Visiting a country is not the only way to learn about its Peoples and cultures. I learned this when I was returning from Spain last week and was fortunate enough to miss my connecting flight in Frankfurt. And yes, I do mean to say “fortunate”. The changes in plans that happen when we travel usually turn out for our best. This one certainly did for me.

So there I was, in Frankfurt Airport, and from Thursday afternoon to Friday I ended up experiencing the cultures of Croatia and Israel (in this post I am going to write just about Croatia and Israel will be covered in another post, so stay tuned for that story). Pretty random? I see it as freaking awesome! Here’s why.

When I missed my connection on Thursday I ended up meeting a young man from Croatia named Mihel. He had missed the same flight and was booked at the same hotel as me and on the same new flight to Denver the next day. If you’ve ever traveled alone, you know how nice it is to meet and make new friends. It is a breath of fresh air to simply have company and the fun intriguing conversations that accompany getting to know someone new. For me it’s revitalizing. I never expected to experience and learn about Croatian culture, but we all take our culture with us and that was the case in meeting Mihel. During dinner at the hotel restaurant and at breakfast again, we talked about our families, our traditions, governments and even religions. Croatia is generally Catholic. It was fun to at some point talk about the mega-churches in America that Mihel had seen on TV versus the small churches that held mass each weekend in Croatia. Like many people his age, he did not attend regularly but enjoyed the holiday masses and his mother still goes weekly. My favorite was answering his question, “do you consider Catholic as Christian too?”, to which I replied, “most certainly and it’s simply a matter of traditions and someone’s preferred way of carrying out their faith, their own values and convictions”. I find these some of those most fascinating conversations to have.

I learned that in Croatia, they enjoy roasting and smoking pig similar to the culture in Spain. It’s one of their more common meats along with veal, chicken, and lamb. We strongly agreed on and laughed about the approach to life that Croatia has: common with Spain and other Mediterranean countries such as Italy,  it’s summarized simply as eat, drink, and be merry. Our conversation also turned to a sport we both loved – skiing. Mihel had originally been planning on enjoying a ski vacation in France in the coming month, but work called him to the US. So where was the next best place to ski? Well, Colorado of course! He was not the first European I had met who spoke of skiing in America being better and preferred than the skiing in Europe. More than anything though, we both agreed that both places simply had different types of vistas, party-life, and terrain – overall, they were each great places to ski. I will still have to ski Europe one day to develop and confirm my own opinions of that. Any invitations?

The most interesting subject that came up was the topic of family. I guess you could say it hit home for me. Having just spent time with my mother in Spain for the holidays, I understood even more where Mihel was coming from when he pointed out that Croatia maintains a strong sense of staying with your parents up to an older age than what is typical for Americans. My own mother and I had several conversations about this and I came to realize, I certainly have the American perspective on this; being geographically far from my family is not a big concern for me and when I was 19, I moved out of the house and out of the state for that matter. Now, my own personal view is that either approach to family is not wrong. It’s not a matter of wrong or right – it’s a matter of culture. And we need to be aware and respectful of cultures to truly enjoy and get to know people. Discussing this with Mihel definitely helped me to better understand where my mother is coming from when we interact. I could quote studies and the latest findings on this topic, but I think many of us have heard it before and we all get the gist – America is one of the few countries in the world whose majority of families do not take care of their elderly and/or live with their parents into older ages. I definitely fall into this category myself.

Now I am back home in Denver and when I look back at my trip to Spain, I feel as though I have had a taste of Croatia, like a teaser. In being friendly and sharing about ourselves, Mihel and I took our culture with us and even though we were both in Germany, we each experienced Croatia and the United States of America. It makes me proud of where I come from and confirmed once again that the greatest joy of traveling is the people we meet along the way.

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