“Wasn’t it nice to have a couple of days of rain,” said an English friend to me last weekend. I had to smile, two Englishmen adoring the fact that rain had fallen in the summer, I guess it made us feel at home. You can take an Englishman out of England but you can’t take England out of the Englishman.
There was an American sitcom that I used to enjoy whilst growing up, it was called Different Strokes. The name of the serial derives from the American phrase that means everyone has their own way of doing things or approaching life, Different Strokes for Different Folks. Or as the English would say, we all march to a different tune. I am in the front line of these differences; I have a foot firmly placed in both camps. I have firsthand experience with the nuances of life on both sides of the line.
Many of these differences I have forgotten along the journey, but catching up with this “freshmen” English friend who had just got off the plane brought many of these memories back to me. “I walked into the bathroom and couldn’t find the light switch anywhere, I ended up going to the toilet in the dark,” was his opening salvo as we enjoyed a coffee together. Ah, I remember that lesson, lesson six I believe, the light switch is on the outside. “I ordered a cup of coffee and they brought me a glass of water with it,” was the next along the conveyor belt. These small details are just second nature to me now, in fact when I don’t get a glass of water with my coffee in England I wonder why. But to this recent addition to the foreign community in Dubrovnik they were still unusual and confusing. Things which I just take for granted were being highlighted again, it was like a trip down memory lane.
“And when do all these people find time to work, unless they are all unemployed, they seem to sit and drink coffee all day,” was the next observation. Yes, that’s a classic one I hear quite often from tourists. Coffee time isn’t just a question of getting a quick caffeine drug fix; it’s more of a way of life. “No they don’t really see the point of coffee-to-go in Dubrovnik, after all where would they go!” I replied. He was trying his best to pick up the language, for which I commended him for, because he had realized without a working knowledge of Croatian his days here were numbered. And he had taken the same approach as I, be a sponge and soak up the language. This approach, whilst effective, can lead to some bewildering situations.
“I don’t know...I just don’t know, it seems that everyone I met has the same name, men and women...Jesse,” he slumped over his coffee. “Don’t worry just keep pressing on, it is hard but well worth it, and Jesse isn’t a name, it’s a greeting,” I calmed his fears. “Yes, I realise that now but I couldn’t find Jesse in any of the language books I read. That’s why I gave up with the books and took the immersion method,” was his answer. “And what’s with all the yogurt!! Eating yogurt with sandwiches, with bread, with pies, with everything, I don’t get that,” was the next detail. I had to admit that that was one particular habit that I have never understood and would never dream of adopting.
Content with the update he waved goodbye and tried to show off his Croatian by shouting after me “Jesse.” Never mind at least he was trying. As he wandered away a local friend stopped me, “got time for a coffee?” he asked. I smiled to myself thinking back at the last conversation about people only drinking coffee, and agreed. “That guy he has to be English,” was the first question, “he is wearing sandals and socks.” I hadn’t really noticed, but yes he was.
Then came the “Different Strokes for Different Folks” moment. “Why do all he English wear socks with sandals?” I had heard I a thousand times before. “For the same reason that you are wearing a vest under your T-shirt,” I answered. “But I wear a vest to soak up the sweat,” he looked confused. “Exactly,” and then I joked a little, “The English only sweat from their feet and therefore need socks to soak it up.” OK, it was a little joke but there was truth behind it. That is exactly the reason why people wear socks with sandals, to avoid getting slippery feet. I have never worn a vest under a shirt or T-shirt; in fact I don’t even own a vest, although my grandfather did, but then again I don’t wear socks with sandals either.
So I guess I am stuck somewhere in the middle between the UK and Croatia, a foot, or should I say a sweaty foot, in both camps.