The curious case of Del Boy and the Serbs

It’s been a funny few months in North Holland. I’ve learned that Santa’s little helper is a blacked up jester, I’m shockingly good at cycling on cobblestones after a few too many sherries and Only Fools and Horses is a massive hit in Serbia.

It started one day in work when something utterly ridiculous and nonsensical happened and my Serbian desk-mate began to recount a similar incident that occurred during an episode of the aforementioned show. I sat stunned for long enough that Serbian pal began to explain who Del Boy and Rodney were. I rushed to reassure him that I had spent enough Decembers full of meat and carbohydrates sat on my parents’ couch watching re-runs of the show to know exactly what he was talking about. I just couldn’t equate the two things in my head. Serbia = foreignness, a drunken summer on the Danube and Milosevic. Only Fools and Horses = a three-wheeled car, exploding blow-up dolls in Peckham and Cockney Grandad.

A few days later, I met another Serbian colleague at a conference. I walked towards her and just said “Only Fools and Horses”. Her immediate reply was “Lovely jubbly”.

I do not get this. How does it resonate so much with somewhere that is so different to where it’s set?

I’m not the first to notice this. A 2010 Guardian article remarked on the phenomenon and there’s even a Facebook page that encourages Serbians to enter competitions promising Trotter memorabilia.

It’s fascinating, interesting and kind of lovely. The Guardian article says that “The life of Del Boy and ­Rodney is very similar to life [in Serbia]. They always have some crazy ideas to make money.” My colleagues agreed, saying that the madcap schemes of the Trotters were akin to those of many Serbians in harder times. Which is probably why the show was such a hit in the good old Republic of Ireland too.