Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tourists Have Already Descended on Zadar

Holy cow, has the tourist season started...or WHAT! There are what seem to be a million foreigners all over the place. What's remarkable, however, are not simply the numbers of early tourists but also their composition. Easter to May are considered the shoulders of ˝the season,˝ meaning, the prices still haven't hiked to their summer peak. Usually, we get the Polish, Czech...Hungarian tourists during these months. Then come the Germans, Austrians, Australians, Americans/Canadians & French, followed by the Italians in August. By the end of the season - again, the shoulder - you start to see Czech, Polish & Hungarian tourists again. This year, however, is COMPLETELY different. We are already overrun with Germans and Austrians...some Australians/Brits & French.

Of course, the Croatian media is eating this up. ˝See, there's no crisis in Croatia....˝ in I-told-you-so fashion.

Au contraire.

My theory is this: I think that we are going to continue with this overwhelming blitz of early tourism before the prices spike to high heaven and then tourism is going to crash and burn. Look. It's no secret that it's cheaper to go on vacation to a warm destination in the off-season....even if it's only slightly off-season. It's an 8 hour drive from Munich to Zadar...the weather's great here. Some people are already swimming (I can guarentee that it's the tourists who are swimming this early because no local would so much as dip a toe in the sea, right now). But the snow birds are thinking...Why not head down in April or May, avoid the crowds, the exorbitant prices and we STILL get a taste of the sea for our vacation.

We'll see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Story of Corruption

We got a call from a friend of Husband's the other day. They've known each other for twenty or so years. He's the CEO of a very large company in Croatia and was in town (our town) for some business. The transaction was that his large company was buying up a small local company so he was in town to finish the deal. However, there was a final twist that he couldn't have anticipated, he told us. At the end of the day, this small-ish local business owner made a sort-of ˝thank you˝ speech - lauding this friend of ours for being very fair to his company in their dealings together. At the end of the speech, he reached out and handed our friend an envelope. Inside the envelope was 15,000 euros. This local business owner explained that it was a thank you from him and that when the deal is final at the end of the week...he'll give him another 10,000 euros. (I'm sure the 25,000 euro ˝thank you˝ would demand repayment sometime in the future - by, who knows what - maybe by hiring his nephew to be the Plant Director or something of that ilk).

Our friend was pretty disgusted with the whole thing. And while, he heads one of the largest companies in Croatia, he's got a North American work ethic and so these business-as-usual practices here seem to shock him time and time again. Of course, he refused the money and told us that he wondered how many of his employees - below him - had taken their envelopes through the months of putting this deal together. I'm sure there were plenty. I wish I could say that we were shocked, but that would be a lie.

Even in my short time in Croatia, I've seen - just in our daily life - corruption. From the local accountants who will charge us 4 or 5 times the going rate for their services under the rubric that ˝these people obviously have more money, so they should pay more for those services.˝ That mentality as common as rock in these parts. One of the most stark examples of corrupt behavior happened right after we moved to Croatia and bought a boat. When we went to pay our taxes on that boat, we were told by this tax person, ˝oh no, it's quite impossible for us (the tax authority) to determine what you owe...but here (as a scrap of paper was slide across the counter), call him...he'll come out to the boat and appraise it.˝ Of course, we PAY for that appraisal - and this tax person gets some of that money. Well, obviously this didn't pass the sniff test so made a call to the previous owner of the boat - who called the tax office in his town. And this guy cheerfully faxed over the specs and taxes owed on our boat to our local tax person.

Oftentimes, we hear from people here ˝well, there's corruption everywhere...˝ And yes, there is corruption everywhere. But it's not standard practice - everywhere. And even in egregious cases in the U.S., like Enron for example...people go to jail. And perhaps, most importantly, IT IS ACTUALLY A SCANDAL in the public forum. Meaning, members of the general public don't shrug their shoulders and say...ha, corruption is everywhere.

Instead of wanting a piece of rock, like the old Allstate ads, my husband always says ˝everyone wants a piece of the rot...˝

Sad but true.