Brenda Pearson Nasr is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia who has been living with her husband in Zagreb, Croatia for the past two years. She is an avid traveler and along with Croatia, has lived in China and India. Her first novel will be published in the spring of 2017
1. Flower Delivery
Oddly enough, this might seem like a strange thing to include in a “strange things” article, but this was initially what prompted me to compose this list. Sitting at the Flower Square in Zagreb one afternoon, sipping coffee and people-watching (one of my favorite pastimes in the city), I thought about one of my former bosses back in the States. Every Monday morning, she would get delivered, courtesy of her husband, a beautiful and elaborate bouquet of flowers. Her flowers became somewhat of attraction in the office—everyone wondered what unique arrangement would show up this time. Now, after living in Zagreb for a few years, where I pass by flower markets every day, it seems so strange to send someone flowers. While it is a nice gesture to have flowers delivered to someone – certainly there is a surprise factor that can be nice – gift-giving in Croatia is a personal thing, and giving flowers to someone is giving them a gift. You would not ship a birthday present to someone (unless they were out-of-state), and in that same spirit, hiring someone else to hand-deliver flowers to a close friend or family member is rather impersonal, and a bit strange.
While there are currently no Starbucks stores in Croatia, the absence of the chain is not what seems strange to me. There are plenty of American chains here, such as McDonald’s, KFC, and so on. What is strange, now, is the concept itself. The idea of waiting in line to order a super-sized coffee or coffee-derived drink is something I couldn’t imagine doing now. Croatians love their coffee, and coffee is more of a lifestyle here than a beverage meant to be imbibed on the go. Instead, Croatians love to spend time socializing over coffee at a cafe, and it is more of an experience than just a drink. And while you will find some Italian coffees on the menu at a cafe bar here (such as macchiatos and cappuccinos), that’s about as fancy as it gets. There are no “double-whipped, extra hot, vanilla pumpkin spice lattes with extra foam” (yes, this is a real order). And that’s just fine with me.
3. Super White Teeth
Before you get the wrong idea about this one, I am not implying that Croatians have poor dental hygiene or that they do not have white teeth. What I’m referring to are the super-white, almost fluorescent smiles that you would see on some starlet walking down Rodeo Drive in LA. I remember once, many years ago, having to have emergency dental work for a broken tooth. After my procedure was done and I went to pay, the receptionist suggested, in the most pleasant manner possible, that next time I come in to ask the dentist to “just whiten my teeth a few shades.” I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the shade of my teeth, but in America, generally speaking, the whiter, the better. Thankfully, my redemption came last year when my Croatian dentist complimented my “beautiful” teeth, and specifically, the natural color. There are plenty of places you can go to get your teeth whitened and other cosmetic procedures here, and like I said before, the dental care here is just fine. But what I’ve found here is that the fixation on super white teeth is uncommon, and it’s something I didn’t fully realize was so strange until I moved here.
4. Professional Dog Walkers
One of the first things that made a huge impression on me after moving here was the fact that dogs are so “chill” here—they seem just to trot freely around, and you may even see them at the foot of the table at an outdoor cafe while their owner chats with friends. The dog culture here is very different than what I’m used to. In my former city, you could get fined for not having your dog on a leash and taking them with you at an establishment such as a cafe was a major no-no. Maybe this is why something like professional dog walkers seems bizarre to me now. I get the convenience of it, and for those who can make a living that way, it is nice to work if you can get it. But I think — like the flower thing above — this speaks to culture. Hiring someone to walk your pet is just not part of the cultural tradition here. If you have a pet, you make time to walk it, or you don’t get one at all.
This one, I will admit, I do miss from time-to-time. Sometimes you just need a taco at 3:00 a.m., am I right? But in all honesty, it is refreshing to live in a place where the convenience of a consumer is not everything. Some things that are opened all night back in the States — from Wal-mart to drive-through fast-food restaurants are just plain gratuitous. Here, when something is closed, it is closed, and you just adjust and deal with it. Save some bakeries, major transit, emergency rooms, and one major grocery store; most things do not stay open all night here because most things can wait— even that taco.