Cody McCLain Brown holding a potato.
Back on a visit to the US, I was overwhelmed by how quiet my parent’s house could be. In the middle of the summer, in the middle of the city, you could actually sit on the couch and hear… nothing. This is impossible in Zagreb or Split. The sound of silence is something unheard of in Croatia.
Even though there are only 4 million people in this country, it feels like there is always someone bumping, thumping or talking nearby. Whether it’s someone’s washing machine running at night, or a pair of heels tapping in a rush to work in the early morning, life is filled with telltale signs of the living.
Sounds of life
In the warmer months, when the windows are opened, you get to experience a buffet of noises, like your neighbor’s choice in TV shows, gossip on the bench below, the football match playing at the nearby cafe, and the ever present drone of the scooter that delivers pizzas at midnight and newspapers at dawn. Not to mention the music from passing cars, the rattle of passing trams, barking dogs, fighting cats and clanking bottles as the destitute dig through the trash. Such are the sounds of the Croatian summer.
Summer of Solitude
There are no similar seasonal sounds in the American mid-west. The heat and the (gargantuan) bugs keep our windows closed. Life stays on mute. We fall asleep to the low hum of the air conditioner running in the distant recesses of the house.
The American summer can feel lonely. In Croatia, the daytime and nighttime noises serve as a link, as if we can see and feel all that is going above, beneath and before us. Meanwhile, in the US we are sealed in our own world, alone and isolated. In the vacuum of space no one can hear you scream. In a hot American city, no one can hear you live.
As much as I can enjoy this “connection” with all the surrounding life in Croatia, there are times when you wonder how stupid someone has to be to be that loud. There is a sort of Croatian intelligence test that many people fail. You wonder how can some (mostly young) people be so oblivious to their audible footprint. If you can hear me, that means I can hear you. Yet, this doesn’t stop people from yelling their conversation as they walk through the street, laughing and (literally) partying around a bench at 3 AM.
How to say “shut up” in Croatian.
The tricks I’ve been taught at how to deal with these disturbers of the peace are the best part. Among the neighbors there seems to be a form of solidarity between those who know how to be quiet and those that don’t. Gossip abounds. I’ve been advised to dump water on people, toss eggs out the window, and even chuck a potato at the gang in the BMW that pull into the parking lot late at night, blaring “folk” music and yelling their drunken goodbyes. Nothing demands silence than an errant potato flying through the night. The assailant is of course shrouded in the anonymity of the million open windows of the socialist apartment building.
I usually just opt for telling them to be quiet. And nothing works better than an odd American telling someone to shut up in bad Croatian after midnight.
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. Here is a link to this blog in Croatian.