Shrug it Off

Last week a reader theorized that I, an American, was involved in a conspiracy! Was I a spy? Had I been involved in faking the moon landing? No.  I was accused of secretly being a propagandist for Croatia, paid to write about the advantages of Croatia over the US in order to keep Croatians from leaving their homeland.

And I just have to say… um… that accusation… is… um… oh, no, I’ blinking because there is… um… something in my eye. Nervous? I’m not nervous… no that idea is… ah… ridiculous.

More paperwork?

Really, there all kinds of things the US does better than Croatia. Look at paperwork and stamps for example. After encountering the Croatian bureaucracy’s paper fetish, I no longer believe it was the Venetians that cut down all the trees in Dalmatia. To get anything done you literally have to fill everything out in triplicate, twice. And what’s with all the stamps?


Another thing that the US has over Croatia, transparency and clarity! As big and mighty as the US is, it is surprisingly easy to see how everything works. We, meaning those of us who pay attention, understand why government policy is skewed towards the wealthy. We understand with near certainty how the system operates. We can see why it sucks, we just don’t know how to change it.

Black box

In Croatia I feel like the policy process is a black box. And like the cover of Spinal Tap’s first album, it’s blacker than black. It’s hard to even observe the process by which things are done, let alone understand it. And yet, things work, more or less, which is even more surprising!

Ah, indifference

And finally, an air of indifference permeates nearly everything in Croatia. You see it in the dilapidated exteriors that dot Zagreb. Coated in the sloppy scrawls of a beginner’s graffiti, exposed rebar, rusted under the flakes of a crumbling edge, the sparkle of shattered glass now ground into the rough pavement, all speak to a collective kind of apathy. Then there is the personal indifference that, I guess, develops as a survival mechanism to the functional indifference of the system. The cold-stone face of the bureaucrat that prevents you from submitting your form because you don’t have this thing… something… whatever! Or the indifference from the firm that owes you money, but won’t respond to your emails.

The shrug

There is a move Croatians make that encompasses every level of indifference, a graceful gesture that says, “I understand, screw it, and meh” all at the same time: the shrug, shoulders up, palms out, eyes rolling towards heaven, as if only God could possibly provide a solution to your situation… and even then, who knows.

Indifference or resignation to the faults of the status quo is one of the things that embodies the biggest gap between me, the American and my Croatian friends. I am tempted to say this is another thing the US has over Croatia… but wait. Maybe, life here is oddly better than life in the US because we resign ourselves to the iron law of the status quo. Why stress out about something that you can’t change anyway?

If it ain’t broke…

We have a saying in the US, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I guess the Croatian version would be like: “if it’s not completely broken, or if it is just an inconvenience and not a major problem, then…” (shrug).

…don’t change it

While indifference may dominate much of the Croatian mentality, frenetic anxiety permeates the American mind. The US is far from perfect, and rather than accept that fact, I feel like we let it tear us up and fill us with fear. Sure, there are a lot of things that are better in the US than in Croatia, but after living here, I wouldn’t change it.