Friday, January 11, 2013


A Slovene by birth, my father-in-law isn't very familiar with American jokes. So he was a little taken aback when his Mujo and Haso joke was followed by a:


He paused, thought a little bit and then replied with a hearty grin:

"Come in!"

The house erupted in laughter. "No, Dad, you're supposed to say "who's there?" one of his daughters said. The joke took on a life of its own because it was indicative of the difference between the Yugoslavian culture he grew up in and the American culture he was celebrating Christmas in.

From the meter man to the next door neighbor, in small-town Croatia it doesn't matter who you are - guests are always invited in for coffee. I learned this first-hand during my first year in Croatia.

Even if you don't call ahead of time, your instant host will invite you in as if they'd been expecting you for a week. Then they'll get you out of shoes and into slippers faster than you can say "but I just came over to drop this off." By the time you get out of there, you'll wonder what happened to the previous hour-and-a-half.

Since that first year, I've learned that what probably happened during your stay is that your host neglected their garden, their plan to pick mushrooms or the elderberry flowers they were soaking in order to make juice. Or perhaps they're even late for work or an appointment. It's no exaggeration to say that in small-town Croatia, guests are at the top of any hypothetical list of priorities. Nothing trumps the person at your door. Even if they're a stranger.

So next time someone begins a knock-knock joke, make sure you beat them to the punch line. Because in Eastern Europe someone at your door is no joke.

Monday, January 7, 2013

On Sugar, Guns and Entertainment in America

Our five month stay in New England is drawing to a close. I've had very little time to blog, and even less to articulate any differences between the world I grew up in and the one I live in now. This post is an effort to catch up. Here are a few ways America shocked me this time around.

 Why in the world is there sugar in virtually every food product in this country?

Every time I come to America I go to the doctor for a physical. And every time I see the doctor, I am reprimanded for my high triglyceride level. This time it's happened twice. In fact, according to the  doctor: "if you haven't had a heart attack yet, I guess you probably can afford another 6 weeks to try to get it down without medication."

So I got the message. No red meat. Very few carbohydrates. And no sugar.

I eliminated the sugar from my coffee. I stopped eating desert. But then I realized there's sugar in everything around here - even the healthiest cereals and breads! (Update: No sugar in Ezekiel bread.)

I must admit however, now that I'm counting calories and tracking triglycerides, it's nice to have nutrition facts on the packages of most food products and on the menus of so many restaurants. Being on this diet will be much more difficult to maintain without this handy information once I get back to Croatia.

Guns: Do you realize how crazy so much of the rest of the world thinks our gun laws are?

Just look at the London Times. Or check out how Australia dealt with similar issues. As for Croatia, even though there are numerous veterans dealing with PTSD, many with other mental disorders and just as much video game use, the murder rate is still significantly lower. It's simply much more difficult to find a gun.

Additionally, in a culture where it takes a village to raise a child, it's hard to imagine a young man being so isolated that he would be able to develop a plan to go on a shooting rampage. In fact, as far as I know, it's never happened in Croatia. Isn't it interesting to think that a country ravaged by war 20 years ago is significantly safer than "the land of the free".

Commercials: Why in the world would I waste 30 seconds of my life trying to be convinced to buy something?

That's a question I never asked growing up, but thought about every time I turned on the television or radio during my latest stay in America. In Croatia, there are fewer commercials.The European soccer league doesn't interrupt their matches to advertise. And, as I've mentioned, the weather segment is just that - a humble prediction of how warm it will be or if there will be some sort of precipitation. There's no drama. You sort of get the impression that the television doesn't mind if its channels get changed or even if it gets turned off.

Of course, here I've been scrounging to gain any extra seconds in my day I can possibly find. With four kidsfour classes and last minute things to take care of in America I hardly have time for 180054GIANT or the Geico gecko. In a culture that is so schedule oriented why aren't people protesting the massive waste of time that happens on television, radio and certain video based websites?

My guess is because we love to be entertained. The Duggars, the Daily Show and the divisional playoffs all hold our attention through the breaks because we are dependent. If there's one thing I have been reminded of while here it's been how much America wants (needs?) to be entertained.

Am I wrong?