After the end of your meal at an American Chinese restaurant you always get a fortune cookie. Traditionally everyone at the table reads their fortune and then adds ” in bed ” to the end of it. So, “You must try hard or hate yourself for not trying” becomes “You must try hard or hate yourself for not trying” … in bed. Or “You can make your own happiness”becomes “You can make your own happiness…” in bed. Over the last couple of years I’ve started doing something similar with the phrase… ” in Croatia.”
Saying ” in Croatia ” is most useful for making the mundane extraordinary and putting what would be extraordinary in the US (or anywhere else in Europe) into the right, pitiful, context.
If I tell people that I wrote a number one best selling book, that sounds impressive. You might even imagine I’m now in the company of other bestselling authors. All reasonable, until you add that phrase ‘in Croatia.’ What does it mean to be a bestselling author in Croatia? It means you drive a 2002 Hyundai Accent in 2015 and work three other jobs.
The best and the brightest
A friend of a friend is a BAFTA award winning director… in Croatia. So, he goes abroad to find work. I know a well respected, multiple award winning journalist… in Croatia. So of course she’s only hired as a freelancer. A student graduated at the top of her university class… in Croatia. So, she can’t find a job and waits tables in the summer. Or how about the menial worker who somehow became an oligarch in the 1990s… in Croatia. Maybe the ambitious idiot who failed at everything until he joined a political party, now he’s the head of a state firm… in Croatia.
The phrase ‘in Croatia’ sums up so many of the absurdities about life here. At times it seems like the world operates according to some sort of backward logic, as if up is down and down is up. What is the secret of success? Being hardworking, competent, talented? Not… in Croatia.
On the other hand…
At other times the phrase ‘in Croatia’ can be resolutely positive. For me it means I’ve escaped the monotony of American suburbia. I might be grocery shopping, but I’m grocery shopping in Croatia! I’m at the mall… in Croatia! I’m sitting and having coffee… in Croatia. I’m surrounded by history, 19th Century architecture, or in view of dang castle!
I might not have a lot of money, but I’m in Croatia. Here, I don’t have to worry about criminal violence, health insurance, or the many other insurmountable obstacles faced by the poor in America.
Summer in paradise
And best of all, in the summer I will live in a place people who don’t live in Croatia pay a lot of money to come and visit. It’s hard for me to imagine that what has now become a annual routine for me, is a once in lifetime experience for other people. And I get to stay there for next to nothing (though I do have to eat an unnecessary amount of soup for the privilege)!
And I know that during a swim at the beach, or over an evening drink on the Riva, perhaps after eating a full homemade lunch, or maybe while walking around the living ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, I’ll smile and think: I live …in Croatia.