Ketchup on Pizza…and At Least Two Dozen Other Things Learned from Living in Croatia for Three Months

Arriving in Croatia just before New Year’s, we really knew nothing about it. This is where we could spend some time in “exile” waiting out the mandatory 90 days out of the EU, required for those, like us, traveling with just a passport. And, everyone we knew who had been to Croatia had been there as a tourist…in tourist season. This has been off-season and we needed to live and learn.

The scenery is beautiful. The history is as complex and fascinating over centuries as can be imagined. The people are gracious and friendly. And, then, there is all this stuff you figure out just by living here and paying attention day to day.

There are kids everywhere. Lots of kids. There must have been a huge birth rate increase in the last few years. Kids are being constantly wheeled by in every imaginable stroller design. Kids are learning to walk and chase the pigeons all over the Riva. Kids are playing soccer in the plazas and the church yards…constantly. And, bigger kids are doing their bigger-kid stuff all over the place. Family is obviously important here, and it appears just about every family has kids in the mix.

Trailing along with the kids, or chasing after them and the pigeons at the same time is the family dog. And, one thing every dog in Croatia seems to have in common is a fine coat. Added to their own. Often in down and frequently plaid.

Many of these dogs apparently also hold down jobs. They work the crowds at the caffe, keep the birds away from the tables, chase off foreign dogs and sometimes go after wandering town characters. One caffe mascot actually shows up each day standing on the motor scooter of his person. He leaps off, makes the rounds and shows off his plaid coat. He is an ugly little thing. But, effective.

Speaking of dogs, we brought this up before. There are no dachshunds in the former Yugoslavia. At least none that we could find. Well, there is one in Split, but that’s it. Whoever knows the reason for this is simply not talking.

National plant? Cabbage. Tomatoes? Not so good. Green, red and yellow bell peppers? Abundant, big, beautiful and delicious!

But, the grocery stores are really dysfunctional. Product selection can vary day to day. The aisles are often full of ladders, boxes and ladies stocking shelves. The produce is very limited and, woe be to you if you show up at the cashier with your produce unweighed and unpriced. In some stores you do that yourself. More often, they don’t trust you to do it right and assign a special person for the task. You just have to find her. Almost no men work in the stores, and when they do they have to wear red suits. The checkers apparently hate to make change and, without fail, will ask if you have anything smaller than that 50 Kuna note you handed her. At least you can buy beer and wine at even the smallest market.

At the green market, though, there are other issues. Watch out for the ladies who take your request for two potatoes to fill a bag with a few kilos of same, name the price of the bill they see in your hand and make their sale. Something extra will almost always end up in your bag. It will be fresh, though, and better than from the store. The market people work hard. Every day.

Women seem to dominate. There are always groups of women shopping, having coffee, going to dinner and walking around. We are told by a local that “they like to get away”. Don’t know where all the guys are.

But, no matter, as soon as the sun comes out, so does everyone! The Riva fills up and tables are hard to find. And, this is not even tourist season. Croatians love their sunshine, hate their rain, love their coffee, hide their gelato in winter and buy it everywhere by April. The drinking water is superb. Right out of the tap.

This is a very nationalistic culture, going through elections now and an emotional transition to becoming a member of the EU along with adopting the Euro as the official currency. Not everyone is convinced that is best for the country. There are fears that prices and costs will rise faster than income and job growth. In the meantime, they turn much attention to sports. Huge fans and supporters of local and the Croatian national teams. And, the country is full of good athletes.

Now, it is also becoming full of tour groups again as spring warms up. At least everyone visiting has a chance to hire an excellent guide, our friend from January who asked why the Denver Nuggets had dropped Carmelo Anthony. His name is Vjeran Miacic and you can contact him through the Split Tourism Office on the Riva.

We arrived here at New Year’s. it was a wacky time. Wild. Noisy. Fireworks in the street as much as in the sky. We have had a wonderful time. One of the first things we noticed about Croatia is that no one actually owns a cat. They all live freelance. Strays. Lots of them. Somehow they find food and lots of people make sure they get fed. Cat without the box in the house. Croatia’s Cat Sharing Program is a model for the world. Or…was that Car Sharing?

Oh, and, we also noticed that everyone likes to put ketchup on their pizza. Heinz is a very big brand here.