Among the many surprising facts about the natives of South Dalmatia, one particularly stands out: they don't go on vacation.
There are several reasons for this. First, summer holidays, which is the major vacation time for most of Europe, is the busiest working period for most Dalmatians, as nearly everyone is involved in tourism. Second, Dalmatians love their coast, their sea, their food, their culture - their everything, so even if they were free all summer, most of them would not leave home. I asked many locals about this and they all confirmed: why to undergo all the costs and hassle of travel only to realize that Dubrovnik is the best? And finally, Dalmatians have a mindset that often determines them to stay where they are - their attitude to life would be misunderstood in most other places of the Western world, so they stick to the best match. Home. Their windows overlooking a modest pebble beach, their fishing boats, grilled squid for dinner, half litre of red and the sound of their neighbour's ancient accordion. Life.
Back in Prague, people usually disapprove (of this explanation and my choice of Dubrovnik over Prague). They tell me, that Dalmatians are just like all southerners - cordial, lazy and relaxed, and that it is just not fair, because, well, in the end, somebody needs to make the wheels of world economy spin, and it is us, the northern inland city people! So I ask them: If someone asked you whether you preferred success over happiness, what would you say? Most people reply "happiness". First, they sense this is the right answer. Second, they recall what they have been taught since childhood: success implies happiness, or, in other words, you can't be happy without being successful first. So, whipped by ambition, you make it to a good school, get a good job, take a good loan, and have an occasional good feeling, waiting for the real happiness to occur sooner or later.
Way too often, though, happiness doesn't show up. We are disappointed, but we get used to it. Our lives are okay, after all. And, hey, we all go on vacations to beautiful places by the sea, to get legitimately lazy and relaxed for a week or two.
Perhaps this is the crucial thing I love about the Balkans, but particularly south Dalmatia: the rule of happiness over success. It took me some time to realize that, but local people don't really have any ambition, apart from the ambition of being home, relaxed and happy, to have enough time, to taste and enjoy life. People whose priority is success inevitably end up moving to Zagreb. Vienna. London. The distilled crowd that stays in their little southern bays is like the gold nuggets: it is composed of sea-loving patriots, who are in love with their town and their coast, people who are too lazy to work after lunch, but never too tired to join a spontaneous party at the neighbour’s house, to go squid fishing, to spend hours preparing proud home-cooked meals, to take a week off and go help their aunt with the vineyard or the olive harvest.
Most of them are not rich, the state of their housing and possessions is often several categories below an average city person from the north. They don't seem to notice, though. Because if you asked them, whether their purpose in life was to collect objects or great memories, guess what they'd tell you.
And one of the few remaining places in Europe where you can really live like this, get away with this conviction, is South Dalmatia. Therefore, if your holiday is now reaching its end, and you are sitting at the beach, wondering, how could you make this peace of mind survive at least the trip back home, be aware that it's most probably not going to work anywhere else. If you are serious about it, move here. Forget success. (It comes in package with the happiness anyway.)
Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through www.blankacechova.com