Everybody likes a good song. But a difference between Americans and Croatians is how they enjoy that song. I’m talking about singing. I sing songs in the car, when I’m alone. Or, when I’m trying to embarrass my daughter. For example I sang The Wind Beneath My Wings to her at a-certain-Nordic-furniture store the other day. But, Croatians they sing together in groups, all the time.
Americans don’t really sing songs together. The only time I can remember singing as a group was in church or at summer camp. Whereas Croatians seem to sing in all kinds of informal settings. In Split I’ve heard a group of young people singing a Bijelo Dugme song. I’ve also heard another group of people singing ‘ that seagull song.’ In Zagreb I often hear the teenagers in the park, late at night, singing. And of course at parties there will inevitably be songs sung by the hosts and the guests.
And one summer evening in Zadar, before it was packed with crowds of tourists, I was walking through the center and heard the faint harmonies of klapa. I turned the corner and spied a group of four young men, singing in the gloom of an abandoned ruin, where the echo was nice. It was a completely organic, natural, spontaneous performance. These guys weren’t selling anything, they weren’t singing for anyone else, but themselves. It was just them singing songs about the sea. Croatians love singing a good song.
Even in my class, I had a group of students begin singing Take Me Home Country Roads, and let me tell you, being serenaded with John Denver by a bunch of Croatian students, in class, is a very awkward experience. But singing, spontaneously, in the company of friends seems to be an awkward experience for Americans in general.
A few days ago, my daughter and her friends put on a ‘performance’ and usually these things are dreadful because it’s like a play with no plot, purpose or end that we’re forced to watch. But this time they mostly sang together. They sang songs they’d learned over the past year in school. And at one point in the ‘performance’ I saw my daughter and her friends, exchange glances as they harmonized during the chorus of the song. A smile crept across their singing lips and I sensed the bond between them. I saw in that shared joy of singing a song the enduring weight of Croatian friendship.
One of themes of this blog, and my life in Croatia, is the strength of relationships between Croatians and Americans. American friendship is a much more fickle entity than its Croatian counterpart. As I watched my daughter and her friends sing in our neighbor’s living room I felt happy for her. Happy that she had friends to sing with in a country and culture where people have often sang. It made me wonder if singing was one of the secret ingredients to Croatia’s abiding relationships among friends, family, neighbors and just about everyone else?