Sunday, 20 August 2017
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Rakija has special diplomatic powers – or was I just drunk

By  Mark Thomas Mar 29, 2017

Never underestimate the power of rakija! Now after reading that sentence I’d be 99% sure that you interpret power as the actual alcoholic strength of rakija, am I right? To a certain extent you’d be correct, I mean it is pretty alcoholic after all, but a glass or two of rakija has many more powers hidden inside.

I must be honest and say that I’d never tried rakija before I came to live here. There aren’t that many bars or clubs in the centre of London that have rakija on tap. I had, however, tried the Italian version Grappa before. It’s kind of similar, maybe not so strong, or maybe I should say mind-blowing, but it’s similar. I guess grappa just has better marketing than rakija that’s why I’d seen it before. It’s not that unusual that Croatian products, even though they may be much better in quality, don’t have great publicity outside of the country.

In fact I used to work in the wine business in London. So I had plenty of opportunity to come across wines and spirits from foreign countries, although in seven years I never once came across Croatian wine, let alone rakija. So when I finally did pour the liquid down my throat I was left a little red-faced, literally.

But one of the powers of rakija that I didn’t know was its diplomatic power. Of all of the world’s greatest ambassadors there can be none finer than a few glasses of rakija. It has the power to cross borders, open doors and build bridges. “How do you spell that?” said the Norwegian tourist to our small dinner group. “L-O-Z-A” I spelt out the letters one by one. “Never heard of that before” he said scratching his head whilst searching his pockets for a pen. A small serviette was handed over and our Norwegian friend scribbled down the word Loza.

“So when did you arrive in Dubrovnik?” I asked. “About an hour ago, we just got off the plane and were hungry so stopped for a bite to eat,” came the reply. I was laughing inside. This slightly elderly Norwegian had been in Croatia for an hour and the first word he’d learnt was loza. Well I guess you could start with worse words.

That reminds me of another story about Croatian words. I had a coffee with a journalist from Belgium last week after discussing politics, business and basically putting the world to rights we rather unbelievably got onto the subject of the Croatian pop singer Ivan Zak. You probably wouldn’t think that an Englishman and a Belgium could ever in a million years get onto the subject of Ivan Zak, but we did. “We love going to watch Ivan Zak in concert” said the renowned journalist to me. That’s not a sentence I hear very often, especially from a Belgium. “Really, do like his singing then” I said trying to be polite. “No, he’s terrible” he replied. “Then why on earth do you like going to his concert?” now I was wondering. “Simply because the word Zak means bastard in Flemish” he answered with a smile from ear to ear. “You have all the crowd shouting Zak…Zak…Zak, and then when he comes onto stage the presenter shouts IVAN ZAAAKKK”, it kills us every time. “We even took our Belgium friends along that last time they were here on holiday” by now he was laughing at the memories of Zak concerts. “We only ever stay for the first ten minutes, just to hear the crowd shout his name” his wife added. I guess everyone appreciates the arts in different ways.

Anyway, I digress, back to the jolly Norwegian pensioner and his glass of rakija. “So where are you staying in Dubrovnik?” asked one of the female members of our group. “I have no idea….maybe with you?” joked the Norwegian. But seriously he had no idea where he was staying, didn’t even know the name of the hotel. It looked like he was just following the other members of his tour party. But I got the feeling that if they said “we’re going to Afghanistan on holiday” he’d simply say “no problem.” He was happy in his own little world and now he had found rakija he’d probably be even happier.

“I remember the Nazis coming to our village…” started the Norwegian, who turned out to be a very fit 83-year-old man. “So this loza is good?” he asked. I gave him my empty glass just to smell and his eyes opened wider. I understood that look as a yes! “And don’t forget to ask for a double” said my friend. He wiped out the serviette once again and wrote “Loza dobbel.” I’m hoping that’s the Norwegian spelling of double. With a wave to the waiter and a wave of thanks in our direction our Scandinavian friend was off to try the power of loza.

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