I remember it as if it were only yesterday, it was one of those lines, those remarks, that just stuck in my head during my early days of living here. And it wasn’t only the sentence that remained engraved in my mind, but the look of sheer horror on her face. “I feel so sorry for him, every day he has to drive to airport to go to work, it’s such a long way to go to work,” she was almost holding her head in her hands and if we had talked a little longer I have a feeling that tears would start rolling down her cheeks.
I was fresh to these shores and hadn’t really delved into the social culture. I remember presuming at the time that her “poor” son worked somewhere near Split or somewhere north of Dubrovnik. Because in my head there was no way that he worked in Dubrovnik Airport. You have to bear in mind that I had come direct from London where daily commutes to work would take around an hour. So all this drama for a 20-minute drive to work seemed highly unlikely. Of course it turned out that he worked in Dubrovnik Airport.
I am currently back in the UK, on family business, and some of my old habits are coming back to me. It’s like déjà vu every day. “When was the last time you were caught in rush hour traffic?” said my wife as we sat in an unmoving car looking at a long line of red brake lights snaking off into the distance. “And why do they call it rush hour if nobody is rushing anyway?” added my mother. Yes, firstly my mother had a good point, we weren’t rushing anywhere. And yes, my wife was right I probably hadn’t been static in a real rush hour for years, even decades.
Yes, I had been caught in Dubrovnik rush hours over that decade but these normally inconveniences, not a daily occurrence. What we were stuck in happened every day, every week, every month at the same time. And I was just in a relatively small town in rural England, not a major business centre.
I had forgotten just how long people spent to and from work in their cars. My sister has at least an hour drive to work, my brother-in-law a 45-minute commute through the traffic and even my young niece has a 40-minute bus ride just to get to school. Imagine our school pupils losing an hour and a half on a bus every day, or an employee commuting to Neum every day, or even further! It’s not happening. Distances are longer, people are just more used to losing time in their cars every day, as I once did.
I remember my wife telling me that when she was a young girl she once went on a day-trip from the Old City to Kupari! You could bloody walk from Pile to Zupa and back again without much problem, but for my wife that was a big trip, an exciting day out.
A completely different way of life to where I am now. Which is better? Well probably a mixture of the two. Comparing Dubrovnik to life in a larger UK town is like comparing oranges to apples. Yes, incomparable. Of course most people would probably prefer to have a short commute to work, but in the UK that’s normally just not possible. Whereas on the flip side workers in Dubrovnik don’t realise just how lucky they are, they just can’t see how comfortable their working lives are. Whilst they complain if the roads are busier than normal due to tourist traffic, or an accident, the truth is that if you think a commute to the airport is a long way then you are living in a privileged position.
When I personally look back at the time I would spend an hour or so to get to my office I am not looking back with fond memories, reminiscing of a golden time. But on the other hand crying that you have to drive 15 minutes to work is also unrealistic to me. Like I said I am trying to compare oil and water. So as I sat in the after work rush hour as the daylight faded I imagined the complaints if this traffic jam were in Dubrovnik. Well, let’s be honest I had plenty of time to contemplate my two worlds.