Short and Sweet: Croatia, It Was Great to Meet

Total Croatia News


After a 3-month stay in Rijeka, a British expat looks back on the experience, from macchiato-sipping and people-watching to learning about the intricacies of daily life in Croatia

So it seems my stay in Rijeka is coming to an end and I’m getting all nostalgic about my time here. I have to say I have never drank so much, smoked so many cigarettes or worked less in my whole entire adult life. Was this the initial plan for my move to Croatia? NO. Did I adapt scarily quickly to this alcohol-induced lifestyle? Yes.

Many times I have felt smug sitting around in the sun thinking about the worker’s bees back in England with their careers, logging into their computers, stressing about their mortgages, cars and bills, and I am here with my macchiato looking out to the Adriatic Sea laughing wildly inside. But then after my 15th macchiato – not all in one sitting – the laughter stopped and all I could hear was my brain telling me I should be doing something more productive, like earning some more money. After a while, like anything if you do it regularly, macchiato sea-watching becomes boring, the norm, like sleeping with your long-term partner or calling your mother. Who cares if I can drink a shot of coffee with a silky milk topping in a little cup for comparatively cheaper than the rest of the western world in the middle of the day. Does that make me an interesting, helpful or clever person? I don’t think so.



I wish I was like Ghandi and made my own clothes but unfortunately have been to H&M more times than I care to mention. I’ve been spending like I was dealing with Monopoly money. When I pull out my crumpled bills at the bakery (always the bakery), the staff look at me like a foreigner who has no respect for the kuna, like I’ve been drying myself with notes after a hot shower. But I haven’t, I swear! It’s hard to really know what a kuna is when you’re fishing it out of your purse, but when I look at my English bank account withdrawals… the kuna is real man, the kuna is real. Croatia is a fantastic place to live if you have a worthwhile paycheck, but how many people can honestly say that? I was speaking to a student who works at a university as a lecturer’s assistant and he gets paid 15 kuna an hour. You may as well be paying him in loaves of bread. He holds a prestigious position so therefore is supposed to be grateful for the accolade that will be on his CV. In many conversations dissatisfaction with work has come up a lot. People on 600 euro a month, working full-time with no job security.

I went for a drink with a friend the other evening; he was talking about a big project at work and how it had been very stressful. He explained it had caused shaking and anxiety, and that it was making him feel ill. I was thinking bloody hell, you need to get some perspective, nothing is worth compromising your health for. But it’s all too easy for me to say. If you think your job is in jeopardy and you’re not allowed to feel stress and take work off as you can always be replaced, it just induces more stress and no alleviation. It is such a competitive job market where someone equally as qualified will take your place. I suggested going outside and screaming as a method of release, but he didn’t seem very keen in my screaming therapy. Perhaps it’s a Catholic thing, they are not renowned for their enjoyment of screaming. I, however, as an agnostic lefty love to scream and encourage anyone to find an open space and let their lungs loose. The children and teenagers I teach theatre to all work really hard at school. They clearly care about their studies and futures. Everyday they come in talking about stress from exams or how they did on a Croatian test – and it’s not just a few geeky ones, it’s ALL of them. I struggle to remember that being the culture when I was their age. I feel sorry for these kids, a 10 years old incredibly anxious about a test happening the next day so they can’t enjoy the drama class as they are so preoccupied. I try to loosen them up with my seagull dance, it’s really beautiful.

I have mainly interacted with young people in Rijeka under 35 and I have to say that they share a lot in common with British people, mainly their dry and sarcastic sense of humour which I personally love. Something I have discovered recently is their love of Only Fools and Horses, a television program I grew up watching that has constantly popped up in conversation with friends and taxi drivers. Rijeka even has its very own Only Fools and Horses graffiti, the famous quote with a twist dedicated to the local football club which actually went on to become the state champion. As another example, I recently stayed at an apartment rented out by this bachelor lawyer. There was a giant shrine to the Virgin Mary in the middle, crucifixes, lots of scorpion paraphernalia, and shelves lined with the entire series of Only Fools and Horses. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet this chap; I’m sure he would have been a real onion of layers and “during the war” quotes.

The other day I was in the supermarket and a little old Croatian woman was in a crisis whilst at the fruit and veg weighing machine. She couldn’t find the parsley symbol and looked completely perplexed and irritated. In her day there were probably beautiful young parsley maids in matching outfits that dropped off your parsley in a wicker basket and asked you how the family was. Now parsley is purchased under artificial lights of a confusing machine with a little picture that looks like marijuana. I helped her find the icon, stuck the ticket on her plastic bag and she thanked me. And I felt strange – I haven’t helped anyone for bloody ages! I’m always asking people for help. And it gets tiring not knowing where anything is, not speaking the language, and just feeling like a big fat burden. I am currently playing a tiny violin, a tune called ‘I went on a 3-month holiday and now I’m bored and poor’. It’s available on iTunes along with my other hits, ‘My livers are paté baby’ and ‘Its hard to breathe, I need to get my smoky coat dry-cleaned’. The last one is set to a reggae beat.



If I’m honest, I love Croatia and am sad to go. It’s literally amazing – I would compare the feeling of leaving to being dumped by someone you love, so in your head you create a receding hairline for them and an amphetamine addiction, while in reality they were beautiful and healthy. Okay, I’m getting a bit dramatic, but I have found being here such a good experience. I will miss my twinkly eyed walnut man from the market. I go to his stall of delicious treats and create a clawed handful gesture towards the walnuts and he gives me a clawed handful of walnuts… Who needs language when you can just make claw gestures? Making the claw doesn’t work for all purchasing situations; if I’m in H&M making a claw gesture it might be considered a sexual advancement or a little hand puppet.

I will miss the alcoholic garden boys who sit around arguing about the price of spice. In the national theatre garden… I have to say the real theatre is happening outside the impressive building, it’s free and most definitely not funded by the Croatian government. I swear I heard one of the old boys say “the price of nutmeg has gone through the roof.” Well the littler one didn’t like this comment and started to aggressively approach the bigger guy. But he wobbled a bit and was forced to sit down by the gangly one, who clearly had little opinion on the price of spice and didn’t want his smaller friend to drop the drink they were sharing.


Another staring attraction in my short-lived Rijeka life is the older, slightly chubbier Kurt Cobain doppelganger on the 32 bus to Opatija. I saw him frequently on my way to work and whenever he got on the bus I was overcome with excitement and suddenly felt very exposed. I had created a whole backstory for him that he was in a motorbike accident when he was 17 and was in a coma for a year. Then had to teach himself to walk and talk and that’s why he has to take the bus. He is sensitive and slightly dangerous and if we ever spoke it would be about art, music and the meaning of life; then we would make sweet love and I would go out to get a claw of walnuts as it was his favourite nut. Naturally I never spoke to the Kurt Cobain bus man and realistically he probably works in IT has a wife and kids and listens to house music. But in my mind it would have been something beautiful. That is the beauty of being foreign: your imagination runs wild as you have very little information regarding people and places, so I find myself just making it up. When I go back to England I will lose this sense of exoticism, as Everton in Liverpool just doesn’t hold as much mystique.

I love you, Croatia. You are incredibly complicated, like most beautiful things are, but speaking as someone who visited for a short amount of time, I really saw your beauty and want to thank you for having me.

And just as an add-on, for the past 4 days I have been woken up at 7.30 am by drilling and banging of the worst degree. I find this incredibly inhumane in a residential apartment and feel it is making it easier for me to leave. Every cloud, people. Every cloud.


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