ride a bus anywhere, it is vital to choose your seating partner with great scrutiny. I would suggest a malnourished mute with no identifiable odor. Take it from me, six hours from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo passes by blissfully when you are mostly unaware of the person sitting next to you.

6. If it is blazing hot (and it will be) I would suggest stripping early and often to avoid the inevitable crankiness on your part. Get used to your hostel-mates seeing your jiggly bits, because it will soon be too hot to care.

7. If your prefer to maintain plausible deniability by avoiding having your picture taken, or if you think the camera will suck out your soul, offer to be the photographer so that the owner of the camera can be in the picture. This will not only make you look generous, but it will also preserve your anonymity. If Japanese photographers spot your red hair in excitement, offer a view of the back of your head, or take a picture of them taking a picture of you. This will make them laugh more than you would think.

8. At every single moment you should always know where the nearest user-friendly bathroom is. You should also know if it is clean, carries toilet paper, and if it costs anything. Just to be safe, I suggest hording dinner napkins and small change, avoiding bran and dairy, and dehydrating yourself just up to the point of illness, but not beyond that.

9. If your neurosis is especially strong, do not under any circumstances come to Sarajevo straight from Germany. For obvious reasons this will greatly exacerbate your condition.

10. If you become inconsolable, they do sell chocolate here.

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