by Frances Vidakovic
Once again I find myself spending a summer in Croatia and it is evident the moment I step foot on this golden soil how vastly different the life is between my homeland (the island of Korcula) and my adopted city of Sydney. Though I adore and respect the place where I have planted my roots in Australia, it bears a striking contrast to my motherland, where my roots originated, where all my ancestors were born, and where my heart still feels most at home.
HERE ARE 8 THINGS I DO NOT MISS ABOUT AUSTRALIA WHEN I AM HERE IN CROATIA.
1 – I DON’T MISS THE OBSESSION WITH CELEBRITIES
When I am holidaying in Croatia I do not miss the crazy obsession that the Australian media (and by default American, because most of our news comes directly from the US) has with celebrities. I do not miss hearing about the latest stupid thing one of the Kardashians have done that they think people really give a hoot about.
I do not miss hearing about which latest Hollywood couple has hooked up, split up due to an affair, or may or may not be having secret rendezvous. Only once you step away from the mayhem do you realise how ridiculous it is that these celebrities even get any airtime.
I much prefer the bubble I live in when I am in Croatia, where most of our beloved singers and actresses can be seen walking around the streets without an entourage of security. Here they do not put celebrities on a pedestal in the same way many other countries do. Even if they do adore a famous person, there is still an underlying conviction that this person is no better or more special than them. They see these celebrities as just another human, ultimately no different from them. Amen to that.
SIDENOTE: Coming second in the World Cup may have elevated our Croatian soccer team to national hero status so there may indeed be some fanfare when any Croatian crosses the path of these soccer players from hereon.
2 – I DON’T MISS THE OBSESSION WITH SOCIAL MEDIA & OUR PHONES
Back in Sydney, it feels like our mobile phones are an extension of our arms. We always have them close by, in case we miss “something important.” We regularly check out different social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to “stay connected” and constantly check our emails as if the world would collapse if we didn’t instantly reply.
Even sadder is the fact that this obsession has been passed on to our kids, who are possibly even more obsessed with their iPads and iPhones than their parents are (only difference is adults are just better at hiding their obsession or justifying their need for it to stay close by).
Here in Croatia, no one seems to give a toss about it all. Sure most people now have a cell phone (and some post photos to Facebook whenever the desire hits) but it always seems to be with an air of casual detachment. They can take it or leave it. They don’t seem to suffer from FOMO (the fear of missing out) or base their value on how many likes they get on a post.
I honestly love that I can go a whole day here in Croatia without even touching my phone. I love that my kids have discovered they can survive without WIFI in our Croatian home. Even more surprisingly I have found that I love not knowing what else is going on in social media land because the truth is none of it truly matters. What is most important is just the here and now, the present moment, for me and family.
3 – I DON’T MISS THE TRAVELLING
Alas, a great amount of travelling and traffic is something that simply comes from living in a big city like Sydney. The vast majority of us get into our cars and travel some distance to visit friends, go to the shops or work, swim at a beach, have dinner at a restaurant or do anything that connects us with our friends and family.
Yet when I am here in Croatia, in my parent’s little village or our place in town, everything feels within reach. Here in Korcula, there is one traffic light on the entire island and we can move between all the villages, even the furthest village Vela Luka, in less time than it would take for me to battle traffic to get to my workplace back in Sydney.
Whilst in Korcula grad, where we have our home, my family can go out at night to get pizza or ice-cream and leave the car behind at home. We can walk to the shops, bank, cafes and restaurants without even kicking up a sweat.
Even more amazing is life in the selo. Whilst in my little village, I can visit a dozen families by walking only a few minutes between each home. My heart explodes with happiness every time I can see a hundred familiar faces just by going into the village centre. Here everyone’s life is interwoven like the fine threads that form the perfect blanket which keeps us warm and connected at night.
4 – I DON’T MISS THE UNDERLYING FEAR FOR OUR SAFETY
Even though Sydney is a relatively safe place to live that doesn’t stop the newsreaders every night from sharing with us the latest crimes and atrocities that have been committed in our city or around the globe. Watching the news in Australia rocks your sense of security and makes you feel like, no matter how safe you may feel at home, there is always potential danger lurking around every corner.
Here in Croatia, there is a sense of peace and security that I never, ever feel back in Sydney. That isn’t to say this country is completely crime-free but it sure feels that way when we send our kids out to play for hours without the burden of worry. We walk around at night without the fear of getting mugged; we leave our homes unlocked without the fear of a break-and-enter.
I’ve even seen someone leave their wallet idly sitting on the driver’s seat with the car window wide open as if it would never cross their mind that someone, even a tourist, might reach over to take it. It is true that the Croatians may not boast the material riches that some Western nations do but their gold comes in a priceless form of the most beautiful landscape ever, a deeply loyal connection between the people and a peace of mind knowing that the village is always watching out for each other.
5 – I DON’T MISS THE MATERIALISTIC CONSUMER SOCIETY
It isn’t always evident to me until I step away from Sydney just how much of a materialistic, consumer society we have become back in Australia. Even if we do our best to live a minimalistic, happy life over there, we are bombarded constantly from the media about all the latest gadgets, toys, trends and THINGS we apparently need to be happy.
Back in Australia, many of us enter a shopping centre needing nothing but milk and come home with bags of unnecessary stuff that we didn’t even know we wanted until we saw it. We earn more money than Croatians but live in a society where advertising and marketing experts spend millions and millions of dollars to convince us that a flighty want could actually be a need. Even if we don’t have the money right now we are encouraged to put another purchase on our credit card.
Every time I come to Croatia I feel like a light bulb is switched in and that carefully crafted veil of subtle deceit created by marketing geniuses is immediately lifted. No, I don’t need more stuff to be happy – I don’t need more clothes, more things, more ANYTHING to be truly happy. All that I have right now is enough. And even if I did feel like there was an empty void inside me, this isn’t an emptiness that could ever be satisfied by something found at the shops.
Whenever my family and I holiday in Croatia, we live out of a suitcase but find that we do not miss anything we have left back at home. We see Croatians here who have much less than us in terms of material possessions, and yet some of them are more content and richer than the wealthiest of Australians in so many different ways – with life, family and friendships. For it is true what they say, the best things in life ARE indeed free.
6 – I DON’T MISS THE TEMPTATION OF CRAPPY FOOD
As much I love the amazing array of international cuisine available in Sydney, the reality is our shopping centres are filled with more than our fair share of fast food places like McDonald’s, Hungry Jacks and KFC and the majority of food found in our grocery stores (hint, hint: all those aisles of packaged food) are filled with more numbers and preservatives than real food in the ingredients list.
Here in Croatia, the food is simple. Their organic fruit and vegetables do not resemble the perfect, genetically-modified equivalents we have back in Sydney. They are imperfect, misshaped and filled with more flavour than one would think was possible. Fast food here includes gourmet pizza or a mouth-watering cevapi sandwich made from with freshly made bread, ajvar, onion and lettuce. And if you want to really, really indulge in something bad a burek is about the worst thing you can get (still nothing compared to a Big Mac!).
Every morning we walk to the bakery to buy food that doesn’t come wrapped in a clear plastic bag. If we don’t eat it that day, it goes hard. We have fish for lunch that we buy from the back of the fisherman’s van after he has scored his catch and my dad takes it down to descale and clean by the water. The meat is bought across the road as fresh as can be from our butcher and most of the veggies come straight from someone’s garden.
Croatians here are still much like Croatians in Sydney – hospitable to the point of force-feeding but it’s a generosity that one is eager to accept because the food is so amazing, especially when it includes a fresh batch of palacinke. Here in Croatia, we eat good food not mindlessly but with intention because it is always with good company. And yes we savour every little bite as if it is the greatest gift in the world.
7 – I DON’T MISS THE PERFECTION
In Sydney, people tend to admire things that look new and shiny: the new home, the new car, the new clothes and they frown upon things that look less than perfect. We don’t even realise that we are doing it – tut-tutting all the things that look less-than-new or immaculate.
And then I come to Croatia where everything feels rustic and raw in both beauty and form. There are houses here that are hundreds of years old, bursting with history. Even when they have windows boarded up with dilapidated old wood or rusty iron bars, I see it as a jewel that is disguised as decay.
Some Croatians here drive cars that would be sneered at in Australia and yet for me these tiny decades-old vehicles bring up feelings of nostalgia, of times when seven or eight of us would squash into similar transport and travel down ancient dirt roads to experience incredible adventures. The centuries-old huts, which once upon a time housed goats, pigs and other farm animals remind me of my ancestors, who worked and toiled on the land and dreamed of a bigger and brighter future.
All that is old here is beautiful to me – perfect in its imperfection. The less-than-professional handmade signs telling me that wine or olive oil is sold on the roadside, all the houses still half-built because the family is yet to earn enough money to complete it, the antique furniture that some families can’t bear to throw away because it is still pulsating with memories of their loved ones – these are things I don’t often see in Australia nor are they usually appreciated and valued there in the same way that they are here.
I see beauty everywhere here in Croatia in the simplest, most mundane things, even when they are not wrapped up in a shiny perfect package. Or maybe it’s because people here know there is no need to wrap things up in a sparkling, superficial package because it is what is inside and not outside that truly counts.
8 – I DON’T MISS THE HAMSTER WHEEL AKA OUR WORK LIFE
Whenever I hear the saying, “Live to work or work to live”, it reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend when I was living in Croatia twenty years ago. Back then she pinpointed this as being the core difference between Croatia and Australia and over the years her words have felt painfully accurate.
It’s true what they say: the truth hurts. Back in Sydney, our lives do indeed revolve around our work. Even if we absolutely love what we do in our jobs, most adults leave for work early in the morning and come back late in the early evening. We come home tired, exhausted and do our best to recover in time to do it all over again the next day. We live for the weekends because there is no time to do everything we need to do during the week and sometimes it feels like we are trapped on a hamster wheel, disconnected from others, always moving but never really going anywhere.
In Croatia, work seems to be more of a means to an end rather than the entire-life-and-time-sucking beast that it is in Australia. Even when they are in the midst of the tourist season, most Croatians still find the time to sneak in a quick swim at the beach or catch up with friends later in the day. They do not use work as an excuse not to stay up late or have fun. They work to live – and live life they do -and not the other way around.
Though I feel blessed in so many ways to live in Sydney, the truth is Australia and Croatia often feel like flip sides of the same coin – all the things that one country lacks can be found in the other and vice versa. Honestly? If one could combine the best of both worlds it would make my perfect home.
Nonetheless, when I am in Sydney a deep-seated longing exists in me that is filled only when I return to my homeland. Strangely enough, before I step foot in Croatia I am not even aware of the magnitude of this void until I am reunited with it and hold it tight in my hands. When I am here, I am certain I never want to let it go again.
All in all, there are two quotes that sum up perfectly my feelings about Croatia. The first is by Maya Angelou who noted that: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Then there is Leo Christopher who so eloquently wrapped it up by stating: “Home is wherever you leave everything you love and never question that it will be there when you return.”
Ah, Croatia – you may not be perfect but I do feel like the world could learn a thing or two about life from your amazing culture and country.