Back in 1985 I was having dinner in a Japanese restaurant near New York’s Lincoln Center with my two teenage daughters back when they braced me with a question “Hey Dad, what does ‘Hey Babu Riba’ mean in Serbian?”. I sat there, a bump on a log, while I booted up my rudimentary dormant Serbian language skills. A quick scan of the vocabulary contents yielded that “hey” was the universal, good in any language call for attention; that “babu” was a variation, probably a corruption of “baba”, an old lady, a grandmother and that “riba” was “riba” as in fish, after all we were eating sushi and that’s what was my translation.
I asked what had prompted the question and was told that they had noticed the phrase on a theater marquee for a movie then playing, a Yugoslav movie. Remember this was 1985 and Yugoslavia was alive and well, as well as can be under the circumstances. For me a Yugoslav movie playing in a legitimate theatre in New York was a first. In the 35 years that I had then lived in New York not once did I have a chance to see a Yugoslav film.