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.
Nothing can really prepare you for culture shock, unless of course, you have experienced it before.
Coming from, what is considered to be, one of the most liveable cities in the world is making this the contrasts even more vivid.
In Vancouver many people, whether they know it or now, lead a privileged existence. Everything works on command, every commodity and convenience is always available and it is all with a beautiful backdrop of ocean and mountains. You know where to get everything and often the “experience” is as interesting as the commodity (think Whole Foods).
Here too you have a stunning backdrop of ocean and mountains. Centuries of history add even more gorgeous ingredients to the mix.
Bay of Kotor
However, here so much of what I had taken for granted is not available yet. There are no delicatessens and organic food stores (you go the the Saturday fresh market for that). Brunch places do not exist and cuisine is almost entirely local in nature; fresh fish or warm stews are the fare here. There are no fitness clubs, movie theatres with popcorn or the variety in retail we know. With a few bright exceptions like the new Aman Resort, the hospitality industry is behind the standards we know. Little Britain’s “computer says no” skit comes to mind sometimes.
Everywhere you turn, there is an entrepreneur’s dream waiting to be realized.
The culture shock creeps up on you slowly. At first, all the differences don’t bother you. You don’t even notice them because you are in awe of the beauty of this region. The novelty of everything numbs you to how different things really are and how all your familiar reference points are no longer there. Then sometimes you start to lose patience and little things start to get to you. Pings of homesickness rise from your gut when all you really want for dinner is some sushi or Chinese food, or just something as simple as home delivery.
As our furniture and personal items are about to arrive momentarily, it feels good to know that I will once again be surrounded by familiar things … at least at home. That will make a big difference with everything else that is so new. Now I know that living in an “emerging market” and feeling the culture shock just mean I have to remind myself more often to relax, observe, not judge and not have Vancouver as my reference point for my expectations. As I said before, change is coming at you here! It is going to be fascinating to observe.
There is much to discover in this ancient storied land, so back to cherishing the differences and exploring!