Tuesday, June 17, 2008


In the Land of Croats, discerning between a compliment and an insult usually requires time, patience, intuitive skills, sharply honed skills in logic and linguistics, and a practiced ear for tone and modality. A full bottle of rakija is not a detrimental thing to have handy either. The Croatian compliment, when finally deciphered, tends to be a pearl wrapped in cobwebs of enigmas, past effronts to one's character, and dope slaps to one's self perception. To a non-Croatian, receiving a Croatian compliment or a Croatian insult seem identical. The delivery usually begins with the gradually raising of a speaker's shoulders, a increase in pitch, and an almost violent shaking of arms, which are usually in the threatening arms akimbo pose. Sometimes, the difference between the positive and the negative comments are not fully comprehended until later.
Much later.

It's been about 3 years since my family came back form a wonderful vacation in the Land of Croats. During our visit, my family had the enjoyment of meeting most of my relatives, who all happen to live in one city. One of my aunts, who happens to be the same height, about 4 ft 6 in., as most of my aunts, greeted me with a dope slap when she found out that I'd failed to teach my Ever-Loving spouse and my children the intricacies and pleasures of the greatest language in the world, Croatian. She then shook her head and called me a magarac, a semi-affectionate sobriquet that I translated for my family.

They had heard my stories of my family but had taken them in with many grains of salt, the large chunky sea salt kind. Pah! My father/husband is again with the exaggerations! The trip to Croatia was necessary simply to show them that though, yes, I do weave the stories with a touch of the Celtic (the Celts first stopped over in Croatia to plant their seed of over-the-top story telling before ending up in Ireland) tendency toward blarney, truth is at the core. Seeing my aunt jumping up with vigor to slap me upside the head was proof that my told tales bore some reality. Not having seen me in over 20 years and proclaiming me a donkey was a delicious frosting to my Croatian cake.

Not having been in the homeland for a while, I took her combo dope slap and "magarac" comment as your typical Croatian insult. Little did I realize that being called a magarac was a compliment!

I think.

An informative entry from Croatia.org is here on Joe Magarac.


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