Life as a long-term foreigner in Croatia is rather fun.
It comes with the need to have certain levels of acceptance, of course. As we have already established, for example, is it ok for a foreign to have an opinion in Croatia?
Once you learn that you are not allowed to have an opinion, the other important thing to accept for a peaceful existence is that no matter what you say, someone will object and start an argument. So you either need to grow very thick skin or never speak.
I was pondering all these things over a cold one recently, as a mild sense of panic set in. Kristina Ercegovic, who runs the entrepreneurial club, Business Cafe, invited me to be a speaker at the first ever Business Cafe International, where foreigners doing business in Croatia were invited to speak and network, joining her loyal crew of successful Croatian entrepreneurs.
Public speaking is one of the few things I dread in life more than eating blitva and Brussels sprouts, but Kristina was persuasive and I found myself with my beer a couple of days before the event wondering what the hell I would say. After all, I am hardly the most successful business to grace these shores, and to be asked to give advice to a room full of successful entrepreneurs was going to be a challenge.
And then someone commented on one of my posts I had put on social media with some positive message about Croatia. A negative answer, with the message that one day I would finally figure out what Croatia was like, followed by a stream of abuse.
I am very grateful to this particular hater, as it gave me an idea for my dreaded presentation, which I was sure would be interesting to my audience, as well as hide the fact that I had no smart business advice to impart.
The 3 Stages of Learning for Foreigners in Croatia: Love, Hate & Nirvana
People laugh when I say positive things about Croatia, and people pile on the abuse when I criticise. It is wonderful to observe. But it all made me realise that the experience of foreigners here is linked to which particular stage they are at in the 3 stages of learning. Let’s take a look at each.
Stage 1 – Love (about 70% of foreigners, perhaps more)
I spent 13 years living in Croatia stuck at Stage 1, and there have been many times I regretted getting to Stage 2, but no longer, for Stage 3 is the best state of all.
What is not to love about Croatia? A gorgeous tourist destination, stunning nature, laid-back lifestyle, great weather, fabulous food and wines, and much cheaper than places like the UK. It is not just the tourists who hang out at Stage 1.
Many expats who live here are also stuck at this stage, as I was for so long. Not speaking the language, it is hard to keep up to date with what is really happening in the country, and with so many other expats to hang out with, contact with the realities of the daily grind of life in The Beautiful Croatia are limited to the occasional battle with bureaucracy to obtain a permit or three.
If you can afford to make your living (many do online or with income from outside Croatia), then Stage 1 living in Croatia is really rather good. And I heartily recommend it.
Stage 2 – Hate (about 25% of foreigners)
If life is so good then, why is everybody always complaining and all the young people leaving?
Enter Stage 2 – Hate. I blame the founding of TCN entirely for my elevation from Stage 1 to Stage 2. Looking back, I cannot believe how naive I was thinking I could start a news portal about a country where my knowledge beyond Hvar’s shores was limited to the bars of Diocletian’s Palace and a tiny part of central Zagreb. A Tale of Two Croatias: Before and After the Uhljeb Discovery was like opening Pandora’s Box (only worse). And once I entered the world of the mighty State of Uhljebistan, my idyllic Stage 1 Croatia was lost forever.
I found myself taking a lot more showers. I couldn’t believe the tales of blatant corruption, the nepotism, and the tragic tales of the have nots, which were a daily reality for millions outside my Stage 1 bubble of gorgeous Hvar.
The injustice and inequality of opportunity, witnessing so many young people leaving not because they could not find a job, but because they were excluded from a system where opportunity is granted through connections, and not on merit. Add to this the joys of running a business in this country, the constant negativity from so many people at the slightest positive message, and I began to question myself. Were all those people right who were ridiculing my positivity and predicting the time when I too would give up on Croatia and leave? I began to have serious doubts, and my attitude to the country I had come to love was changing.
Stage 3 – Nirvana (about 5% of foreigners)
The darker moments of Stage 2 were a necessary evil in order to reach State 3 – Nirvana, the very best state of being for a foreigner in Croatia, at least in my opinion.
There was one uplifting aspect to writing honestly and openly about Croatia. While the articles of constructive criticism brought a torrent of abuse, they also brought emails and messages of encouragement. From all over Croatia and the diaspora. Little bubbles of positivity all over the country, of people who had long ago given up on the State, but loved Croatia and wanted to live here. In their bubbles, there was minimal interaction with the State. Their bubble consisted of a Croatia of their friends, family, nature and job – a generally very happy place where they focused on the things that matter.
A Croatian friend told me she never follows politics, for there is no point. Apart from all the negativity that would put an angel in heaven on anti-depressants, there is no point because nothing ever changes anyway. Much better to spend the time hiking in the beautiful mountains of Croatia, far away from Uhljebistan.
Slowly, very slowly, more of these bubbles started to get into touch. Bubbles of positivity floating around Uhljebistan and immune from the craziness around them. And those bubbles started to connect, several of them via TCN. Great new initiatives in medical tourism, entrepreneurship, engaging with the next generation diaspora, environmental ideas, and innovative luxury tourism, as well as a greater exposure to the stimulating world and huge potential of Croatia’s IT industry.
Welcome to Stage 3 Croatia, probably the most exciting and invigorating place I have lived in in my 50 years on this lovely planet. A Croatia of such positivity, dynamism and innovation with the craziest ideas that I often go to bed laughing and wake up laughing. My wife has not yet reported me laughing in my sleep, but I would not be surprised.
Stage 3 Croatia is about understanding and acceptance of the way Croatia works. And the relationship with Uhljebistan is different too, as I explained at the Business Cafe International meeting, part of which you can see below.
I compared it to living in Norway or Sweden and being a drinker. Alcohol tax is expensive in Scandinavia, part of the price you pay for living there if you want to satisfy your whisky habit.
And so too with Croatia, such a wonderful lifestyle and breathtaking country. Part of the price of entry is the Ulhjeb tax. Pay it and move on and surround yourself with the bubbles of positivity and opportunity.
I hope some of you can reach Stage 3 soon, it truly is an inspiring place to hang out.
And if you are one of those bubbles of positivity and want to reach out, get in touch on [email protected].
Thinking of moving to Croatia? Here are come thoughts on what you might need to bear in mind with our Croatia in 100 Pages Living in Croatia page.