My wife and I were invited to join an international journalist team sponsored by Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia. Our assignment was to help publicize to the world what Croatia has to offer as part of Dhar Media’s Discover Croatia web production while their video crew filmed the entire twenty-four day tour. Like most of the team members, Florence and I knew almost nothing about Croatia other than its location. Tourism is Croatia’s leading industry, and they want the rest of the world to discover their country. Thus, with open minds and cameras ready, we set off for the capital city of Zagreb.
I posted dozens of Instagram photos on Facebook as we traveled. I have written about some of the special people we met and of the immense pride the people have for their country. I continue to write about the treasures of Croatia’s National Parks. I now wish to share some of the insights I gained from this travel adventure.
I learned that there are a lot more swear words in Croatian than there are in English. There are what – twelve words in English that will get you in trouble with your mother? My friend Hrvoye said, “You English-speakers are like priests compared to the way Croatians talk.” Croatian is a hard language to learn. You may not know when someone is swearing, and a lot is lost in translation.
Lots of Croatians speak English. It is taught in their schools starting in the first grade. Lots of older folks speak German. When I asked one of our guides why English is now taught instead of German, the explanation was straightforward. He said, “We realized after World War II that English was going to be more important.” I never found a place where someone in a shop or restaurant did not speak English.
I learned that Croatians love food and drink. Croatia has vineyards scattered across the country, and their long tradition of winemaking produces both red and white wines which are remarkably good. They also make grappa, a strong brandy distilled from grapes. Also worthy of note is rakija (ROCK ee yah), a type of brandy which can be made of plum, grapes, figs or a mix of fruits and herbs. Grappa or rakija is typically offered in a small glass before a meal or as a gesture of friendship or greeting. I learned to always robustly shout “Živjeli!” (ZHEEV ya lee), meaning “Cheers!” as we tilt our glasses up and drink. The cheering becomes more robust with each round if you do not stop at one drink, which reminds me of something else I learned. Do not ever think you can out drink a Croatian. You have been warned.
Then there is the food. Mealtime is more than satisfying your hunger in Croatia. Mealtime, whether lunch or dinner, is a time of gathering. Do not spoil your appetite before lunch or dinner in Croatia. Three courses are typical and five courses are not uncommon. That does not include the artisan bread with local olive oil that accompanies each meal. And do not even think of leaving the table in less than 1 ½ – 2 hours or people will wonder what your hurry is.
Our guide in Dubrovnik, Anita, talked about the importance of mealtime. She said, “The dining table is where we get together to share about our lives. We laugh together because what is joy if we do not share it? We cry together because it is sadder to cry alone. This is how we share our lives. This is what eating means to us.” When she shared these words with me, I realized how much of the essence of living we Americans have given up by not spending more time together around the dinner table.
Mostly, I learned to love Croatia. The people are open. The land is diverse and beautiful. And, at least for now, Croatia is largely undiscovered and uncrowded. If you wish to see Croatia before the world realizes its captivating appeal, do not wait too long.
In the meantime, let me share some smiles from our Discover Croatia team: