Friday, July 11, 2014

My other blog.

Hi Readers,

After meeting many of you at the book signing and promotion event in Zagreb, I learned that a lot of people aren't aware of my other blog. I know Zablogreb has not been updated in a few months and the "other" blog is the reason. It's weekly and deals with a lot of the same things Zablogreb deals with. So, if you'd like to check it out, it's published every Friday on The Voice of Croatia. I talk about things like throwing potatoes at people, Alan Ford comics, and I'm sure propuh and punica are in there somewhere.

Enjoy. And thanks for reading.


Sunday, July 6, 2014


I'm happy to announce the Zagreb promotion for Propuh, Papuče, i Punica Thursday 7.10 at 18.30 at Algoritam Profil Mozaik MEGASTORE on Bogovićeva!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear readers, I'm happy to announce a promotion for my new book. This Saturday (21.06) in Split, Croatia at Joker shopping mall at 19.00! If you are around the area, please come so I can meet you, kiss you, hug you, or just gently shake your hand. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

More than Words

When speaking Croatian it’s normal to hear people slip in some English. Words like “super,” “sorry,” and the problematic combo “friendica,” are now regular parts of the Croatian lexicon. The other day I realized that I’ve started doing the same thing, but in reverse, especially when I speak English to my young daughter. I’m curious why some words get translated, others don’t, and still others get turned and twisted into some Croatian-English linguistic Frankenword monster. 

I think this little quirk highlights the cultural gaps between our two countries. There are just some things that when translated from Croatian come close to being meaningless in English. These words' English equivalents pale in comparison to the power of their Croatian counterparts. 

Here’s my top 5. 

Number 1, Grad: I always tell my daughter we are going to the grad, or we are in the grad. I never say city. To translate grad literally and say city, sounds like we live in the country. We don’t. We live near the center. To say downtown is also misleading. For the longest time, my hometown’s downtown was a barren wasteland, populated with little else than parking lots and homeless people. After living in such an environment, anyone who says we are going downtown waits for the inevitable question: Um... Why? There is no comparison between the lifelessness of a mid-American downtown, and the vibrance of the grad.  

Number 2, Papuče! Of course, nothing in the US quite has the cultural importance or power of Papuče: The Defenders of Feet, Protectors of Health, The Enemies of all Illnesses. Right. Um… in America, we just walk around barefoot. We do have slippers and house shoes, but few of us wear them, and never because we think doing so will prevent our brains from becoming inflamed. To refer to my daughter’s papuče as house shoes or slippers just sounds pathetic. Only the word papuče can convey the gravitas of that life and death struggle being waged daily on the bottom of her (and our) feet.

Number 3Sladoled: 1) it’s fun to say. 2) The whole culture of ice cream here is different from what I grew up with. The ease with which you can find ice cream, on every corner, in every kiosk, makes sladoled something unique. In Oklahoma we got our ice cream from the ice creamery  and usually had to eat it there. Or we bought it in a tub from the grocery store. The only time we could have spontaneous ice cream, outside, was on the rare occasion when the ice cream truck, driven by a shirtless guy with a mullet, came down the street and we happened to have money right then. Summer in Croatia is all about eating ice cream anywhere and everywhere. For that reason it has to be sladoled.   

Number 4, Baka: Yes, in America we have grandmas, but the institution of grandma isn’t as central to our life as it is in Croatia. Here Baka, is both the loving, fawning fan of the family and the stern sentinel that safe guards its traditions and general health. She’s kind of like a domestic commissar, ensuring that lunch is eaten, papuče are worn, and the windows are closed. American grandmas just don’t have the power and influence as the Baka. Bakas are legendary, occasionally mythical, and often times unbelievable.       

And finally, Number 5, of course, our good friend Propuh. We have drafts in the US, but “the draft” is only considered deadly because it used to send you to Vietnam. Drafts are more like gentle breezes, blowing through the windows off the shaded porch, bringing some limited respite to the brutal, scorching Oklahoma heat. And if that doesn’t work… we just turn on the air conditioning and sit in front of it.      

While my Croatian is far from fluent, if there’s one thing I’ve learned living in here, it’s that some things mean more than words. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Love, Croatian cuisine's secret ingredient.

Recently, I was on a bus to Opatija. We stopped at a cafe and I tried to get the barista to make me a produženu kavu even more “produžie” by asking her to add some more hot water. This concoction in other parts of the world is known as… an Americano! Fitting, huh. 

First, she looked at me with utter confusion, like you want me to add what to what? Then when I tried it explain in greater detail (this means I used my hands more) her confusion faded, clarity dawned and then horror. Now it was like: YOU WANT TO DO WHAT TO WHAT! I eventually got her to try it, and she put the minimal amount of hot water into the drink, but during the whole exchange I could sense her reluctance to ruin perfectly good coffee.

This is not the first time this has happened. I’ve tried this all over Zagreb and I’ve usually met with the same results. I’ve learned that it’s not that people don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s that they don’t understand why the crap I’m saying it. I feel like I’m asking them to murder somebody. I just can’t get it across that Yes, I actually want my coffee watered down. I mean hell, how else can I make it last for 2 hours? I’m an American after all.   

Croatia is a land of foodies. People here have a great pride in their cuisine. And they should, the food is great. The quality is generally much better than the plastic GMO food I buy at my neighborhood Walmart in Oklahoma. The diet is largely mediterranean, which is all the rage right now in the US. An expensive, special diet for HollyWood movie stars is just what Croatians call eating. In Croatia, food is as much an expression of culture and identity as language and uh… klapa are. As a result, it’s hard to “have it your way” when it comes to gastronomy.

It’s the same in the home. Preferences are ignored by the chef (usually punica). You cannot have x without y (even though you literally can, you figuratively can’t). I recently learned that I have an intolerance to olive oil. Now, you can imagine the complications this presents for a splitksi zet. In Dalmatia, people even put olive oil on their olive oil. Now, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s octopus by not having them put olive oil on it. But, you can see the dilemma here.Which is worse, octopus without olive oil, or a hungry son-in-law? Both are mortal sins.

And it’s not just around our dinner table. A friend told me she is always sneaking things into her father and daughter’s food, even though she knows both do not like these clandestine ingredients. Her justification: when you make x, it has to have y. 

This is just one more consequence that comes with the heavy hand of hospitality. Just like you can never leave the good time (see Party Breaking), you are never allowed to “ruin” your own meal. In the US, I would think that someone who doesn’t honor my humble request is actually showing me some strong personal indifference or disrespect. Here, it’s actually the exact opposite. Love and respect, these are the main ingredients in Croatian stubbornness. 

"I come with olive oil!"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Bureaucratic Wastelands

This post is about bureaucracy. It will be a long, ponderous piece with little or no point. Bureaucracy, anywhere, is unpleasant. In Croatia though, it seems especially painful. This is because our fates are irrevocably intertwined with the mystery that lurks within the bureaucracy. We have no choice but to traverse those labyrinthian corridors and stand in the long lines, searching, waiting for answers. There is no escape.
In my experience, discussions over coffee can easily involve a friend’s bureaucratic problems. Ask how a friend is doing and you are very likely to get a story about how she is some kind of bureaucratic purgatory, waiting for someone, in some department somewhere to do something that will move her life along. Housing permits, working permits, being able to graduate, seeing a specialist, receiving a paycheck, all of these often hinge on the bureaucracy. 
Who’s Driving This Thing?
In each case there is a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the fate of these friends. No one really knows what the problem is with their specific situation or who is actually responsible for resolving it. In a monarchy, I guess responsibility resides with the king. In a bureaucracy, the bureaucratic state, responsibility is so defuse it resides with no one. I have the feeling that under these conditions any bureaucrat that attempts to burden any of the responsibility for a decision, risks undermining the whole enterprise and the system’s wraith. Or maybe, they don’teven know what to do. 
 You ask the impossible
I think one of the key negative traits of a bureaucracy is when it asks you to provide the impossible. I have the feeling that we can be asked to perform miracles (walk on water, raise the dead) just to get some vital document. One timeI waited four months for a paycheck because the accounting office demanded that I produce a JMBG (Unique Master Citizen Number). I have an OIB (a personal identification number), but that wasn’t good enough. I also needed a JMBG, which was kind of hard since I was born in Oklahoma, not Croatia or even Yugoslavia. 
But apparently, I was more responsible for where I was born than the person, whose job was to pay people, was… for… figuring… out… how to pay people?  It was only after I inquired about getting a JMBG at the Ministry of the Interior, and at my bank, that the accounting office finally accepted what I had told them at the beginning: legally, metaphysically, logically, I cannot possibly have a JMBG. 
Could it be easier?
Now, if we live in a modern state we have to have bureaucracy. We can aspire to the kind Max Weber advocated, a hierarchical system, governed by clearly defined rules. Or, we can get the kind Franz Kafka wrote about, opaque, formless, and well, eerie. 
Some simple changes might make it nicer. Let’s remove the big glass barriers between the bureaucrats and us. What are those things even for? Sneeze guards? Not being able to clearly hear the person you are talking to certainly adds to the whole affair’s frustration. Or how about those doors that only open from the inside? I’ve never seen anything like that until I came to Croatia. If we can’t have real openness and accountability, let’s at least have its aesthetics. Give us the illusion of a light at the end of this maze. That, would be a start.
This post originally appeared on my blog on The Voice of Croatia/ Glas Hrvatske: 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Unreality TV

Most American TV is not an accurate portrayal of US society. I know, I know… sorry to ruin your day. The violence, the crime scene investigators, the people preparing for the end of the world, all that might be closer to the truth. Where American TV goes wrong is in its depictions of life in sitcoms. In my experience there are few, if any, places where everyone knows your name. 

It was only after I moved to Croatia in 2011, that I started to see the unreality of American sitcoms. While these shows are far from reality in the US, the way of life on all of these shows began to look suspiciously familiar. I realized US sitcoms are actually about life in Croatia! Don’t believe it?  Here is some evidence. 

Another reality TV

On Sex and the City, Carrie and her gal friends sit in restaurants, cafes, or bars,  sharing heartfelt tales of heartbreak sprinkled with sexual innuendo. Sitcoms also involve going to the same cafe/bar over and over again. On How I Met Your Mother the gang spends most of their time drinking with each other in the neighborhood bar. On Seinfeld Jerry and friends are always at a place that’s simply called “Restaurant.” Look familiar? Yes, this is just like having coffee in Croatia. When is the last time you went some place new?

Then there is the very “involved” neighbor, like Urkel, Gibbler, or Kramer, who comes over all the time, often unannounced. And perhaps most notably on many shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, Fraser, and The King of Queens there is an older, aging, dominating, family member that constantly “complicates” things, especially for the male protagonist.  

We don’t really do that.

From the vantage point of a sitcom it looks like Americans spend all their free time socializing over one kind of drink or another, live with their relatives, and go to the same place again and again. If you replace socialize with watch TV, place with living room, and drink with pizza, then sure, we do that. Having coffee is rarely like it is imagined on Friends, sitting around, and you know, drinking coffee. Life in the US is hectic, often rushed and very rarely does anyone seem to have time for sitting around drinking coffee. If anything, you get it “to go” and talk to your friends on your mobile, while driving to your next appointment. Neighbors? I hardly even knew their names. Living with family members? No. Out of three siblings only one of us lives in the same state as my parents.

We Aspire to be Croatians?

Think about what is says when the ideas of levity, humor, laughter and comedy on American TV really resemble life in Croatia. Maybe this explains why I love living in Croatia so much. Countless hours of American TV have taught me that this is actually what life should be like. Based on our sitcoms you could argue that in the US we want to have a life like life in Croatia. Frustrating? At times. Complicated? A little. But ultimately, it’s a good time. In middle English, the word comedy was used less to depict a humorous event, but instead referred to a play or poem that had a happy ending. In that sense, I believe life in Croatia, a life with friends, having coffee, friendly neighbors, and even punica, can be truly comedic.   

(This piece was originally published on my blog for the Voice of Croatia)