Language, Jobs, and Coffee with Milk as Dalmatia and Zagreb Clash

Total Croatia News

27th of December, 2018 – Of life and language in Dalmatia and Zagreb.

After having spent eight months trying to find a job in Croatia, I had decided to pursue happiness abroad. Since I have found out that I am not exactly the kind that can just pack her stuff and hit the road, I needed some kind of assurance before I left.

Being a Political Sciences graduate, I knew how competitive in the labour market I was – spoiler alert: very little.

So, one advantage I had, when looking at my CV, were the many languages I listed, some of which are Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and Montenegrin. The first version of my English CV did not have all of those, of course, but my friend concluded that foreign employers don’t realize those are so similar, one could even say – variations of one language, with all due respect to our Prime Minister; so I kept them in the CV.

Nevertheless, the job I got the offer for required me to speak Croatian only, aside from English, and it was for a Czech company that was spreading onto the Croatian market. At this point, I feel the need to mention that I had gone through 3 interviews and had received a job offer within 3 weeks. Just for comparison, it usually took Croatian employers 2 months to answer my application/e-mail, if they ever did (90% never did), but that is a topic for another day.

Now that it was settled, I was to move in a few weeks to the Czech Republic, to a small town called Usti nad Labem, where they will provide accommodation for me for a few months and a refund for the travel expenses. I arranged everything, booked a train ticket and when the day came, kissed my friends goodbye and went on this new adventure.

Now, I haven’t been here for long but the first thing a foreigner will notice and will be annoyed with is the fact that people from Usti don’t speak English. When I got here, I was supposed to open a bank account, buy a Czech number, a monthly ticket and all kinds of stuff in all kinds of places. And, wherever I went, the answer to my “Do you speak English?” question was a definite “No”. It was like they didn’t even feel bad at all, if anything, sometimes it felt like they were angry at me for not speaking Czech.

Luckily for me, Czech and Croatian languages have some similar words and I do know a bit of Czech from my time working in Gradac tourist office, so I manage. I don’t even want to imagine how my colleagues from the company, especially the Hungarians, go about. It’s not that most people won’t try to help you when you ask for directions, but they will have a hard time understanding what you need and I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that young people can’t manage a simple conversation in English.

They do learn it in school, but why they refuse to use it is beyond me. I understand that Usti is a small town, not exactly a tourist destination, but they have a University, there are Erasmus students here and branches of international companies which employ people from all over Europe (myself included) so this, stubbornness maybe, is a true mystery.

Now that I’ve expressed my outmost disbelief regarding the non-English speaking citizens of my current residing town, let me make a small comparison to Zagreb, a big city where I had lived for 8 years. During that time, I had not lost my Dalmatian accent, nor had I picked up their words or expressions. I am not stating that in order to make myself look good or bad, it’s just a fact, important for the point I’ll be making.

A few days into moving to Zagreb, I went to a bakery where after I ordered bili kruv (“white bread”, ikavian), the woman asked me, in a condescending tone, if I had meant bijeli kruh (“white bread”, ijekavian); and remember, I was buying bread not defending my thesis. I didn’t make much of it at the time, but after it had happened on a few more occasions and with other expressions like kava s mlikon (“coffee with milk”, ikavian) instead of kava s mlijekom (“coffee with milk”, ijekavian) I started to get annoyed.

I wouldn’t say a word if those had been extremely different terms but if you understand me, why do you feel the need to correct my speech? I know the standard Croatian language, but I am not writing a book while ordering coffee so I don’t understand where the problem is. I have never told anyone who came to Dalmatia what the proper way to speak is, nor have I ever corrected someone’s kaj (“what”) or fakat (“really”, Zagreb slang) or their accent.

I believe that there are people in Dalmatia who do that, we are known for grintanje (grumbling) and 80% of us, 80% of the time are in grintanje mode, but I have never done that nor has anyone in my presence.

It is amazing when you think about it: people from Usti expect you to speak their language, but people in Zagreb expect you to speak their dialect! I will try to find out what is the deal with locals from Usti and their resentment for the English language, but don’t hold your breath; I still haven’t figured out why is there a feud between people from Zagreb and the Dalmatian dialect.


Article by Barbara Viskic


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