My grandfather always used to say to me “don’t forget you have two ears and one mouth so use them in that order.” And he was right, even though my mouth sometimes kicks in quicker than my brain, I always try to listen. I figure if someone has taken the time to say something to me the least I can do is listen. So over the last week or so I’ve been listening, just listening. And you know what it’s amazing what you can hear when you listen.
Don’t believe everything you hear
The first thing I heard: “Can you see the cross on the top of the hill over there? Well that was given to the people of Dubrovnik by the Serbian people to apologise for attacking the city.” If this had been said by a member of the public to his wife it would have been bad enough but to hear a tour guide say this to a group of thirty people was shocking. The cruise ship passengers had just spilled out of a bus on Pile and one of the first things they will remember about Dubrovnik is that the Serbians donated a cross to the city. This “guide” if in fact she deserves the title guide, probably says the same thing to thirty people every week for the season. That’s a lot of very misinformed people! And unbelievably, or very coincidently, just a few steps away I heard “And at exactly midnight the drawbridge is raised and the Old City is closed.” Well that’s news to me, so what happens with the people who live inside the walls, are they kept like zoo animals until someone remembers to open the gate in the morning. Again this was another cruise ship group and again they were being incorrect information. I hate to think of all the people that just over the space of one year think the cross on Srđ was a donation and the citizens of the Old City are locked in at midnight.
Slow down you’re in Dubrovnik
Anyway, onwards I went into the Old City, where I met my “group” of tourists. To be more precise they were a group of four businessmen from America all in the twenties. They were all working in London and immediately the difference in their pace of life to mine became clear. “Let’s sit and have a coffee” I suggested, to which they willingly agreed, this was their first time to Dubrovnik and to be honest they had no idea where they had come. Five espresso coffees arrived and in a flash they drunk them, like you drink a rakija, all in one. I was still adding the sugar, stirring gently, when I looked up the four of them had a look on their faces like “we’re ready what next?” It’s a long time since I drunk coffee “London style”, which basically means as fast as possible, after all that’s why they invented “coffee to go.” Slow down guys, coffee here just doesn’t mean drinking it, it’s more like a ritual, we sit a little, we talk a little and we get to know each other, I commented. My version of a coffee was completely and utterly alien to them, these guys were brought up on a diet of time is money, so sitting and talking was basically wasting time. Seeing that I meant what I said they ordered another round of coffees, this time at least trying to relax, although the caffeine hit was making them nervous. As I could see their legs nervously bouncing under the table I decided it was time to move on to the first meeting. Now to put things into perspective all these men were working in a top firm in the city of London, they had all finished master’s degrees and were all well travelled.
What war was that?
As we walked through the city streets I pointed out places of interest, however they kept asking “why is this building damaged?” and “are these shrapnel marks.” I didn’t really want to start to talk about the war so I simply said “there from the last war” and left it at that. They looked on with blank faces, so I continued to explain “a bomb landed here and that’s why there are shrapnel marks”, again blank looks. “Which war was that?” they asked. “What do you mean? What war do you think?” I threw back. “Surely you don’t mean the second world war” they pressed. “No, the Homeland War, the last war in 1991” – “And who was fighting who” they replied. Boom, it hit me, these guys had no idea about the war in Croatia. It was the first time this had happened to me. Normally one of the first questions from visitors is exactly about the war, but these guys had absolutely no clue. Then I rolled it around in my head, these men were all in their twenties, too young to have remembered the war from the television, although they were well educated the Homeland War was almost certainly not a part of their history lessons. In fact if I hadn’t had mentioned the war they would probably have spent a week in Dubrovnik without even knowing about it. I strangely felt a little angry that they didn’t know but I guess time moves on and new generations come. And then I comforted myself with the fact that it’s probably better that they knew nothing rather than “knowing” that the Serbians donated the cross on top of Srđ. A little knowledge is very dangerous.