Croats in Ireland: A Tale of Two Spoons

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Life in the fastest growing Croatian diaspora country – the latest from Lidija Ivanek SiLa on April 1, 2016.

Ireland is the “world’s friendliest country” according to the Lonely Planet guidebook. This glorious title as so many other titles like “Best town”, “Best country to live” etc. needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as it can’t apply to just anybody in Ireland. Though there is some truth in it.

Zadar in Croatia just won the title for “Best destination 2016” and there is some truth in that to. But, it does make me wonder how come Croatia always win in destinations, nature etc. but never in the friendliness of their people and why is it that friendliness of people in Ireland even surpasses the natural beauty of Ireland (which is without a doubt wonder of its own)? I was really happy to hear from one lady that recently moved from Australia to Ireland (his hubby is Irish and got homesick) that she used to hang out with Croats in Sydney and that they are a fun bunch to be with. At least we are having a reputation outside of Croatia that we are fun, that’s good, isn’t it?

I love Croatia and wherever I go I will do my best to spread the word about my homeland and how beautiful that little piece of land is. It’s like God collected the world’s beautiful spots and resized it to fit into that tiny horseshoe shape of land. But, the people. There is a drama going on
among and within the people. Croats that arrived in Ireland in recent months, a year, seem to have agrudge against th eir homeland. That grudge is visible in every word they spread over the Internet from phrases like this one: “I will never go back to Croatia” or “If I only knew before I would come to Ireland sooner”, “I’ll return my Croatian citizenship and accept Irish as soon as I can” etc. As I am Croat, I can understand the way they speak. I can understand the bitterness accumulated with bad experience, disappointments. I can understand that our people tend to be more dramatic, they are more like “southern people” if you know what I mean. They are more temperamental. They get angry easily, but they can easily change their mind, and cool down. I tend to think that when they cool down they will find out that Ireland, as friendly as it is, is just another country filled with people and as such has its own problems. Until that happens I will do my best to connect those twocountries.  It is difficult to live in a foreign country, but in the same time it is a very exciting time.

Balancing between – not to lose your own identity, heritage, your own culture, and on the same time to learn and accept the culture of the country where you live. Your homeland is your roots and your genome, so to speak, your blood relation and your history. While your new country is the present, the opportunity, the new possibility, new friends, new food, to dance the new dance, just new.

So, the best place to absorb culture is always somewhere where is some food involved.

My new group of lady friends have a very unusual place for coffee and cake meetings, for me at least. It’s in the garden centre. Every time it is a different garden centre, but still it is a garden centre?! You need to be a Croat to understand my wonder. It’s not normal to look for a peaceful
place where you can enjoy your coffee and delicious cakes in a garden centre, right?! Garden centres in Croatia are usually noisy places where you are in a hurry trying to do your shopping as quickly as you can. You will sit there for a coffee only if you are waiting for somebody or you need to use the toilet. That is precisely the opposite way how things are here in Cork County. Garden centres are amazingly cosy and warm places, with a homey feeling. It doesn’t matter if you did some shopping for flowers or home decorations or you’ve just arrived for the home-made bread and some home-cooked soup. The food in the garden centre is delicious.

On one of those occasions with my ladies I ordered a homemade soup. Soup in Ireland means that usually you will get a creamy vegetable soup. I don’t know if they even eat clear soup, I never saw one. Those soups are a meal for themselves. That particular time, the soup came with a soup spoon. My first encounter with the Irish soup spoon. I was in so much wonder when I saw that spoon. It was a spoon that looked like a
dessert spoon in Croatia. It was a strange flat, round spoon. Later I discovered that what in Croatia is a soup spoon, in Ireland is considered to be a dessert spoon. It’s like somebody has mixed up the rules of the table. The same way the road lanes are on the wrong side and the steering wheel in thecars is on the wrong side, or as some of the supermarkets have the moving escalator on the wrongside or the cash re gister is on the wrong side. Oh, that wonderful marvel of the new and different.

As I was in wonder with the spoon, my dear ladies noticed me staring at the spoon and they thought that something was wrong with the meal. After they heard my explanation it was their time to wonder. From that time on, every time we go somewhere to eat, there is usually some spoon
involved, they look at me and say: “The soup spoon, ha?”

To learn about wonderful differences in our cultures we started to organise Irish-Croatian dinners with our neighbours. The best way to know somebody is at a full table. Croats are known by hospitality and by greeting friends with good food. So, there we were eating a mixture of Croatian style cevapcici in home-made somun and Irish mussels with ham in chowder. Contrary to common belief that Irish only drink beer, we discovered that they usually drink wine and will always choose wine over beer. Wine which is imported to Ireland can vary from excellent to vinegar like taste.

There is a very nice collection of imported wines from South Eastern Australia. My personal favourite is Nugan Shiraz, not that I am some wine expert. As with all other assumptions that most of the world has about Ireland, the most common one is that they eat a lot of potato, drink beer and live in cute little cottages surrounded with sheep and every St.Patrick’s day are dressed in green, we need to experience and face the assumptions for ourselves. To stay isolated in our own beliefs would rob us from the truth.

My hope is that wise people will choose to experience Croatia and Ireland for themselves and not trust everything that is circulating in the media or on the Internet.


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