It is hot, peak season, and passions are running as high as the temperatures. Is it ok for a tourist country to express the occasional negative feeling or have a little fun at their guests’ expense?
My two favourite moments of two cultures colliding both occurred in Africa.
The first was in 1994 when I was working as an aid worker in rural Rwanda, just weeks after the genocide. Tasked with setting up a seeds, tools and food distrubution programme in eastern Rwanda, my initial job was to find out how many people were now living there, given that almost a million had been slaughtered in 100 days and millions more had fled to the camps of Tanzania and Congo. My job took me to some of the remotest parts of that very remote country, and wherever we drove, the kids would shout at this strange pink creature the same word over and over again.
“Mzungu. Mzungu.” White man. White man. And then burst into a heap of hysterics.
One day we were driving along a particularly remote route in our Toyota pickup. Inside were the driver and my interpreter, sitting out the back was a pink Englishman. I was standing, holding onto a rail on the roof of the cabin in front, when the Mzingu chants started. I banged on the roof and the car stopped.
“How do you say ‘black child’ in Kinyarwandan?” I asked.
I forget the word now, but the next time some kids screamed out ‘White Man’ at me, I replied with ‘Black Child’ in their local language. They fled in terror, then turned to look back at me. I smiled and waved, they fell about laughing, and we all had the same joke on the return journey an hour later. It was probably, I learned later, the first time they had ever seen a white man (and certainly a pink man).
Eight years later, I was working in Somaliland, tasked with implementing civil society projects, a fascinating job where white men were rare indeed. After a dusty three-hour drive to one northern settlement, I emerged from the Jeep with a mass of unkempt red hair, and must have looked a sight for the poor villagers. But they could only look at me for a few seconds, for no sooner had I arrived than the heavens opened, and the first rainfall in over three years appeared. The Manchester Rain God had arrived!
Tourism brings different cultures together in the same way as my aid work in Africa did, although the differences are perhaps not as marked in general. As a tourist, I have been fortunate to have visited over 90 countries before settling on sunny Hvar 15 years ago, including some more obscure regions where tourists rarely roamed – Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and the Gaza Strip for example. My tourist experience has been very varied, and while I have made friends on the road, I am perfectly aware that a welcoming smile from a restaurateur to a fat, pink, sweating Brit, a little out of breath, is probably because the smiling waiter wants my business and not to be my new best friend. Did that same waiter have a private laugh about me and my condition? Almost certainly. All good.
Individual tourism brings out much more individual experiences than mass tourism of course, a chance for the personal touch and conversation, whereas mass tourism has the feeling more of a conveyor belt. Add the heat we are currently experiencing and the surge in tourism numbers into a relatively confined space, and one which causes its frustrations on all sides.
But are we as a tourist host nation allowed to express those frustrations, or must we remain silent, keep our whingeing to the local language social media rants and bitching in local cafes?
I personally don’t think so.
It is one of the things that amuses most about life in Croatia. One can complain as much as one is able, but not in a way that tourists may hear. And as soon as a foreigner ventures a similar opinion in English that tourist might read – disaster! Every time we have posted things which point out humorous criticisms of tourists, done in a light-hearted manner, the barrage of criticism begins. How can you possibly do this? We are dependent on tourism, and if tourists read this, they will choose another country like Greece or Spain.
Ah, Spain. As you can see from the lead photo above, the Spanish, whose economy is almost as dependent on tourism as Croatia’s, and the friendly welcoming message to tourists could not have been clearer last summer – Tourists Go Home, Refugees Welcome. I can just imagine the comments if we reported on graffiti like that in Croatia (although I guess the refugees wouldn’t be so welcome).
Total Croatia News is a portal which writes about Croatia, the good, the bad and the not very beautiful at times. If you are looking for happy stories all the time about Croatia, those websites do exist, but then don’t be surprised to find half of Dalmatia burning when you arrive if nobody has told you about a wildfire. While the intention is to remain positive, the wider aim is to remain real, and that includes writing negative things on occasion, and posting (what we think are) funny pieces about tourism, poking a little fun, on others.
I am immensely proud of the talented team of self-motivated writers we have at TCN, and we have a very loose editorial policy of letting writers choose their topics. As such, I never know what is coming next, and I have laughed out loud at supposedly anti-tourist texts, which have been broadly very well received and taken in the manner in which they were intended. Specific examples are Jelena’s ‘Top 15 Silliest Questions Asked By Tourists in Dubrovnik‘, Nikolina’s ‘Chronicles of a Croatian Souvenir Salesgirl‘, and her excellent Guide to Tipping in Croatia. While all of these articles were broadly well-received, we had several complaints that we were anti-tourist. Ajme. A useful guide to all the border crossings on the Croatia-Slovenian border at the height of the border problems (the top story in the news at the time), which have now thankfully subsided, was also attacked – do you think tourists will come if you write such things? – as was a news report that there were 14km queues on the motorway approaching Zagreb. Better to be quiet and let tourists find out about these things and spend a chunk of their holiday queueing and never come to Croatia again, than inform them of a problem and give them the option to find an alternative.
There are of course, more subtle ways to tease tourists about what they are doing wrong, while getting the message across. And the Oscar for this category goes to the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, whose humorous advice for our beloved visitors has been one of the highlights of the summer. See above for just one example.
But it is the subject of tipping, and the epic rant of Jozo, which inspired this editorial. The post has been one of the most popular of the week, and the first article I have read this year which has had me laughing out loud. I am not the only one. Was I offended by his portrayal of the Brits? Not at all. It was something I recognised (although I might argue that I am funny when I am drunk, and that our humour is not stupid – ok, perhaps not). Not all were so amused though, including one commentator, Tomislav Mikus, who wrote:
“As a tourist oriented country which receives 15 mil. guests per year, we should not allow this type of comments to go viral. Guests can always go to Greece, Spain or any other country, At the end – if he doesn’t like bartending, why does he do it?”
Presumably Jozo needed the job (and we hope he still has it after all the media attention). It seems young Tomislav is advocating censorship to stop the opinions of the individual from being heard. I thought the modern Croatia had moved on from those times…
But he is right – guests could also go to Spain and be greeted with graffiti telling them to go home, or stronger. Does that perhaps put these harmless and occasional rants and features into some kind of perspective, given what is happening in other European tourism-dependent countries? Croatia is wonderful at stifling opinion, especially opinion which might – God forbid – reach the ears of foreigners. It is one of several reasons why the country is struggling to move forward.
Croatia is a wonderful country for a holiday, and the tourist welcome is warm. Please forgive us if we sometimes have a chuckle at your cultural ways, just as the waiters and locals in Greece and Spain are also doing.
Enjoy your stay in Croatia.