Friday, May 18, 2007

A Taste of Croatia

Today is our fifth day in the beautiful city of Zagreb which is located in the northern Croatia. So far experience has far exceeded any of our expectations. Each day we have a different agenda and we have seen everything from high fashion busy urban life to mountain villages with a population of 16. We (the students) observe these environments and analyze the environments from the perspective of each of our areas of interest. It has been a very eye opening experience to observe another culture and see the public health implications on their society versus our own.

The city has a rich history and has gorgeous architecture. It is an interesting balance of contemporary architecture and with well preserved historical buildings. They are making huge efforts with much success to revitalize their country from the hardships faced in recent years.

Life in Zagreb is relatively relaxed. It is definitely a busy city, but the locals do not go too long before taking a break to sit at a cafe and drink espresso with a friend. It is not uncommon to see students and business people at cafes in the middle of the afternoon. We were told by a local that 'we are not as carefree as the Italians, but we are definitely more laid back than Germans.' There are outdoor cafes literally every few hundred yards and they all stay busy. The night life in Zagreb is very lively as there are many students and young adults in the city to go to the local bars and clubs. Smoking and alcohol use is very prevalent in all age groups in Croatia and this is perpetuated by such a highly social environment. As with most places in Europe, smoking is allowed pretty much anywhere and that definitely takes some getting used to.

Zagreb has a very dense population and while there is heavy traffic in the city, the majority of people walk everywhere they need to go during the day. This helps answer the question of why so few people we see have weight problems. Food is a major part of the culture here and it consists very heavily of meat and potatoes (not to mention the other three courses that they bring) and we were slightly perplexed as to how people stay so thin. After talking to our resident Croatian expert, Tihanna, we learned that physical appearance is very important to most in the city (we quickly picked up on that because we looked like complete bums compared to everyone else) and people are very active due to the fact that they walk everywhere. Statistics are showing, however, that with increased urbanization in the area, obesity is becoming a problem.

The food that we have been able to experience so far has been wonderful! As I mentioned, bread, meat and potatoes are the menu of choice, but all the ingredients are very fresh and they get a good balance of fruit and vegetables in the other courses. We have learned that Croatians are obsessed with making sure you are never hungry, thirsty, or uncomfortable in the least. They really take pride in treating guests like royalty.

Upon initial observations and a little bit of research, the main health problems this society faces are CVD, cancer, and traffic accidents. The first two make sense due to the incredibly high smoking rate and alcohol use and the heavy traffic in the city with little presence of law enforcement explains the traffic. The use of mopeds is increasing and they seriously complicate traffic issues.

There is so much to report on and we are going to try to break it up to not overwhelm you with information. In the next posts we will tell you about our visits to nearby villages and try to illustrate how huge the divide is between rural and urban life in Croatia. We were all blown away by what we saw. We will also have pictures soon!!

Thanks for reading and let us know if you have any questions.


Judy Riley Bland said...

Sounds wonderful just wish we were there. Learn how to relax like the Croatians! It is amazing how we have gotten used to people not smoking in the USA in most places, that is one positive health achievement to our credit! Now if we can get more of us to walk instead of burning $3.25 gasoline in our cars all the time...which is what it is now at some gasstations. Email some pictures when there is time! Judy Bland

Bunny Fuller Harris said...

Zagreb must be beautiful! Sounds like they take the time to enjoy the view; sitting in a coffee shop during the week sounds relaxing. Look forward to reading more about the trip. Bunny Harris

Katie said...

Your blog is really interesting! Croatia is not a country I've heard a lot about in the past, so I've enjoyed reading about what it's like there. Have a good time and keep posting - I'll be reading!
Katie Harris