American expat Matt is relishing the local culture in Zagreb, Croatia

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"It's pretty great here," is how Matt sums up his feelings about living in Zagreb, Croatia. He describes some of the challenges of setting up a business there, compares some aspects of local living to those of his homeland, the USA, and gives some tips on adapting to Croatian culture.
 
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Matt Hollingsworth

-Where were you born?
Lakewood, California, USA, but I grew up around SoCal, mostly in Ojai.

-In which country and city are you living now?
Zagreb, Croatia, in the suburb of Gajnice.

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my cats.

-How long have you been living in Croatia?
Almost 6 months.

-What is your age?
38.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Croatia?
More than a year ago. I wanted to leave Los Angeles, where I had been living. I visited for a full month last summer, and that helped me make up my mind.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Yes. I had to start a company here and get a business visa. It was expensive and took some patience. It was expensive because I hired a lawyer to do everything. This made it MUCH easier.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No. I just called up Allianz before I left and set up insurance with them. It was around $100 to have pretty decent coverage. The coverage is good everywhere except the States and Canada. When I got my year long visa here, though, part of it gives me national insurance here. So, I canceled my Allianz insurance after I got the insurance here.

-How do you make your living in Croatia? Do you have any type of income generated?
I work freelance for Marvel Comics as a color artist. I can do that job from anywhere with a reliable internet connection. So, I just do the same job from here. Some of that money goes to my firm here, which in turn pays me as an employee.

-Do you speak Croatian and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I'm learning. I have a full time job, so I can't attend classes full time. But I'm pretty diligent about it. I think learning the language is very important. Some people don't bother with it here because many people speak English. But this means they miss out on a lot. A lot of the older people do NOT speak English and a lot of people at markets don't either. So if you want to wander around at those outdoor markets and talk to merchants, you need to learn at least some language.

And, yes, of course, it's good to observe local customs within reason. People do some things different, of course. I recently bought a bike and bought a helmet too. The local guys were talking to me about it and acting like it was stupid to wear a helmet. I disagree and am not exactly going to act like that's some kind of custom I need to follow. They're the same with seat belts often and act offended if you wear one, like you don't trust their driving. I wear one anyway. They'll live. I don't think those are necessarily “customs.” Most customs have some root in something and are very interesting to ask them about, learn about and follow sometimes. It is the custom here to have fish on Fridays, for instance. So, naturally, if you go to the fish market Friday morning, you can find a much larger selection of excellent quality than you could on a Tuesday or something.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Sometimes. Not that much, though. I use Skype for phone calls home and it only costs 2 cents per minute. Between that and the internet I've managed to stay in pretty good contact. I miss some of my friends too, though. Not enough to move back, though. As for recreation, I honestly tend to drink a lot of beer in cafes and hang out with the locals. I also love eating at local restaurants and finding new ones. My girlfriend and I walk a lot too. We travel within Croatia a lot, taking the train to some nearby town for a day trip. And we like to ride our bikes around and wander.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I try to travel at least once a month, whether locally or otherwise. I've gone to Birmingham in the UK once and to Berlin. And around Croatia a bit. We'll visit the coast this month. Being this close to everything makes it much easier to sneak in a trip to somewhere. Croatia is very centrally located with Vienna, Prague, Budapest and other places being very, very close. I plan to eventually travel extensively in this area.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I'm currently renting but hope to buy sometime in the future. I'm in the suburbs of Zagreb, to the west. I'm about 12 minutes train ride from the center. I have a one-bedroom apartment of about 55 square meters. For all rent, utilities, internet and cable TV, I pay about $525 or so. The dollar is taking a dive right now, so it's hard to be precise, but it's around that.

-What is the cost of living in Croatia?
It's cheaper than on the West Coast of the States. A beer at a cafe is generally around $2.25, whereas in LA it's around $6. I can order a very nice pizza and have it delivered for around $5.50. Food is cheaper. Electronics, cars and other stuff like that are about the same as everywhere. The basic deal is if it's local, it's cheaper. So, naturally, food is usually local and is thus cheaper.

-What do you think about the Croatians?
I like them. They're one of the reasons I moved here. They're brutal in some ways, a bit more crude than Americans. But they're honest and straightforward with a touch of dark humor. They treat me great with the occasional exception. Once in a while there'll be some drunk older guy at a cafe who acts like an ass, but where is this not the case? In general, they've been very welcoming.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Croatia?
It's pretty great here, for me at least. My favorite things are the local markets. Many neighborhoods have their own markets with fresh foods. Local farmers set up stalls and sell you produce, fresh cheese and other stuff. Fresh meats and fish are available. Fresh flowers. This is great. It's usually organic too. Olive oil is amazing here. You buy it straight from the producer.

Cafe culture is better here than in States too. People talk and hang out. In LA, people go to the cafe with their laptop and wear headphones listening to their iPods, and don't talk to each other at all. I've literally NEVER seen a laptop at a cafe here. People go to visit friends and have coffee or beer. I like all the green space out here in the suburbs. For every apartment building, there's an equal amount of green space next to it. The buildings are not all right next to each other. If you looked at an overhead map, it's more than half green space.

As for dislikes, there are some. Dealing with any government or red tape is usually horrible and requires a lot of patience. Finding a bookkeeper for my company was lame. As soon as they heard I was American, they jacked up the price to some ridiculous amount. And around my neighborhood, the young men race around in their cars at night. It gets extremely annoying and really loud. Every place has it's good and bad, though.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Croatia?
Don't stay in your place, distant from the locals. Make friends and go out amongst the locals. Don't isolate yourself. Try local foods. Travel the local area. Get a bike. And learn the language! It's not THAT hard.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Croatia?
I don't like most blogs about this area. This is because they are primarily political. Western outsiders come here, then like to act like they've figured it all out. Like all the “Free Kosovo” blogs. I am FAR more interested in local culture, foods and such.

In my blog (http://matthollingsworth.blogspot.com) I try to show lots of pictures and talk about local stuff. And I never talk about politics.

And this other one shows my comics work: maudit.net

Hello!!

curmatt's picture

Hello Matt,
I am a US Expat living in Croatia(I bought some property in the Medimurje).I am currently in Japan and will be heading back to stay my friend who also lives and works in Zagreb he in 2 weeks and would like to talk to you about living long term in croatia,etc.Let me know if you recieved this.Thanks!My email is : curmatt@yahoo.com and my skype is : curmatt
Hope to talk to you soon.

Cool

Hollingsworth's picture

Hey!

I'll e-mail you here in a second.

Also for anyone curious, my new website for comics work is www.matthollingsworth.net. The blog's in the same place as always.