There I was, strolling Split’s Riva with six American students, who were on a study abroad trip, when a young, blond woman, adorned in a Hawaiian jumper, approached and asked, ‘Pub Crawl Tonight guys?’ ‘Ne hvala,’ I said, and then she suddenly turned, nervously, almost guiltily away from us as if she’d made a mistake. I asked in Croatian if she spoke Croatian. She didn’t speak Croatian. She wasn’t Croatian.
Split has become a tourist monstrosity. Each time I ventured into the center with my students we were accosted by young men and women who looked like caricatures of hipsters. It was as if they’d been snatched from the streets of Brooklyn’s Willamsburg and mutated in to monsters of nuisance that stalk Diocleatian’s Palace. Stupid hats, loose tank tops and giant glasses on the guys, and cleavage revealing, unbuttoned, floral print jumpers for the girls. Each held a seemingly never ending mojito as a final touch to their ridiculous ensemble. And none of them spoke a lick of Croatian.
A Pub Crawl in Croatia is the stupidest thing ever. First off, Croatia doesn’t even have ‘pubs.’ We have cafes, so it should be a cafe crawl, if anything. But the idea of hopping from cafe to cafe is equally dumb. The whole point about drinking anything in Croatia is to do it slowly in the same place for as long as possible, or until that place closes. Then, you go get some burek in the early light of dawn. So, the fact that you have hosts of foreigners trying to get other foreigners to go on a Pub Crawl in Croatia begs the question about those tourists who go on these things, ‘Why are you here? You can get drunk at home.’
Seeds of destruction
As someone who truly enjoys telling people about Croatia and showing Croatia to visitors, whether it’s a group of American students, friends or visiting family, these people, the pub crawl owners and promoters, and the things they’re pushing piss me off. They represent the hazards of tourism. They are the little streams that seem harmless, yet eventually erode the whole. What they are selling is an import carried from other destinations that were once popular, but have now faded from the map. Now they’ve come to Croatia because it’s ‘in,’ and its where the tourist who once went to where ever now come.
By selling an inauthentic experience, something that has as much to do with Croatia as say Mars, they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. What will happen is that eventually tourism in Croatia will become its own caricature of some other place, and it will lose the very heart of what once brought tourists here in the first place: its history, culture, beauty and soul. And then when the tourists leave, searching elsewhere for that elusive authentic experience, these type of awful attractions will linger like a pestilence on a cursed and barren land.
Into the abyss
I’m afraid Split has reached the tipping point and is now on a slow descent into the abyss of industrial tourism. My wife’s hometown, a place that calls out to me as home, is withering away before our very eyes. To hear Croatian in the palace walls has become a rarity. The elegant grace of Split’s cafe culture, those long hours in the sun over a coffee have been replaced by happy hours, pub crawls, and other tacky imports that cater to the worst sort of tourist.