There are people who are born with an innate sense of orientation. These people always know which way is True North, how to get from here to there without circumnavigating the globe and discovering the West Indies, and do not refer to “right” as the “other left.”
What is True North anyway? Is there a Fake North?
People with an innate sense of orientation look at us, the Lost, with disdain. They cannot conceive of not knowing exactly where they are in relation to the rest of the world at all times. These people probably never lose their keys, wake up in hotel rooms not knowing where they are, or miss exits on the highway.
Serbia, as I have come to understand how little I understand things here, is a place which requires an internal compass. Signs and indications are only sporadically and randomly marked, making it hard to get anything out of map-reading. I used to stop often and ask directions, but they are often given in relation to other unknown places, landmarks, and points of interest.
Do you know where the red bridge is?
Next to the entrance to Visoka ulica?
By the old theatre?
Well, it’s right after that!
Ironically, people will sometimes stop and ask ME for directions. If I were more civic-minded, I would admit immediately that it would be more useful to ask an elm tree than ask me how to get anywhere. But instead, not wanting to appear rude, I always stop, listen, put a hand on my head, squint a little with a grimace that indicates a memory search, and tell them as much as I know.
And they invariably take off in the other direction.
It is commonly accepted that foreigners, no matter how long we have been here, are among the Lost. If someone asks me and hears my accent, he immediately apologizes (in English) and backs away. Maybe being lost is contagious.
Congenitally disoriented person that I am, I was very pleased to recently meet someone who was even MORE lost than I. We have sat several times in the car together, giving each other wrong directions, losing the car itself once parked, and resorting to a taxi to extricate ourselves from cartographical predicaments.
She tells me the story of a recent four-hour trip to Novi Sad in which she took a wrong turn. For the Lost, this is unsurprising – given a choice, we always take the wrong way. But somewhere on her way to the Croatian (!) border, she stopped on the side of the road to ask how to get back to Novi Sad. This is a true story, by the way.
The woman looked at her with grim severity and said: “If you are not from here, you will not understand anyway. So I will not tell you.”
And she slowly walked away.