Sunday, 28 September 2008



I was told that this phrase is of major cultural significance to Croatians. It literally means, “it has not” but in essence conveys of a sense of “Nah. Off the menu / out of stock / in your dreams”. As with most things, until they are pointed out to one, one remains relatively oblivious to their existence. Like “street twigs”, an urban phenomenon that an Australian gentleman in Melbourne drew my attention to. These are essentially sturdy bits of plastic or metal that look like two flexible chopsticks attached at one end into a V shape and that sometimes gather in gutters. What are these things? Why, components of the sturdy brushes on the underside of those rather loud mechanical street cleaners of course.

Until I had this rather surreal conversation with the aforementioned gentleman, I had never noticed the “street twigs”. Now they seem to pop up all over the place.

And so it was the same with “nema”. Cue conversation in a cafe:

(Just imagine the following is happening in faultless Croatian. Please, try really hard to imagine that).

MM: Good evening kind denizen of Zadar. I feel the need for a refreshing class of local lager, for ‘twas a dusty day in the archives. Could you, forsooth, provide me with such a quantity of pure, liquid ambrosia sourced from the architecturally terribly interesting Central Croatian town of Karlovac?

Good Denizen or konobar (waitor): Nema.

MM: Ah. Well, perchance you have some other, equally delightful ale from this great nation of yours that will prove a suitable substitute?

GD or K: Nema.

Body language of good denizen suggests impending movement to somewhere else within the bar and a distinct lack of natural salesmanship.

MM foolishly persists.

MM: Ermm... have you got any beer? At all?

GD or K: (Sighs in a pained way, rolls eyes heavenwards and mutters...) Heineken or Budweiser.

MM: Horrified at choice of fermented cat’s urine but nonetheless doggedly persists in the face of hospitality’s nemesis... Errrmmm... Budweiser?

Cue conversation in bakery the next day at about 11am and the time when it’s chocolate or death for our plucky wanabee scholar:

MM: Oooh, any chance of a toxic chocolate confection this morning, molim vas?

Bakerette: Nema.

MM: Arrrgggh!

Alright, I shall grant you that it’s probably no bad thing that I have been denied beer and chocolate in such a manner, but still, there is a certain elegance missing from this phrase, a lack of diplomacy that might make the experience somewhat more tolerable.

Neither of these really compare to when you actually need something, say an extra blanket in a hotel in Orebić when the weather is unseasonably cold, and are denied. The housekeeper to whom the (surely reasonable?) request was made was quite emphatic about how ridiculous, presumptuous and outrageous it was. Clearly, both I and the other foreigner at the conference who needed additional insulation were scoundrels of the highest order, the sort of thoughtless individuals who would sleep with the windows open and still demand another blanket. Oh the audacity, what have the youth of today come to?! So abrupt and contemptuous was her refusal to provide the aformentioned dekke and so surprising was this to the Anglo-Saxon sensibilities of me and my fellow foreigner, both used to the more molly-coddling face of the hospitality industry rather than the Yugoslav branch represented by this formidable matron, that we politely retreated sans blanket. Needless to say, a cold night ensued.

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