Friday, 14 August 2020
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

The olive oil and butter divide that runs through Europe

By  Nov 02, 2019

“I don’t even think we have a word for that in Croatian,” said my wife as she racked her brain, “no, I’m sure there isn’t a word, and in fact I’ve never heard of that word in English before,” are you sure that actually exists. It is not a fictional word; it was born in the mid 1800’s. Yes, for the past two weeks I have been a househusband. I have had cleaning duties, ironing, washing clothes, cooking, basically all the household chores, running the home.

As the tourist season has come to an end, even though the sunshine just didn’t seem to want to stop shining, my workload has dropped considerably. It actually feels strange, I had got used to waking at 5.30 every day and immediately start typing, before ending my day at 9-ish as the sun set. And just as the tourist season ended as it always does, like a light switch being flicked off, so my alarm stopped ringing at the crack of the day. Leaving me spinning without a direction. In fact, it was a much needed break, I only wish that I could have more gently transitioned from on to off.

I learned household jobs from a very early age. And who insisted I did so, my mother. This saying that women control three corners of the home is completely true. And the mother also makes it very easy for their son’s future wives, or very challenging indeed.



In the UK, which is a considerably more liberal society than Croatia, these jobs in the home aren’t dealt out depending on your sex. There is much more of a culture of self-sufficiency. You basically reach the age of adulthood and are expected to now get on with your life. This really forces you to think for yourself, look after yourself and of course manage all the household chores for yourself.

University life means freedom, an entry into being an adult and on the path of finding a career. You are developing as your own person, and are proving that you can look after yourself. But that’s the UK, that’s not the life in Croatia. You have, pretty much through the middle of Europe, this “butter/olive oil” divide. The north/south divide. The Anglo Saxon/Catholic divide. And this divide is strong. It is a cultural divide as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The butter spreaders in the north scratch their heads when they see the olive oil sprinklers in the south living together as one family under one roof. Whereas the olive oil bread dippers around the Mediterranean think it horrific that offspring would be forced to find their own path in the world without the constant guidance of the heads of the family. Europe might have an east/west divide but the north/south one is considerably more pronounced.

People may shout in the south that “it’s a financial question” that our sons and daughters stay at home. Not true. In the more affluent olive oil countries you’ll see the same metal reinforcement bars jutting up from buildings. Those four metal bars in each corner of the house that are a hope that a male child will be born and another level will be added to the top of the house. And on the flip side you can go to a poorer butter eating country and you see freshly hatched adults being kicked out of the family nest. To be living with your parents over the age of 21 is seen as failure, and you’ll hear people mention it in whisper, “oh no, poor Jack, he still lives in his parent’s house.” It is almost seen as bringing shame on the family. Whilst the exact opposite is down south. I remember when we first arrived to live in Dubrovnik and decided to stay with my mother-in-law for a few months before we could find an apartment. When we finally found one and left my wife’s family home I was greeted with comments like “What happened, did you have an argument?”

No, I had just learned life in a butter loving country. Mr front door, my freedom. After so long living in an olive oil country I understand the whole living under one roof policy, but I still don’t agree with it. So I am off to finish the housework and finish dinner before my wife comes home.                 

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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