We arrived in Zagreb in September 2015 and I thought it would be great if Jaime would somehow sum up his first year in Croatia and share it with you guys. He pretended he was on it, but the year has passed and it seemed the second will pass too. Finally, we sat down and I asked him 15 questions to illustrate what was his first year as a Croatian expat like.
1 What do you like the most about Croatia and your life here?
Croatia is great, there is a lot of interesting things to do and visit, you can not get bored. I love the fact you can go to the mountains or to the coast in the only few hours (in Mexico everything is far), or you can have a great time in one of many Zagreb parks that Zagreb has. If you wish to have just a normal day, you can practice Croatian coffee culture, slow down and grab a drink with a friend.
2. How did you adapt to the Croatian way of life?
I think I’m doing great! Last year I had some issues dealing with the cold weather but this year I’m handling it like a local. The language is still an issue but I understand Croatian much better. From time to time, I even surprise Maja because she did not expect me to understand something. She needs to be careful now!
3. What’s your favorite Croatian food?
Favorite food, hmm that’s a tricky question, I like lots of things, but I will go for Croatian barbecue (roštilj), ćevapi, baby pork (odojak), kobasica, and fritule.
4. What are the biggest differences between Croatia and Mexico?
The language is very different – that’s my biggest problem hahaha. The second thing is the weather, here it can be anywhere from -5 in the winter to +35 during the summer and in Oaxaca it’s always just hot. I saw my first snow here. But in Zagreb, there is no crowds or traffic like in Mexico and the life in much calmer and safer in general.
5. What’s your favorite thing about being an expat in Zagreb?
Favorite thing… I would say it is the opportunity to learn so much about a new culture and practice the traditions completely different to the ones I was used to.
6. And what’s the worst or hardest?
This answer will be relative, since every day we face the new challenges, we overcome it and face the new ones. At the beginning, I thought that the language is crazy but now after a year it is not so scary anymore. Last year I could not bear the cold, but you know what – this year it’s not so bad. I used to miss the spicy food, but I found different sauces and my mother in law started to grown our own chilies. Today’s fear becomes tomorrow’s joy, that’s my new motto.
7. What do you miss the most from Mexico?
I miss my family, friends, tacos and tlayudas.
8. Which custom and habits do you find the most awesome in your new country?
I really like how the people here enjoy outdoors activities and I’m happy because the air is much cleaner than in Mexico City. During different seasons you can find many interesting activities, for example, now you can visit the Christmas markets in Zagreb, during summer you can enjoy the parks or the coast and attend some of many festivals and happenings all around Croatia.
9. And which ones are the most strange or the weirdest?
The weddings are weird. People have their roles, for example, there is a guy waving the national flag and he is often the drunkest person at the party. Also, there is a tradition when the best man needs to “buy” a bride for the groom. As he starts to bid and offer low amounts, all he gets are guys dressed as a bride, as the price gets higher the bridesmaids start to get out until he offers something the bride’s family can’t offer and he finally gets a bride for his best friend.
10. What were your first days in Croatia like?
My first days were full of the excitement, I had so many new things to learn and see. We were visiting many locations, museums, churches, parks, towns, … while we were making sure everything will be ready for the wedding. In the end, I was completely exhausted.
11. How would you sum up your first 6 months here?
Firsts months were like a sugar rush, everything happened so fast. The things started to calm down after the wedding and I could focus on starting my life here. I started to look for a job more seriously because I was bored of being all the time at home. In the meantime, I was studying Croatian and doing exercise, but I wanted a job. Lucky me, I got a good job offer and by February I was working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t start before because I didn’t have my residency permit yet.
12. Describe a funny situation you found yourself in because of the language or cultural differences?
The very first time I went to have a haircut all by myself, I went to a hair salon and I said: “Oprostite, dobra večer, govorim malo hrvatski, ali trebam šišanje, hvala” which means “Sorry, good evening, I speak a little bit of Croatian but I need a haircut, thank you”. The lady who was there started to talk a lot telling me things I didn’t understand so at the end of her talk I just stopped and said: “da ili ne?” (yes or no?). She said ne. So I left and I went to another one and the same story repeated until somebody said yes. The lady asked me which haircut I wanted so I took a photo from my wallet and I showed to her. Then she tried to make conversation but I have no idea what she was talking about hahaha.
13. What do you think, how do the people see you here?
I think that they are still seeing me like an exotic person hahaha, there are not so much Mexicans here. I think around 50 Mexicans are living in Zagreb but I haven’t met them all.
14. What were your first impressions about Zagreb?
When I was in the airplane the first thing I saw was Medvednica, the highest mountain in Zagreb, and I thought it’s great because it is so close to the city. Maybe someday I could go there to run or to ride a bike. Right after we landed to Zagreb, I started to feel weird because everything I saw I couldn’t read or understand hahaha. Also, I got surprised how Croats love to drink coffee, they can spend hours with one cup of coffee, while I drink the same in 10 minutes. Zagreb is a fascinating city and I still have a lot to discover.
15. Which advice would you give to somebody who just came to Croatia?
I did not know this until only a few months back, but it is important. If you like to do the workout in the outdoors, I assume you do not carry anything with you. Well, try to remember to take your ID because if the police ask for your identification, you would get fined with 1000 kunas fee if you do not have it.
Do not get annoyed by the bureaucracy. Every bureaucratic process is long and probably you would need to go to the same office couple of times. Check in advance online what exactly do you need or ask to someone, especially if you do not speak Croatian. You are going to waste less time like this.
But, Croatia is a wonderful place so enjoy it to the maximum. Just be careful of propuh, I heard it can kill you easily! 😉
PIN it for later!
Thanks for sharing.
Christmas is only a couple of days away! After Maja shared how they are spending holidays in Croatia, I will tell you something about Christmas traditions in Mexico and how my family celebrates this holidays in Oaxaca, Mexican state in the south of the country.
Holidays officially start on December 1 when we start to decorate the house. We buy the prettiest pine on the local market and start with putting the decorations up. In my house, we have the custom to decorate it with golden ornaments and many white lights placed around it. Underneath the tree we place a tablecloth, next to it a small Christmas village and behind it the nativity scene.
Christmas Tree © Mexatia
Days before Christmas in Mexico are full of festivities. From 16 to 24 of December we hold traditional parties called “Las Posadas”. These nine days represent nine months of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. Traditionally, during the posada, the whole family gets together and perform the biblical journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We are walking around the block while singing Christmas songs and lighting sparklers and candles. When we reach the house, we split into two groups (the hosts and the guests) and we recreate the moment when Mary and Joseph were looking for a shelter (in Spanish posada means inn).
The special song called “pedir posada” is sung, asking the hosts to open the door of the house. The doors are opened and celebrations can start with breaking a piñata (or few of them) and serving traditional food and drinks. We usually eat Mexican snacks as medias tortas with beans and cheese, tostadas, atole, ponche de frutas, and candies. Between friends is common to have skipped the peregrination and go directly to food and drinks.
During the whole month, you can try traditional “buñuelos” which are like a big sweet tortilla. You can eat it with honey or special pinky sugar. If that is not enough sugar for you, you can accompany it with a cup of hot artisanal chocolate, atole or champurrado.
Read more: Christmas traditions in Croatia
You might ask why piñatas for Christmas? Well, the original piñata was shaped like a star with seven points. Each point represented one of seven deadly sins. Piñatas are always made in bright colors and they look very attractive, which was a symbol of temptation and sins. Kids are usually hitting piñatas blindfolded which represent the will to overcome the sin.
Once you break the piñata (or when your faith overcame the sin), you will receive the rewards of the heaven, or in this case toys and candies. Back in the time, piñata were used as an allegory to help to evangelize the native people of Mexico. Because of that relation with the church, piñatas are still used for Christmas. However, today people buy any shape they can find, it is not only the star anymore.
23rd of December in Oaxaca there is a contest called “Noche de Rábanos” (Night of the Radishes). It is an opportunity for craftsmen to create amazing figures or historic scenes from the radish. The locals and thousands of tourists come over in the evening to admire their work. This event has its origin in the colonial period when Spaniards introduced the radish to Mexican people.
Oaxaca has a long wood carving tradition and a long time ago farmers started to carve the radish as well in order to get customers’ attention during the Christmas period so they would buy their wood products as well. Since 1897 there is a formal competition. It looks amazing so that evening you can enjoy their creativity, fireworks and also you can buy some of the handicrafts. However, the radish gets dry pretty soon and they wilt so the exposition lasts only for few hours. Also, you can’t eat the radish afterward because, in order to grow fast and big for the contest, they are full of chemicals.
Christmas day is marked by preparations for Christmas dinner. In the evening the whole family arrives at my aunt’s house and we celebrate our last posada. This posada is different because that was the day when Jesus was born. By tradition, posada is supposed to be celebrated at midnight, be we always do it a bit earlier, around 10 or 11 pm.
Each family has a sculpture of baby Jesus and after the last posada women take the sculpture in their arms and they sign a lullaby for him, playing a role of Mary. This tradition is called “arrullo del niño Dios” (it’s time to sleep baby-God). After the song, they place the baby into nativity scene and it is time to have dinner. We serve lots of different dishes like turkey, lamb, cod, salads, pork and other. I always eat a turkey leg, as you can see in the photo. 🙂 Again we smash a couple of piñatas and enjoy fireworks.
Read more: Winter wonderland in Croatia – Salaj’s Family Winter Fairytale
Christmas Dinner © Mexatia
On Christmas day we have lunch at my parents’ house. Mom usually makes “romeritos“, southern Mexican dish. Again the family arrives and celebrations continue, but it is a bit quieter because everyone is tired from last night. Stores already start to offer big discounts, so sometimes we even go to the mall to buy some things, for example, cheap Christmas decorations for next year.
New Year is a little bit different than Christmas. Usually, we celebrate Christmas with mom’s side of the family and New Year with dad’s. We prepare dinner at home and how the night goes on, my father’s brothers and sisters join us. We dinner pasta, cod, and salad. At midnight, or to be more accurate – 12 seconds before midnight, we eat one grape each second. Each grape represents one month of the upcoming year and for each, we make a promise or we ask for a wish for this new year in front of us. It is very common to promise you will do exercise, lose some weight, eat healthily or wish to get a better job, be healthy or find the love of your life. When the clock strikes midnight, we make a toast, hug each other and congratulate. The dinner continues until 2 or 3 am. As you can see, it is not common to go out and party, we traditionally spend the evening with family.
Each grape represents one month of the upcoming year and for each, we make a promise or we ask for a wish for this new year in front of us. It is very common to promise you will do exercise, lose some weight, eat healthily or wish to get a better job, be healthy or find the love of your life. When the clock strikes midnight, we make a toast, hug each other and congratulate. The dinner continues until 2 or 3 am. As you can see, it is not common to go out and party, we traditionally spend the evening with family.
Holidays magic ends with January 6, “Día de los Reyes Magos”. It is a day when all good kids receive presents (like Santa Claus) and they are playing with them the whole day. In the evening we enjoy “Rosca de Reyes”. It is some kind of bread that looks like a big and very tasty donut. Inside of it are hidden 3 little toys. Each person cuts their piece of bread and if you get the toy you need to make tamales and atole on February 2, “Día de la Candelaria”. We usually eat this bread while drinking hot chocolate and after everyone says is time to start the diet 🙂
Which Mexican tradition do you like the most? How do you celebrate holidays in your country?
Thanks for sharing.
Bok, ja sam Jaime or hello, my name is Jaime in English 🙂 Yes, the same Maja writes about. I moved to Croatia, and after a while, I decided to write something about my experiences here in my new hometown Zagreb! So I was writing my first post when I realized… Hey, nobody knows me, so how to write new things on this blog when nobody knows anything about me, it is like to arrive at a hotel and take a room without check in, so I will give you a quick intro. So I am Jaime Martínez, a Mexican from Oaxaca de Juarez, a very beautiful city located in the south of Mexico. As you know, now I am living in Zagreb, Croatia with Maja, my wife.
We ready for the take off in CD MX © Mexatia
After spending a great summer in Mexico, it was time to leave. It was September 4 and it was our last night in Mexico City. We decided to leave with style so we booked a room for in amazing Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico (if you saw Spectre, you could see James Bond staying in this hotel as well!). We booked a flight through British Airways so to reach our final destination we had a long, overnight layover in London. On the bright side, since we arrived in London in the afternoon, we had some time to go to the city and visit some of its iconic landmarks. In London, we stayed at Hilton’s Garden Inn Heathrow Hotel which was excellent for a layover. I had a very good rest but Maja did not even close her eye because of the jet lag. Super early next morning, we were already on the way to Heathrow again. Grabbed an expensive breakfast, crossed the security control and in a blink of an eye we were in the airplane again, ready for the takeoff.
The flight from London to Zagreb was amazing because you cross over the Swiss Alps and you have an amazing view. I told to Maja that we need to come here next time to ski, but she looked me weirdly and said: “Start to work harder, even normal Swiss people do not ski here.”. When we were somewhere over Austria, I thought how maybe we can ski here. 🙂
Crossing the Alps © Mexatia
Occupied by thoughts like that and after short 3 hours, we were in Croatia. Maja was excited and she started to talk about Zagreb, showing me where city center and the hill Medvednica are. The plane landed and I immediately started to worry about three things:
- Did our luggage arrive in Zagreb and did it survive the flight? In Mexico we got lots of different information prior the flight and, even the lady claimed she checked in the luggage until Zagreb, we were not 100% sure the luggage was not stuck somewhere in London or in some other part of the world.
- If the luggage was there, I was just hoping the customs would not stop us to check all the luggage, because we really had a lot. My whole life was coming with me.
- It was time to meet Maja’s parents for the very fist time!!!
Maja is already a professional in arriving back home so we were the very first ones in passport control and first ones waiting for the luggage. I saw people getting their luggage and leaving. People were leaving one by one and our bags still were not here. Suddenly I saw the first bag! I run to pick it up when I saw second, third, fourth… We were passing the customs with two cars full of baggage. Police office stopped Maja and, when I was almost ready to open all the locks on our bags, he let us go after a short chit chat with Maja.
Enjoying layover in London © Mexatia
Her dad was waiting for us. I approached him and I told him: “Don Darko it’s a pleasure to finally meet you!” while giving to him the hand and a hug like a family. Well, that was the original plan but what really happened was a handshake in a very awkward silence. I was so nervous and I think he was too. While we were driving home, I felt so weird. Everything was so different, it was a completely new city with a lot of green fields, traffic signals in a language that I couldn’t pronounce, Maja and her dad speaking a language that I couldn’t understand… and there was no traffic on the road.
We arrived at my new home. Her mom was there waiting for us with Frida, the dog. I think she read my mind because she did everything I planned to do with Maja’s dad. She told me “Welcome home, Jimmy!”, hugged me and kissed me. Frida was so excited Maja was there that she forgot to bark at me. 🙂
When I was crossing through the main door, I felt ready for this new adventure. I was not alone like when I arrived in Madrid. I was going through life holding the hand of my pretty (soon to be) wife.
If you like it, PIN it!