“I sometimes get the feeling that I don’t even have to speak for the conversation to flow…I feel a little like a passenger,” laughed the Englishman opposite me in a packed Zagreb café bar. “A few gentle nods of the head and the odd grunt is enough,” he added sipping his mulled wine. I knew exactly what he meant.
It is a cultural difference that has always fascinated me, but being here for so long I have got used to it, people finishing sentences for you. And to be fair it is even more magnified in the Croatian capital. “You haven’t been here before, have you…No, that’s right…this is your first time…And how do you like it….It is always busy…yes, you are right it is a little too busy tonight,” and that was the conversation, or maybe I should say one-sided conversation that we had just listened to. And no point did my friend say anything, in fact he didn’t even give a nod of his head, which was probably just as well as his level of Croatian is shaky.
And then “Sorry I need to go to the toilet…do you know where it is…oh, you don’t know do you,” blurted from the busy café bar. “You see what I mean,” laughed my friend, “I am a passive passenger most of the time.” We wandered out into the freezing Zagreb night and into the Advent explosion. Christmas stands on every corner, lights, music non-stop, decorations, mulled wine and sausages. Blimey if you lined all the sausages in the capital next to each other you would reach Dubrovnik and beyond. I actually started to count the festive stands, but gave up when I reached forty odd.
“What are you looking at,” asked my friend as I stood just observing the Advent scenes. “I guess you are thinking what to buy or just soaking up the Christmas feel,” he added. “You will probably think I am mad but I looking at the organization, wondering where the cooking oil goes and how the Christmas stands are so close to each other,” I said. “You have been a journalist for too long, just enjoy the atmosphere,” was his reply. Of course he was right, but I couldn’t. And then from the chilly Zagreb mist came, “Have you bought anything yet…oh, no you haven’t…neither have I…you are right I really should get some presents,” our chatty female companion was back! “Just keep nodding,” I whispered to my friend. I just can’t believe we made such a fuss over a few wooden houses on the Stradun when almost every street in Zagreb has a whole bunch of them. Plus it seems that half of Dubrovnik has moved north for the winter. I saw more familiar faces on Cvjetni Trg than on the Stradun. Every second step was greeted with “Jesi Englez,“ or “Kenova Mark.”
And with temperatures down in the minuses I have to take my hat off to the amount of people sitting outside. My blood must have thinned living here in the Adriatic sun, I felt like a penguin, but every café bar was full outside, a few blankets and the odd electric heater and that seemed enough…not for me. “Are you ok, you look a bit cold,” quizzed my friend as I sucked the heat out of a cup of mulled wine with my hands. “Now I know just how lucky I am,” was the only answer I could offer. I felt like quoting the Game of Thrones author George R. Martin with “Nothing burns like the cold.”
Thankfully my savior was an airplane back to Dubrovnik, “I will call you an Uber taxi,” offered my friend. And sure enough within five minutes an Uber turned up to whisk me to the airport, or at least that was the plan. As I entered the cab I was greeted with a rather depressing looking driver who just said “I can’t take you to the airport.” Well his car did look a little worse for wear, but that surely wasn’t the reason. “What’s wrong,” I commented. “I was at the airport yesterday and a group of normal taxi drivers attacked me and some other Uber drivers and started smashing up our cars, I am sorry but it is just too dangerous,” he said looking apologetic. “Ah, so Uber doesn’t work here either,” was all I could add. It seemed that Dubrovnik and Zagreb had something in common after all, the taxi mafia. We both stuck out arms to wave down a “mafia cab” and within seconds one stopped. “You’ll enjoy your Christmas…I know you will…I am sure you will…and so will I…I am sure I will,” joked my friend as I waved goodbye from the taxi door.