“That will be 40 Kunas please,” smiled the friendly waiter as he handed me the coffee bill. “You forgot to add their coffees,” I pointed to two friends who had joined our table, “so that’s 4 coffees.” He smiled back “That’s the bill for all four coffees.” Sitting on the middle of the Stradun and only paying ten Kunas for a cup of caffeine was something new. I would normally pay the same amount for a coffee to go at the petrol station. “Every morning until 9.00am we have a special offer for locals,” he added.
It was well before 9.00am and the early morning is probably my favourite part of the day in Dubrovnik. Watching the city wake up and stretch its arms wide with a big yawn is certainly entertaining. The delivery trucks rushing along the Stradun full of all sorts of products, from water to cement, and the pigeons diving out of their way. The pupils running to school, although spotting a pupil inside the walls is about as rare as seeing a dolphin in the Adriatic. Watching the mothers-in-law shuffle around the green market, or should I say what’s actually left of the green market, as they verbally wrestle with the sellers, its street theatre.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” well Mr. Shakespeare never has that phrase been truer than in the green market.
The “coffee club”, of which everyone in Dubrovnik is a member, sitting in their favourite café bar sipping at their macchiato and puffing away like a chimney in winter. And as the tourist season is slowly but surely starting there were a few sprinklings of foreign accents echoing in the air, and these groups of Asians got me thinking.
We are less than a month from Easter, meaning we are less than a month away from the tourist season starting. Are we ready? Probably the best answer would be that we are never really ready.
Without importing workers Dubrovnik couldn't function
All I have been hearing for the past weeks is director’s moaning that they can’t find staff. That’s mean I know that summer is approaching, not when I hear the swallow’s cry from the stone façades but when I hear a director complaining that all the workers have disappeared. And as Slavonia slowly turns into a green Sahara with everyone fleeing to Ireland and Germany, employers are casting their nets further afield. From Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine and far beyond.
And as they look further afield a whole new set of problems arise. Firstly, language. There are more than a few cases of staff that work in shops and bars in Dubrovnik who don’t know more than a handful of Croatian. Not so helpful if you’re trying to buy of jeans in Sub City and you don’t speak Ukrainian. Second, culture.
With such a mix of nationalities it will be hard to maintain one of the things that sets Dubrovnik apart as a destination, its culture. It is complex and complicated, but it is extremely important. I have nothing against us importing thousands of foreign workers every season, for without them Dubrovnik couldn’t function, we simply don’t have enough people, enough bodies, to do all the jobs that need to be done.
And then there is the “rent syndrome.” Where younger generations don’t see the point in actually getting an education because they see their future as renting out their apartment to tourists and them sitting on the beach whilst the money rolls in. A dangerous and unfortunate situation for any society, we will end up with the lost generation. So this “lost generation” don’t, or to be honest can’t, work in the front line of the city’s tourism industry meaning that we are reliant on imports.
So watching the city awaken that morning I was also struck by the poor demographic situation that Croatia is suffering. Dubrovnik is insulated from the realities that are happening all over the rest of the country, we are in a bubble. Almost 3,000 foreign workers poured into Dubrovnik last season and there is no evidence to suggest that that number will be lower this summer. We both need each other, we both rely on each other, we have a joint destiny.