It was inevitable.
I returned to the UK for a week, in the middle of winter, and of course the questions arise.
I’m waiting for a class to start while enjoying a spa day in Carlisle, and a complete stranger starts talking to me, asking questions as I’m clearly a little more tanned and now a bit “foreign-looking” in this small Cumbrian city.
“So why Croatia?”, she asks.
“Did you marry a Croatian?”.
I can’t help but laugh. Er, no.
After a short explanation, I feel I’ve slightly assuaged her curiosity, but then there’s more.
“So is it a bit different in Croatia then?”.
Where do I start?
I don’t have time to go into it with her, but later on, I’m considering how Croatia compares to the UK, and what things I find different.
Find your happy place - Photo Gillie Sutherland
Firstly, there’s the obvious ones like the weather. After four days of “drizzle”, I don’t even need to go there. There’s no comparison. Take me back to the sunshine, Bura wind, electric storms, and all!
But the big differences are much more to do with the culture. My first example of this would be the style of communication, particularly in messages.
The British love their kisses. The Croatians not at all.
The use of the letter “x” (singular or plural) when you sign off a message - it can mean so much. In the UK, we all use them and it’s a token of affection.
Not exclusive to family and close friends, I use at least one “x” for my guests, my students, my peers and even once (by mistake) to my boss who didn’t really mind either, so it turns out.
I’ve put a “x” on the end of my messages for as long as I’ve been writing birthday cards, which is nearly five decades.
It’s a hard habit to break.
In Croatia, in contrast, I’m having to master the minimal text. And make sure I’m not over-familiar.
“How do I put this in five words or less?”, I ask myself. I find myself writing and deleting messages for fear of being too “British”.
I still have to reassure myself when I get a thumb sign back as a response.
It’s not personal, it’s not passive aggressive or sarcastic like it’s often used in Blighty, it’s just the Croatian way. Direct, honest, to the point, no need for niceties.
As much as I’ve struggled often with the style of communication, I’ve also learned to love it, and as well as being direct, they also speak up against injustice, they resist, they don’t let people walk all over them. They have boundaries of steel. I guess this means more than a frivolous kiss at the end of a text?
The other noticeable cultural difference I hadn’t really noticed before, but this will be cited in the list of reasons I won’t be going back, and it relates to one of Croatia’s biggest loves - coffee.
So how do the two countries differ, you may ask.
Well, my first visit to a well-known coffee chain at Manchester airport was a real eye-opener.
I just wanted a simple “Veliki Macchiato”, but I’m bombarded by questions:
“Tall or Grande?”. I’ve no clue!!! What’s the difference? I still don’t know.
“Salted Caramel biscuit latte perhaps with oak-milk whipped cream?”.
No! Just no! A simple macchiato!
“To drink it or take away??”.
What a question to ask!
Who are these heathens who walk around while drinking coffee? It takes at least an hour to drink, it’s done slowly…. Polako, people, Polako. I realise the Croatian coffee culture is in my soul now.
In Croatia coffee is a way of life. Don’t mess with it. And don’t let anything interfere with it. No stress…
Forget coffee-to-go - Photo Gille Sutherland
Which brings me to my next point. Stress.
For this I will need a real life example.
Exhibit A: Airport Security.
Going through Zagreb airport, my cabin bag is flagged up for checking. I realise it’s in the other channel and apologetically I explain to the security man (before he’s even taken hold of the bag) that I think I’d forgotten about my water bottle. Of course, liquids are meant to be prohibited.
This isn’t a problem however. He doesn’t even bother checking my bag, he just takes me at my word, waves me on, and wishes me a pleasant journey. Nothing more than that. In the UK I would have lost my water bottle, have every stitch in my bag inspected, and I would have been subjected to a harsh “telling-off”, I’m sure.
In contrast, in Manchester, I’m immediately bombarded by messages alerting me to potential threats, either in the form of posters, or announcements over the tannoy. I’m on “high stress” within minutes, considering who around me may be a security risk.
Going through security in Manchester airport, they may as well have stripped me down to my underwear and shone a bright light in my eyes, as they aggressively tell me to stand with my legs apart and I get scanned, meanwhile not even being in sight anymore of my possessions.
“Don’t leave your bags unattended at any time”, they announce every 5 minutes. Except, that is, when you’re going through security, and it’s a complete “free-for-all”.
Three times I’m asked if I have anything else in my pockets, on my person, as I got through the scanner. I’ve literally only got 3 items of clothing left on, plus my socks, and I feel like a criminal.
It’s busy, there are staff shouting, drunk stag parties, and it costs me £10 for a glass of wine, and £3.50 for a bag of nuts. I can’t find a free seat when my flight is delayed by 3 hours, and even the “quiet zone” requires noise-cancelling headphones to be bearable. There’s just too many people!!
I can’t wait to get out. I need to go home. To Croatia.
It’s just less stressful.
And that’s the main difference, perhaps the most important one of all.
Read more Gillie here...
About The Author:
Gillie Sutherland grew up in the Lake District on the border between England and Scotland, but has now made Croatia her home. As well having her own online yoga and well-being business, Gillie plays an active role in the International Community here in Croatia, running events, activities and holidays. She is passionate about nature, wellness and adventure, swimming in the sea all year round and spending weekends hiking.
Social Media Links: