Signs and Symbols

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Well, by now you’ve probably read about Zagreb’s new airport and the poorly translated signs that mar its architectural splendor. For example the sign for the women’s restroom, reads ‘Toilet Women’ instead of Women’s Toilet. ‘Toilet Women’ sounds like the name of a 1970s New York punk band. Another sign for people with disabilities, just says ‘Toilet Disabled,’ as in the toilet isn’t working.

Croatia doesn’t have an image problem abroad. More and more people are learning about, traveling to, and loving Croatia. The signs are certainly embarrassing, but I don’t think most tourists really care. But you know who does care and who deserves better? Croatians. As a foreigner living in Croatia, an American no less, much of my life is filled with me defending my decision to live here. Many Croatians can’t believe it.They often ask: don’t you see how much more money you would make in the US?’ Or, ‘Don’t you see that you can’t really do anything here? And, ‘Don’t you see that nothing will ever change? The mentality makes us a poor, tiny nation.’

No, but…

Yes, I see all that, but I don’t accept it. I see many wonderful, positive things about Croatia, things I’ve written about before. But then we read about things like the signs at the airport, which embody everything my friends and family constantly try to warn me about. They represent all of the missed potential, utter incompetence, and ultimate lack of accountability that plagues Croatia.

The signage at the airport matters because it could have easily not been a problem. Seriously? In a country where so many locals speak fluent English, let alone the many native English foreigners residing here, no one in a position of influence bothered to hire any of these people to proofread or translate the airport’s signs.

It didn’t have to be like this

It would have been very, very, very, very, very easy to find a Croatian who was competent in both Croatian and English to check the translation of the airport’s signs. I know because I know many, many, many people who can, could, and would do this. I mean seriously on the list of stuff Croatia should worry about, finding competent English speakers should not be one of them. And yet here we are.

This is what is so frustrating about life here. It’s not impossible to make it better. It’s probably not even that hard. Croatia clearly has all the talent and resources to make this country wonderful. But, the power at the top doesn’t even feel the need to care. A simple task was made unnecessarily complicated, and worse.

Somebody competent could’ve had that job, but instead, for whatever reason, it was given to someone who didn’t know what they were doing. And what’s worse, they are probably still doing it. The airport’s signs are more than just signs. They are symbols of so much that’s wrong with Croatia.