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Foreign Workers in Croatia: Navigating Misconceptions and Diversifying Society

Written by  Mark Thomas Jan 28, 2024

“Why would somebody from such a glorious country as Nepal or as warm and stunning as the Philippines come half way around the world to work in Konzum?” questioned one passer-by as we watched a handful of clearly foreign workers loading scaffolding onto a waiting van. “So you think that Croatia is miserable and has terrible weather,” I replied. “Of course not,” he said abruptly. “So why did over 45,000 Croatians move to work abroad in Ireland, Sweden, Germany just last year,” I added. He stomped away angrily.

And there is the other argument.

“These people are taking the jobs of local people.” Again an argument that doesn’t hold water, especially in Dubrovnik. Our tourism industry wouldn’t function, wouldn’t come anywhere near to functioning, if we didn’t “import” thousands of foreign workers every season.

In 2019 there were around 5,00 foreign workers here, we just don’t have enough bodies to cover all the jobs that need doing.

And now in the capital there are reportedly almost 25,000 foreign workers.

Coming from a multi-cultural country I am more than used to seeing all four corners of the world working together. Here I get the feeling that we are just at the very beginning of a more diversified society and for some people this can be challenging.

Over a year ago I was driving out of my road, now bear in mind that I live in the middle of nowhere and it is unusual to see anyone, I saw five foreign workers painting a fence. I wound down my window. “Hi guys where are you from?” I said with a smile. “NEPAL,” they all bellowed back and waved. I then though I’d see if they knew any Croatian.

But all my questions were meet with blank faces. I was about to drive off when they all shouted “ALFAPLAN,” in harmony.

Maybe they thought I was an inspector or something.

I laughed, they laughed and I drove off. However, that wasn’t the end of my Nepal experience.

Just last week I heard the postman arrive, which these days as they ride electric scooters isn’t that easy. The reason I knew he was there was that our dogs went into defence mode and barked. I saw the uniform and a foreign worker.

I know that there are some Filipino postmen in the city but it was strange (I know it shouldn’t have been) to see one standing holding my post. I went out because I presumed from his confused face that I had to sign for something.

"Dobro jutro, poštaru, kako ste, jeste li novi, trebam li potpisati nešto?" I asked walking towards him.

Again the same blank look as I got from the AlfaPlan painters. “English,” he said to me rather sheepishly. “Yes, I know a little English,” I joked.

We spent a good five minutes chatting. Apparently he was one of five workers from the Philippines (or maybe it was Indonesia, my memory isn’t what it used to be) working for Croatian Post in Dubrovnik. And he was in Župa covering for a colleague who was off sick. And he might not be the last as apparently Dubrovnik is looking to hire another 20 postmen. And he was probably the politest postman I’ve ever met as he insisted or calling me “Sir” the whole conversation.

But it was the final thing he said to me on leaving that made me chuckle, “Sir, I must say that your English is very good,” he smiled. I just waved “Thank you,” as he sped away.

It got me thinking. This man, probably in his mid-thirties, was miles away from his family in a strange country just to support them.

He probably sends the vast majority of his salary back home. Not only is he brave but also honourable.   

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to

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About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik

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