Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Value in Croatia
"Just let them do it..." our host whispered to her husband, "...it's what they do in America".
My wife and I had been living in our pastor's home for close to a year. They cooked for us. They paid the electric and water bills. They insisted on buying the groceries. All because we were volunteering in the church they had served in for the last 30 years.
The tradition in small town Croatia is to cook a big meal on Sundays. We're talking soup, then freshly cooked beef, pork, chicken (or all three), potatoes, freshly picked vegetables, and a homemade cake with cappuccino, coffee or tea to round things off. They don't let you stop eating either. Here your "no" doesn't mean no until you've said it at least 10 times.
So I thought it might be nice to take the burden off our hosts one Sunday and invite them out for čevapi at the only restaurant I knew of in town. After all, in America taking someone out for dinner is a nice way to show appreciation.
But after we walked out the door the pastor asked his wife "why are we doing this?" to which the aforementioned response came.
In Croatia, people kill a pig for you. They pick their own vegetables from the garden they till all year round and serve them every Sunday for lunch. They'll grow chickens in their shed out back for the May 1st barbecue. They'll collect elderberry on Saturday, cook it in the evening and serve it as juice the next day. They make jams, collect mushrooms, grow pumpkins, and find chestnuts to roast on an open fire.
And I just take them out for dinner to say thanks.
Value in Croatia is measured more by quality of effort than quantity of material goods. And you don't go to a store or a restaurant to find value here. You go to someone's house. The way one hosts shapes their identity. That's why people spend day and night in their gardens, kitchens and orchards.
When we began walking to the restaurant together, our hosts were trying to understand the value of our actions. It wasn't that they weren't grateful, or that my intentions were corrupt. It was that in their understanding, a home cooked feast trumps a pre-made meal from a stranger - no matter who's paying.
After living here for a few years, I've learned that in this context, they're absolutely right.