Cody McClain Brown with some books.
In the US when you get a job, it can be a big deal. In Croatia, when someone gets a job it’s like winning the lottery (except there is usually not very much money). It looks like one of my three part-time jobs has become a full-time job. Next year I will be a fully employed lecturer for English in the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb. For a foreigner living in Croatia this is not only a big deal, it’s like a miracle.
What makes this event seem even more miraculous than simply finding a job in an anemic economy, is that this occurred amid the intense skepticism of my friends, family and colleagues. Whenever the topic of my candidacy for this position came up, the air blackened with clouds of gloom generated by the discussion of how corrupt, bias, and broken the system was, never mind the economy. Hands of resignation were raised, brows furrowed, and friends offered their apologies for the problems of employment in Croatia. My attempt to find steady employment was seen as a quixotic exercise in frustration and futility.
Far From Perfect
Now, I’d like to say I told you so, and that it was my belief in a just and perfect world that brought me to this happy resolution, but I was never that naive. Such gloating would be unfair. Yes, there are problems when it comes to employment in Croatia. Thousands are full time workers with only partial employment and many others are hired through connections and nepotism.
A Greek Chorus of Doubt
Yet, In a perfect example of the irony that imbues Croatian life, the very naysayers where also the ones who helped me the most. Some helped get me the job on a part time basis in the first place, helped translate my materials, navigate the bureaucracy, and reassured me that right was on my side even if the odds weren’t. Still, with all of this tangible, material support, my friends and colleagues also served as a Greek chorus in an unfolding tragedy, constantly trying to lower my expectations before it was too late.
A Foot in the Door
This attitude is one of the most significant differences between Americans and Croatians. In the US we have the expression “to get your foot in the door.” This can mean several things. It can mean that crossing the threshold is just the first step in a process. It can mean that your foot is preventing someone from shutting the door in your face. Placing your foot between the wall and fate’s slamming door is a way to demonstrate your earnestness, dedication, and resilience. I feel like in Croatian “getting your foot in the door” sounds more like a good way to get a broken foot, rather than to embark on a new opportunity.
Woody Allen said that 80 percent of life is just showing up. Putting a foot in the door helps ensure that you’ll be there when you need to be. And yes, it might mean you’ll get a broken foot, but at least you’ll know you tried. You can limp away with your head held high. Hurt and frustrated, but proud.
Life in Croatia is more about relationships than in the US. And while people are skeptical, what I’ve learned is that if you are willing to take a chance, a lot of people will take that chance with you. Having a network of friends and supporters that will put their feet in the door with you makes it harder for those on the other side to close it.
A hrvatski zet raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I am frequently shocked, confused, and pleasantly surprised about the differences between life in America and life in Croatia. This blog is an attempt to understand many of those differences. As a member of the English staff of the International Program of Croatian Radio - on the Voice of Croatia, I’m hoping to explain Croatia to the English speaking community, and maybe explain some of the English speaking world to Croatians. I also write another blog with similar themes called Zablogreb.