The Kindness of Croatia
Update: This was written three weeks ago. Consider it that text message that has been sitting, waiting to be sent. We are now finishing our last week in Dubrovnik and heading to Montenegro on Tuesday.
We arrived in Croatia a few days ago after spending four days in the heart of Tuscany. Arriving via an overnight ferry from Ancona to Split, we began our day bright and early, wandering and exploring for several hours before checking in to our new apartment. It flew by, and we’ve been quite pleased with Croatia thus far.
Generally, people here are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Within the first several hours in Croatia, we experienced a kindness from strangers that we have not felt in quite a while, or even ever. We plopped ourselves at a restaurant advertising “Swedish breakfast” on their chalkboard, and it wasn’t a croissant or cornetto, so we were sold. Finally, vegetables and fruit in abundance. I couldn’t scoop the zucchini and mushrooms on my plate fast enough.
No sooner than I sat down, both my children had meltdowns. Alexander, because he was hungry from not eating much the day before (his choice, not mine), and Juliana because she spilled her strawberry yogurt on the floor. Is there a phrase “don’t cry over spilled yogurt?” If not, she should coin it because tears were-a-streaming. I sat there in defeat, possibly even with my head in my hand. It was the first time BOTH children were having a meltdown at a restaurant. The kicker is, we were sitting outside, giving a free show to every passerby. I should have put a hat with a few coins out. Surely, someone would toss some change in it, if not for the show, then for my sanity.
Just then, the strangest thing happened. The male server came up to me. I immediately apologized and he put his arms out gesturing that he take Alexander. He didn’t have a look of frustration, or judgement, but empathy. I thought about it for what seemed like five minutes and apprehensively handed my crying toddler off to the server. Looking around, a couple of men at a nearby table assured us that he has children of his own. My eyes were on him like a hawk, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit relieved. I could finally cut the food for my children in peace. Immediately, I apologized to everyone around me and their response surprised me, it was genuinely kind. They weren’t rolling their eyes as I’d expect, rather, saying “no problem! It happens.” Brian was inside getting his own plate of food so I wasn’t terribly concerned when the server took Alexander in the restaurant. I could see the man pointing out objects to him. Sure, the kid calms down within an instant and doesn’t even bat an eye when he’s in some random man’s arms; after all we’ve been through. Within a couple of minutes, the man came out with a chipper toddler holding an unpeeled banana. I sincerely thanked him, got another yogurt for Juliana, and we continued breakfast in peace.
About an hour later, we found ourselves at a playground. The kids played for a while and when I returned from purchasing tickets for a museum, they were eating a peach. “Where’d you get the peach from?!” I asked Brian. He told me that the nice man who owned the coin kiosk right behind the gate gave it to them. He also mentioned that they discussed old coins for a few minutes. I looked over at the man and he gave me a light-hearted wave with a wide smile. He looked trusting enough to not have poisoned the peach before handing it off to my family. Before the kids finished the last bite of peach, he generously offered a second one. Probably because they were ravenous like little baby birds, you know, because they hadn’t eaten in an entire hour. I sincerely thanked him and we continued on our adventure while talking about the hospitality we experienced, and we weren’t even in anyone’s house.
A couple of days later, we headed to the beach. It was an amazing time–relaxing compared to most days so far. Rather than soft sand, the beaches were laid with small pebbles that actually worked in our favor–less cleanup. Brian and I switched off and spent time with each kid. With Alexander, I introduced concept of texture and size to him. I’d find big rocks, small rocks, rough rocks, smooth rocks, and had his pruny little fingers feel what each one was like. With Juliana, we pretended we were mermaids. She’s big on pretending lately; a game I remember fondly. Soon enough, a couple of young boys came up to us with squirt guns. Before-kids me would have probably given a little smile and closed my eyes as I laid out on a towel secretly hoping that they’d scram. But present me played along with them. Without a weapon in-hand, I’d playfully splash them back a bit and they ran off, pretending to be defeated, only to return a few seconds later. I had to get crafty, these villains weren’t going anywhere. I eventually started acting like a water monster, standing up and doubling my size while making funny noises and chasing them off. It worked! I had prevailed! Only to soon find out that they had once again returned, and with a new member of their alliance, my daughter. We continued the act for a good fifteen minutes. I don’t know who had more fun, the kids or me. It reminded me of when I used to nanny and baby sit young boys. A playful side came out, like I was one of them. It made me excited for when Alexander gets a bit older.
We dried off to get ready to leave and Juliana spotted a bucket with two shovels. The mom of one of the boys pushed it over to us, giving permission for my kids to play with it. A few minutes later, a few moms came from the promenade with a small plate of chocolate drizzled mini donuts. It was like they were coming out of the woodwork. Where are these mini donuts coming from? I explained to the kids that we needed to go and had to return the toys to the owners. As I handed them the toys and thanked them for the tenth time, they offered each child a donut. And just like that, my heart grew yet another size since being here in Croatia.
This sort of hospitality was a foreign concept to us. I’m not saying that people everywhere else aren’t generally kind, but it’s a different ball game with strangers. Back in the U.S. there’s a general fear with strangers. STRANGER DANGER! And while there’s some truth to that, and we should always be aware and have some guard, it’s a bit drawn out. Here, generally, strangers offer things–i.e. kindness, relief from a crying child, peaches, and donuts. They have the mentality that we’re all in this together, so lets share what we have and boost each other up. It made me want to buy a bunch of toys and snacks and head to the beach so I can return the favor. Though we’ve only been here a few days, I’ve already been impacted by people in Croatia. I want to show generosity to not only people that I know, but strangers as well. Because we never know their circumstance and what might help them at that moment. It could be a simple smile, or tangible item.