The most interesting aspect of a country to me has always been the people…
Beautiful scenery, nice weather and good food make for a lovely trip, but throw in locals being fun, generous, and friendly and that makes for a truly unforgettable experience. I believe the locals are the true hidden treasures and if you can find that friendly café owner with amazing stories to tell, or the little old lady with a heart of gold, it leads to memories that are treasured for the rest of your life.
Having lived in Croatia for almost three years, I have had quite a few interactions with locals that I have found differ greatly from the interactions I have had when living in America and South Africa. There are big cultural differences between the three, with South Africa and America having a much more individualistic culture while Croatia has a much more social culture. I have found that everything works through relationships in Croatia. It’s all about who you know. In America and South Africa, I will have coffee with a friend, and we will schedule an hour. But in Croatia, I will call up a friend and we will have coffee for three hours or more, all the while enjoying each other’s company.
This has led to some very interesting and pleasant experiences with my neighbours in Zagreb. They are from the smaller town of Slavonski Brod and are used to knowing and interacting with every person in their street. So when we arrived in the neighbourhood, they were the first ones to greet us and we soon struck up a friendship. But it went further than that. We started to share our tools with each other, helping each other wash our cars and eventually we started to share the cost of more expensive tools, with the mutual understanding that these belonged to us both. In America and South Africa, I would have been lucky to know the name of my neighbours, let alone go into a financial agreement with them. It was a pleasant surprise and has worked out quite well for us both.
I also find it very interesting how generous the Croatians are, and how that generosity looks very different from America and South Africa. I find Americans very generous with their money and they are often happy to give to charity. But Croatians are generous with their time and hospitality. When I visit a friend and find out they make wine or ajvar (kind of like salsa but much better), I will always walk away with a bottle or two. If a neighbour has fruit trees, then fruit is handed out to others in the neighbourhood. One of my favorite memories was when a neighbour needed help lifting a large fridge to the second floor and a group of neighbours gathered on a saturday morning to help. As soon as we were finished a bottle of rakija (hard liquor) was opened (at 9.30am on a saturday morning) and we celebrated the work done. There were lots of laughing and talking and it wasn’t because of the rakija.
Overall I have found my experiences with people in each country greatly differ from each other. Each one influenced by culture and circumstance. But my favorite has been Croatia. The friendly nature of the people here, the unparalleled hospitality and generosity make for an amazing combination of wonderful people.
I would highly recommend not just vacationing in Croatia, but the experience of interacting with its people too.