After fifteen years of living in Dubrovnik I find myself doing some strange things, subconsciously of course. The other day I saw two joggers coming down the road and I found myself nodding my head in disbelief at them. I guess I have caught the Dubrovnik “take it easy” syndrome. I used to see thousand of joggers everyday and now I’m staring as if they are from another planet.
One local guy told me people in Dubrovnik run for two reasons, if they have stolen something or if something is on fire. The strange thing is I kind of understand where he is coming from.
I have to honest, acclimatising into the pace and way of life in Dubrovnik wasn’t that difficult. The English have a reputation for being socially cold or reserved. On first impressions this opinion seems correct, we are taught from an early age to be seen and not heard. It takes a long time for a “newcomer “ to enter into a close friendship with your average Englishman, but after this initial barrier has been broken you will have a friend for life. On the other hand Croatians are an extremely friendly nation almost overpoweringly welcoming.
One of my first contacts with Dubrovnik’s hospitality was a little shocking. When I first came to Dubrovnik I did the tour of all the relatives and family friends. At the first house we visited I was greeted as if I was a long lost member of the close family who had just come back from a life threatening adventure in the Amazon jungle. I stood dumbstruck as the dewy-eyed family embraced me and kissed me. I was ushered without questions to the sitting room and in the blink of an eye the grandmother came struggling out of the kitchen carrying plates loaded with an assortment of cheeses and salamis. I had just eaten breakfast but to decline seemed like bad manners so I politely helped myself. Just as I thought that I had finished the informal meal, during which I was constantly encouraged to take more with comments such as “you need building up” and “what have you been feeding him”, the scurrying grandmother returned again with cakes. The mountain of cakes looked pleasing to the eye, “just something quick I made this morning” replied the grandmother, but I could almost hear my stomach groan at the thought of more food. The finale was coffee. When I asked if I could have a cup of tea instead I was asked if I was ill or had a temperature.
Whereas five o’clock tea is an institution in England, in fact many of the cafés and bars outside of London don’t even serve coffee, the Brazilian bean is number one here. There is almost an entire culture which is organised around this caffeine creation. Inside the Old City you will see founder members of the “coffee club” sitting on the Stradun whilst the “trainees” lounge in the wings in one of the many side streets. Business is done over a coffee, deals are made, friendships are formed, arguments are resolved and new contacts are made. A local once told me a story of a lawyer in Dubrovnik who didn’t have an office but did all of his business in the café bars in the Old City. Tourists often ask me when people work here when they see the bars full. When I first came to live here I was surprised and even a little angry at people who seemed to drink coffee all day as this was something I wasn’t used to. Now after being here for some time I wouldn’t swap the coffee break for anything, although I still enjoy my five o’clock tea sometimes. All things change and as Gail Sheehy famously said “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”