Waking up this morning in Novi Sad, we learned that my girlfriend’s father’s car was empty of gas. Someone had pried off the gas cap and siphoned the tank empty. His wasn’t the only car hit last night—half the parking lot was filled with empty cars.

I’ve seen this before on previous trips. Last time, it was after we’d been out for the night and parked just outside the ring of a streetlamp’s illumination. That time, the father had complained when we arrived home that we’d parked badly. He’s generally fond of complaining, but by the morning, faced with a destroyed gas cap and air where petrol should’ve been, he was proved right. This time, however, he parked in a well-lit space, but it did no good.

We had an interesting talk around the kitchen table about this. The father isn’t really angry about what happened (though he’ll have to replace the broken cap), and is in fact a little pleased—there wasn’t much gas in the tank, so in a way he thwarted the thieves.

What was strange for me was that he expressed no outrage. These thieves attack off and on every week or two, and they do it all over the city. But they’ve been doing it for a decade—so while it’s annoying, it’s just part of the landscape of life in Serbia, as are Kafkaesque visits to bureaucratic police stations. It’s something you just accept. If you don’t, you’re likely to go mad.

My girlfriend then told me a story from around eight years ago. She and a friend’s daughter were watching Lethal Weapon on TV, the sound up so that the apartment was filled with the noise of gunfire. Then the daughter said she thought she heard gunfire outside. My girlfriend told her it was just the TV. But it wasn’t. Out on the main street there was a gangster car chase. The lead car had made a u-turn, and as it passed their building, the second car (in the opposite lane) opened up with machine-gun fire.