A closer look at the claims and counter claims of cheap coffee for church-going Catholics in Split.
It is fair to say that the Total Croatia News report on a visit to a well-known cafe in Split on December 13, 2015 received national attention, making the front page of several news portals throughout the day. It follows last week’s success on the global stage, as Huffington Post cited and linked to TCN as the English-language source and follow-up to the investigative journalist who had claimed that he had travelled from Turkey to Paris unhindered, passing through Croatia by hiding undetected in a train toilet, when in fact he had been checked coming in and out of the country, even taking a plane to Paris! It is fair to say that the website is growing quickly, and we thank you for your early support.
The reason to publish the story about the two-tier pricing system at the cafe in Split had nothing to do with the search for sensationalist page views (although I had an idea it might be of interest to the Croatia media), but a reaction to a quite absurd explanation from the waitress about the reason tourists were charged 22 kuna for a coffee at the cafe, while a Croatian colleague who had hardly ever been there (and the last time two years ago) waltzed in and got the same coffee for a bill of just ten kuna. As I had just been charged 24 kuna for a warm chocolate, my Croatian colleague questioned the difference, to be told that there were special rates for locals who went to Mass at the cathedral opposite. It was the absurdity of the explanation that prompted the article, as well as a clear example of two-tier pricing system.
What made the religious claim even more ridiculous was that it was explained to a customer who had been nowhere near the cathedral (or asked if she had to quality for the discount). The only difference, it seemed to me, was that one drink had been ordered by a foreigner (in Croatian, it should be added – my accent may be terrible and my grammar not the best – but still in Croatian. I am working hard on looking like a local, but it will be a mightier struggle than the language…), the other by a local.
In the subsequent media storm that followed, the cafe’s owner denied that there were discounts for churchgoers in Slobodna Dalmacija (translation below) – read the full article in Croatian here.
“We don’t discriminate nor we have special discounts for folks going to the cathedral. We have a uniformed price list and we give special discounts to regular guests. Many of those are foreigners living within the Palace walls. This is from Stipe Malada, manager of the cafe Lvxor who sees nothing wrong in double pricing and mentions that special discounts are available for few drinks only and that this is a common practice in the world.”
His explanation puts to bed the religious discount explanation, and I certainly do not blame the waitress for giving it, for I suspect this is not the first time the double pricing has been questioned, or that the religious justification was her idea. The policy of discounts for regulars is understandable, if that is what the policy is, but as my colleague confirmed later, she had not been near the cafe in over two years. Not only that, but another colleague who lives in Zagreb and was on a fleeting visit to Split with a few international journalists, ordered three cappuccinos for 10 kuna each, not the real price of 27 kuna.
A price for regulars or a price for locals (including some local expats)? Flexible pricing is commonplace in Dalmatia – indeed I get charged either 17 kuna or 15 kuna for a beer in one place on Hvar, depending on the waiter (one likes me more than the other) – buy 55% cheaper?
As people who have followed the Total project since it started in October 2011 will know, the vast majority of the 15,000 plus articles about Croatia have been overwhelmingly positive, and our sites have received lots of international attention, and even awards, including the 2014 Marko Polo FIJET award for the best international promotion of Croatia at the National Society of Journalists in Zagreb. And while I am criticised in some quarters for only writing positive things (?), seemingly on every occasion when I write something a little negative (such as being ripped off bya taxi driver), it makes national headlines.
Of course, the majority of people who comment on an article on social media voice their opinion without actually reading it, which can make attempts at debate a little frustrating, but there were a few threads that came out of yesterday’s reaction.
1. Of course foreigners should pay more. “Let us see: beautiful country, fantastic weather, almost 100% security, good facilities, spectacular sea etc etc … well you have to pay for this, or you have to be born Croat. Simple as that. Whoever finds himself offended by fact that we have separate prices for us, well he can go somewhere else.” Perhaps, but then again, Croatia joined something called the European Union in July 2013, who have some thoughts on the legalities of the matter – click here for more. The key sentence is “As an EU national, you cannot be charged a higher price than local residents when buying products or services anywhere else in the EU, unless the price difference is justified. Tourist attractions sometimes charge visitors a higher price than local residents. This is unlawful discrimination and you should not accept it.”
2. The location of the cafe is stunning, and prices for similar locations in places like Venice would be much higher, even at the cafe’s ‘tourist’ price. I do not disagree with this, but that is a totally separate discussion and not relevant to the events we are talking about.
3. I am a foreigner and my opinion is not relevant, especially if I am writing something negative about Croatia. One day, I will write the article “Is it allowed for a foreigner to have an opinion in Croatia?”
I usually drink beer, not coffee, when I go to meet people in the palace in Split. I have paid 24 kuna for a half litre in the cafe in question, I have paid more in other establishments in the palace, but most often I pay just 13 kuna at my favourite haunt, complete with sea view, for a half litre. That is not a local price, that is THE price. Diocletian’s Palace is an astonishing attraction, with huge diversity, with a huge range of prices for tourists as well as locals.
The double pricing at the cafe in question happened to me two years ago in the same cafe, as the foreign father of a half-Croatian lady, who also researches for Lonely Planet, was charged double before his daughter – a former regular – learned what he had been charged. She has never returned and I suspect the Lonely Planet’s viewpoint may have changed.
But it would seem sadly for Catholics looking for a bargain that there are no 55% discounts for coffee after Mass.