The Colonized Versus the Colonizer with Anna 🇫🇷🇭🇷
France x Croatia
Anna is 27 years old, half French half Croatian, and currently working as a Brand Manager at Unilever in Rotterdam.
We talked about the challenges of fitting in versus standing out, brain drain, generational trauma, and the void that is life… you know, fun stuff!
Baguettes vs. The Balkans
While both of them are European countries, French and Croatian culture are more different than you might think.
“In and of themselves, French and Croatian culture are opposing in almost every aspect,” Anna reveals. For example, Anna shares, “I see French culture as being very real when it comes to talking about emotions and being open. In Croatia, it’s a culture of not wanting people to think that you’re doing unwell.”
Anna tells me she feels more French because her mother (who is Croatian) moved to Paris when she was young and very clearly adapted to Parisian culture and fashion (did someone say tres chic?). “And obviously, I grew up there and never lived in Croatia, and my passport is French,” Anna adds. “It’s a silly thing, but I feel like it makes a difference.”
Home for Anna is… everywhere. She says, “I feel like it’s so fluid. It just depends. I go to Croatia every summer, so in the summer home feels like Croatia. But then I come back to the Netherlands and that feels like home. It’s an impossible question that I get really often. It’s a really difficult one to answer. I think of it as everywhere.”
One of the advantages of literally coming from two places is that you can be highly adaptable. Anna also finds that people who have gone to international school are more “adaptable, open-minded, and able to accept other cultures and their difference.” As someone who also went to an international school, I have to agree.
However, although we are adaptable, half-children will always exist in this weird in-between place. Anna explains:
I can easily feel at home pretty much anywhere, but at the same time always feel like an outsider a little bit everywhere. It will just massively depend on the mood I’m in and the way people are treating me at that moment.
She adds casually, “I can pretty much integrate into anything. And there are other days where I’m like, ‘I have no home and life is a void.’”
What Are You Hiding?
As a half-French half-Croatian who grew up in the Netherlands, Anna has an intriguing background, to say the least – and she speaks French, Croatian, Dutch, and English!
She remembers, however, making a conscious effort to conceal her whole identity when meeting new people. She recalls, “My mum would always tell me, ‘don’t tell too many people that you speak many languages’ or ‘don’t tell everyone your life story because people can get a bit funny or jealous about it and treat you differently if you say those types of thing.’”
It’s a weird thing to be proud of your multiculturalism and all the perks that come up with it (multilingualism, travel, a sense of worldliness), but at the same time, feel reluctant to share that and “show it off.” I’ve often found myself in situations where I’d rather not reveal my Thai/Danish nationality because I don’t want the other person to think that I think that I’m special or – *shudder* – exotic. It’s kind of messed up when you think about it. Why is it my job to make other people feel better about themselves?
Anna does the same. When asked where she’s from, Anna usually says she’s from France. But, as with many half-children, the answer always depends on who she’s talking to. Anna explains:
In France, people are really insecure about languages in general. It’s kind of a sore point because France has really bad language education and French people feel kind of embarrassed about not being able to speak English. So, I don’t really say that I can speak multiple languages to French people. But if I tell people in Croatia, you tend to get a very different response. They’re really curious to know more. There are a lot of people who haven’t traveled, so they just want to hear more about what the Netherlands is like, what France is like. They want to hang out with you more because you’re not like everyone else in the village.
The Elephant in the Room: Croatia is More Than Game of Thrones
In a story that scarily mirrors that one scene from “Mean Girls,” Anna recalls, “One time in class there was a boy who asked me why I wasn’t black. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’re from Croatia. That’s in Africa, right?’ I was like ‘Oh my god, no one knows anything about my country.’”
Okay so, I’m not as bad as that kid but if you’re like me, the main (and probably only) thing that comes to your mind when you think of Croatia is Game of Thrones.
Luckily, Anna is here to enlighten us.
She starts by discussing the generational trauma she speculates exists among Croatian people.
While it is the youngest member of the European Union and has established itself as one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations, Croatians don’t have a spotless history – like most of Europe. The Croatian War of Independence took place from 1991 to 1995 between Croatian forces (which had declared independence from Yugoslavia) and the Yugoslav People’s Army (controlled by Serbia). In Croatia, the war is primarily referred to as the “Homeland War.”
Even though Croatia ultimately gained independence, 20,000 people were killed, refugees were displaced (on both sides), and more than 20% of Croatia’s economy was ruined with an estimated $37 billion in damaged infrastructure. The Serbian and Croatian governments play nice, but they continue to file lawsuits against each other to this day.
Anna says, “Croatia’s just been through so much and we’ve closed up so much. Sometimes it feels like half of my family is, let’s say, the colonizer mindset and the other half is the colonized.” Guess which one is which.
For Anna today, “it’s always nice to go back to Croatia because people are really close-knit.” She says:
Not a lot of people can afford to leave Croatia once they grow up, so a lot of them stay. We do have a bit of “brain drain” there. There are young people who try to leave but in general, the people you grew up with are the people you’ll have around you for the rest of your life. For me, going back to Croatia is kind of nice because it’s the one place where nothing changes.
The concept of “brain drain” is a given for most half-children, I think. Brain drain is when a country’s highly skilled and educated workers move to another country, most likely seeking better opportunities and a higher quality of life. In my case, growing up in Thailand, it was never a question that I was going to leave after high school and pursue higher education somewhere else (Europe).
It turns out Croatia – and the Balkans in general – also have alarmingly high levels of brain drain, so much so that Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has called it an “existential issue.” It is currently estimated that at least 350,000 Croatians have left, equivalent to 9% of the population!
So there. Now you know a bit more about Croatia.
The Lightning Round
⏩ Rapid-fire Q&A with Anna ⏩
What’s one thing people should know if they want to visit France or Croatia?
Both countries are very beautiful, you have a lot of different landscapes to choose from (beach, mountains, countryside, forest). Croatian people can come off as harsh and abrasive, and French people can come off as arrogant and rude – so just give people a chance and get to know them.
Complete this sentence: Being mixed is…
How can people “consume” your culture(s)?
🇫🇷 France is split up into 4-5 different cultures and Paris has its own culture. If you want to learn about Parisian culture, watch any Netflix series.
🇭🇷 The Death of Yugoslavia, a BBC documentary about the Yugoslavian war explaining the history of the war and how it has shaped Croatians
What are your favorite foods from France and Croatia?
🇫🇷 Éclair au chocolat followed by a baguette
🇭🇷 Cevapcici (grilled minced meat with flatbread, onions, sour cream, kajmak (milk cream), ajvar (relish), and salt)
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