One of the most refreshing aspects of living and working in Montenegro is that the country has not been overrun by international corporations and brands. There are no Starbucks Coffee shops ensuring you get the same latte here that you find back at home; there are no fast food chains that guarantee you will get the same super sized meal here that you would find back at home in anywhere USA or Canada; retail chains like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, The Body Shop, Tim Hortons, Boots Drug Stores and so on are non-existent here.
Organic, local, family retailers and national brands are more the vibe here. Finding things you need often becomes a bit of a hunt, but that is half the fun.
Sometimes though, I get a ping for something familiar, so when I saw Ceasar Salad on a restaurant menu a while back, I had to have it, but I was left disappointed as it was not at all what I was expecting, or I should say, craving. Unfortunately for me, as I subsequently explored this menu item around the country, I realized that only the name was familiar. All of the ingredients you think you are going to find in a traditional Ceasar Salad are, here, open to very wide interpretation… from basic (yet fresh and lovely) vegetable platters to chopped up green leaf lettuce with a soupy mayonnaise dressing topped with a couple large pieces of bacon.
This collection of thoughts on “paper” is intended to record my experiences as a foreigner living and working here in Montenegro, one of the newest countries in the world. Emerging or developing is something I have never experienced; camping on a Gulf Island did not count I guess!
After being cut from the world by the conflict in the Balkans for so many years and being under the rule of Tito’s Communism before that, this tiny newly independent nation (as of 2006) is full of fascinating contradictions!
On the one hand you have, as my dear friend Jeff coined it, the “slow food” of bureaucracy which can drive you mental, and on the other you can see change barrelling towards you. One example is the arrival of new found wealth. In a country where the average national income is less than 800 Canadian dollars a month, shiny new luxury cars are beginning to pop up; overshadowing the pre-independence monopolies of Lada, Skoda and the populist Fiat 600.
The duality and contradictions can be found everywhere. In less than a moment you can find yourself in absolute awe as you walk through the UN protected World Heritage Sites of Kotor and Perast and then cringe as you drive past an abandoned factory right next door. You can be sitting in your 300 year old stone house cherishing its history, and then whinge when you have to take out the garbage because they have not adopted recycling yet (that will come with closer integration to the European Union). Old and new are also vividly contrasted during the outdoor markets on Saturdays where you have simple farmer women in their black dresses selling you their fruit and vegetables and home made goods and only a few minutes walk away you can go the new Panto market and find every kind of packaged food you can imagine. Nestle and Kraft have already got their grasp on this emerging marketing. Unfortunately, convenience foods have made it here, but somebody forgot to bring in the health food section. Whole Foods, Capers and the like are completely absent from the equation.
Very Old and New, Newly Rich and Happily Poor, Beauty and Ugly, Fast and Slow, Easy and Hard… this is an experience of great contrasts!