THREE MONTHS. People, we are 1/8 of the way through our first Foreign Service tour. It seems crazy that time has gone by this quickly. In fact, I cannot believe Thanksgiving is next week. This is my favorite season, and I do miss home a TON. And pumpkin spice lattes. But mostly family.
Now that I have had a chance to drive in, explore, work in and socialize in Zagreb, I think I can give you a better idea of what the adjustments have been like. Don't get me wrong; life is fantastic. But, as expected, there were several adjustments that I am still getting used to. <- Excuse the hanging preposition - I am just chatting with you. ;)
Ok. When we go back to the States I know that the roads will look enormous and the cars colorful. Some of the roads here are so thin and windy, and people still drive aggressively. The cars on the road are generally older than you'd see back home and in black, gray, white or red (usually). Unusual colors stick out! SUVs and minivans are also seldom seen, and I do miss my Traverse (without all the POS in it).
There are a few parking lots and garages in the city, but generally parking is difficult when going somewhere. If possible, I actually opt for the bus so I don't have to pay for parking or find it in the first place. I miss just being able to jump in the car and go places. I have to plan all of my outings here.
That being said, whether I drive or take the bus, I am walking more than I used to. This is a good thing. Most places I go are a 10-20 minute walk from parking/bus stop, and it has been good to counteract the extra bread I've gobbled down with exercise.
Dogs, Dogs Everywhere
Zagreb is a super dog-friendly city. In fact, I saw a dog with its owner yesterday shopping in H&M. Looking for a winter vest like me? Perhaps. People leave their dogs outside of stores when they shop, they sit at the cafes, they walk through the parks.
Normally, I would LOVE this aspect of life in Zagreb. But, so many people leave their dogs outside all day (and some all night) that walking Guinness and Jameson has been nearly impossible. Before we left DC, the boys had grown accustomed to 3-4 walks a week. They loved it. Guinness and I were both shedding pounds.
But now we cannot walk five feet some dog snapping at us through a fence. And when the boys see other dogs, they stupidly nip at each other. It is so hard. And the roads are so small that any deviation from the sidewalk could result in an accident. We play inside and walk around our house, but I wish we had a real fenced in yard for them. Winter is coming (shameless GoT reference), and walks will be even harder in the cold.
Also, Guinness has his allergies in check but now has other bite marks and dry skin. This dog. Smh.
Food, Foreign Language and Family
I have already told you how long it takes to eat at a restaurant. But there have been other food adjustments. First, we fix breakfast at home. Just as we got used to brunching in DC, we came to a place that barely acknowledges breakfast.
Tourism has grown so much in recent years that most restaurants, cafes and bars have employees who speak English. Convenient for me. But I have run into people who do not speak English at all - or at least they will not admit to speaking it due to a lack of confidence. It makes me think back to the US. I would often hear people say, "Speak the language!" That is why I am trying so hard to learn Croatian; I want to make sure I am making as much effort as possible so I am not scolded for not learning their language!
Lastly, while out and about, I usually do not see more than two kids per family (if that)! Families are so small here compared to what I am used to in the States. Croatia is not oblivious to this fact and in an effort to grow the population, they offer THREE years of maternity leave after the third kid. (My international friends cannot even believe that maternity and paternity leave is not a benefit in the US. That is one of the only things they are not envious of.)
Taking Care of Business
There have been several times I have had to call US numbers (insurance, banks, etc.). You know how much you hate waiting times in the US? Yeah, it's even worse when you are paying international fees. There has got to be a better way. We have apps to talk to friends, but we have not found a good way to call US numbers. Toll free is not free for numbers outside of the States. Google requires a working US number last I checked, but if you have a good way drop it in the comments! It has been so hard not being able to pick up the phone and call anyone, anytime. WhatsApp and Messenger can't do anything about the time difference, though.
Speaking of business, I am still testing mine. I want to do SOMETHING online, but I am still searching for my "ah-ha" idea. In the meantime, I am writing on Built By Books, The Beauty Trials and here (obvi), and I'm growing a following on my Westie Instagram page.
I'm in two book clubs, hosting an English conversation group, taking a Croatian class twice a week, tutoring English and being an active embassy member (cooking classes and 80s party, what what!). So I am staying busy, but my goal is to be busy making MONEY with something I love doing. I have been working since age 13, so going this long without a job has been weird. When we have kids it will be nice, but right now it just feels weird.
That will be fixed once I start working at the embassy! I hope that job starts soon. I miss having work peeps.
I miss Target. We have H&M, which is nice, but I miss getting clothes, notebooks, groceries and tools all in one place. Also, Target has Starbucks, which I also miss. The malls here are nice, though, so I shouldn't complain. The prices are more than my tight-a$$ is used to paying, but occasionally I will find a good deal. People here go out in fashionable clothes, full makeup and done-up hair; I have to step up my game so I am not the "lazy American." Granted I didn't slum it in the States, but I feel 10x more guilty going out in no makeup, leggings and hair in a bun here.
I would pay a shameful amount of money for a 12-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper. And all social issues aside, I crave an Original Chick fil a Sandwich and Waffle Fries with Chick fil a sauce. I plan on visiting at least every other day while home (sort of joking). I'm sure the hubs will require some good ole American pizza while home, as well. We will be nice and chunky when we return to Zagreb. Yes, food is good here and mostly fresh, but we miss the tastes of home and options for Ethnic food like Mexican and anything Asian.
Being a Good Housewife
Most of you know that I dreamed of being a career woman. And then the opportunity to find my dream job abroad came up, and I was excited for that new experience. Now that I am exploring the latter, I realize I should keep our house in order while I am here. First thing I do when I win the lottery? I hire a staff. Outsource it, ya'll. I'm not used to feeling guilty about keeping the house in order because I usually have a full-time job, too.
We have turned a corner, though. I found a new recipe we LOVE and that I don't mind making: Chicken and Mushroom Risotto. It takes a little over an hour, but the result is so yummy. Now, I have about FOUR go-to recipes in my arsenal. Progress, folks. I am not a slave to the kitchen but I am learning to tolerate it.
Because food is generally sold fresh here (as opposed to frozen), I go grocery shopping a few times a week. Which I do not love. Going from shopping once a week or two to shopping two to three times a week has been a major shift.
As a pennypincher and coming from a country where you expect your total to be exact to the penny, the money here has been strange. Croats use kuna and lipa. It takes 100 lipa to make one kuna. For reference, it takes 6.5 kuna to make one US Dollar. The money is so inflated that when something costs, say, 19,95 kuna they round up because they do not use small coins. It is so annoying. Either use the actual amount or make your prices match the currency. I typically only use my card anyways to earn miles, but the cash thing gets on my nerves.
The pros WAY outweigh the cons, but there will always be adjustments in a new place. We look forward to the rest of our tour, traveling in Europe and sharing our experiences along the way.
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Love to all,