Tuesday 22nd July 2014 week 161 Croatia
Give us a smile. :)
It looks as if we are the only British here, this out of a population of around 1500 campers. Obviously we are not as adventurous a Nation as we once were. There are a good number of Germans and the ever present contingent of Dutch but oddly, considering it's their own country, very few Croatians. The site comprises almost entirely of grim faced Slovenians. I say grim faced but that’s perhaps a little unfair.
Let me explain. With the exception of Parisians, who make a point of not smiling at anyone, even other French people, us Western Europeans are happy to smile at strangers. This is because we know it will more than likely be repaid in kind. Granted, that can take some believing, especially if you're travelling to work on a wet Monday morning and everyone is seemingly ignoring everyone else, but if you do reach out with a smile, others will respond with one of their own. Try it.
This is how we do it.
Obviously you shouldn't stare. Or wave. Or try and catch their eye as you'll probably just freak em out. And I wouldn't advise shouting, “Oy! You” and then smiling. This might draw unwelcome attention from the police. It has to be done subtly. Just as your eyes meet accidentally, for a brief moment, that’s when you can get away with a smile. And just a slight one, a big toothy grin will make you look barmy. Trust me, I know.
Now, with the exception of those in the front line of the tourism industry here, little of the above holds true of Eastern Europeans. I realised this, and commented on it, while on our travels in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuanian last year. Getting someone to return a smile was like pulling teeth. For a start you have to catch their eye and that’s not easy to do. They look around, past or through you more often than not. Now I know enough about human behaviour to know that’s not normal. We are social creatures and strive to be accepted. It's why we are so successful. And smiling is the most import facial gesture in our expressions 'tool kit'. It's the first one we learn as babies. In its most basic form it shows we are not a threat to those around us. It's a way of instantly communicating your peaceable intent. It implies honesty, friendliness and a willingness to accept others. Around smiling people we feel safe, we relax and drop our guard. And like laughter, it has an infectious quality.
What stops Eastern Europeans from smiling so readily is their communist political history. During the cold war we might have viewed those in the East with suspicion, but that paled in contrast to the suspicion they had for each other. Communism, by its very nature, breeds distrust amongst its followers. They never knew who they could trust, nor make friends with. Motives were doubted. You never knew if your neighbour worked for a government agency and if so which one. And would they “dob you in” for not washing out your vodka bottles?. Living under communism it paid to eat your pickled cabbage and keep your head down. You kept yourself to yourself. You gave all authority figures respect whether they deserved it or not. But as a consequence you were mean to those below you. While communism claimed to be the great leveller, it was anything but. And even though, for many eastern block countries communism is no more, old habits die hard.
Monday 21st July 2014 week 161 Croatia.
Today, the plan was to entertain you with ten interesting facts about Slovenia. Facts that you could amuse your dinner guests with, but after some investigation I realised the task of finding them would be a little too herculean even for me, so I gave up. Here’s my five, regrettably, none are conversation stoppers.
1, Slovenia is only marginally bigger than Wales and with fewer people.
2, They have a yearly cabbage festival. (Email me for dates)
3, On the island of Bled it's customary for the groom to carry his bride up the one hundred steps to the church. (A custom which would have seen me remain a bachelor).
4, Many older women seem to favour the Russian shot putter look.
5, On average they live longer than us British and yet smoke more.
Down town Ljubljana
Over the weekend, after spending two days in the capitol city Ljubljana, we left and headed into Croatia. We didn't stay any longer because we're not fans of cities, as pleasant as Ljubljana is, and the camp site was crap, noisy and expensive. While the pitch fee was a reasonable twenty six Euros a day they added a raft of additional charges. These included a booking-in fee which we've never paid before. A charge for rubbish collection, electricity, local tourist taxes, wifi and seven Euros a day to park the scooter. This made it dearer than the local motel.
No! its' not the local swingers club its their Parliament.
We we up-sticks and headed south through some attractive and quite prosperous looking countryside. At the boarder with Croatia we had to show our passports. It then dawned on me that Croatia isn’t in the EU. Driving around Europe you start to forget who is, and who isn’t part of this big happy Euro family. As we queued to show our passports I read the toll charges and discovered the van fell into the higher 'tariff 3' bracket at twenty five Kuna.
"Twenty five Kuna I exclaimed, that's a bloody rip off”. I had no idea what a Kuna was worth so was working purely on the assumption that twenty five of anything sounds a lot.
“Calm down, that's about £2.40, Hazel informed me”. That shut me up.
The Croatian immigration official took our passports, opened them, gave them a cursory look over and handed them back with a smile. This unlike British immigration officials who insist I take off my sunglasses before they will let me back into the country of my birth, in Croatia they're just glad someone wants to come in.
We headed for Selce, on the coast, for no other reason than price. All the camp-sites on the very popular island of Krk are expensive. Fine if you're on your two week vacation but not if, like us, you are on a long term budget. I should mention the island of Krk, according to Lonely planet, is not up to much, being geared up solely for tourist trade.
Camping Selce was packed. A heaving multifarious throng of caravans, motor-home, and tents, lots of tents. There was no order. People hadn't so much as parked their cars as abandoned them. You pitched where you found enough space. It was bedlam; refugee camps in war torn areas of Africa are more organised. However we were lucky, by not being choosy. We found a spot well away from the beach, near the road, not attractive, nor flat and with only partial shade but it was empty! so we set up camp.