So I’ve only now recovered from a bachelor party I attended almost a month ago. It’s taken a month to recover, as the scars needed time to heal. For this was no ordinary bachelor party, but an English stag weekend.
Anyone who’s traveled to Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam or even Dublin knows what I’m talking about. England’s finest normally pour in on the SleazyJet flight to any non-UK town (normally in Eastern Europe) with cheap booze, cheap hookers, and cheap hotels wrapped up in an Old Town they never need to leave. Main activities include: drinking, falling down, singing, shouting, turning red, vomiting, drinking more, looking for a kebab shop, and making a complete drunken ass of the groom and themselves.
Oh yeah, and English stag weekends tend to start on Thursday.
With so much going against it, I’ve still wanted to be on the inside of one of these things just once. So when an invite popped up in my Inbox to head to Split, Croatia, for an English stag weekend – I couldn’t refuse.
I figured since over half the group was 40+, somehow they’d be more refined. Boy, was I wrong. Finally being on the inside of one of these things, I have never seen grown men make such complete asses of themselves. The people of Croatia didn’t know what hit them.
I was strictly going along to observe and learn, which meant I was keeping my mouth shut. I did however, question the best man’s choice of venue. Yes, Croatia is relatively cheap, yes there’s an Old Town with loads of cafés and bars, but, Croatia is über-conservative, which means:
- They roll the streets up at 11 pm.
- They don’t like foreigners. Especially loud, obnoxious ones.
- The girls won’t talk to you.
- Strip clubs will be horrible.
- No kebab shops. The last Muslims in the area were run out of town on a rail during Croatia’s war for Independence.
I’d been to Croatia (and Split, specifically) a couple of times in the past, and had concluded that the nation seems to suffer schizophrenia. They desperately want to be part of Europe (I’ve seen bootleg license plates with the EU flag with the Croatian “HR” in the middle), but they also want to be Croatian – and ferociously so. I’d seen this ugly nationalism manifest itself a few times. Once in a bar, (in 2000) we were told to “shut up” and “speak Croatian” (instead of English). Another time (2001), an [American] buddy of mine who was working in Zagreb discovered he was being surveilled by one of Croatia’s many internal security/intelligence services. (An unnerving story for another blog entry).
That’s why I never would have picked Croatia for a bachelor weekend. If you want strippers on the agenda, you have to stick with winning horses like Budapest and Prague.
On the bright side: Split is actually an amazing place. The old town is actually the ancient retirement palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. The palace has been carved up over the years into warrens that have since become individual homes. The entire old town including the flag stones on its streets are carved from marble quarried on the neighboring island of Brac (pron. “Brah-ch”. (Brac also provided the stone for the White House in Washington, DC.) Also, Summer on the Croatian coast is just off the hook. The weather is perfect, and if you’re a sailor, this is the place to be. (There’s a reason the Croats have like eight words for “wind”.) Finally, Split is in the region of Dalmatia, which the Turks never managed to conquer. Because of this, Dalmatia still produces tons of tall people, including all those NBA hoop stars like Toni Kukoc. It also produces reams and reams of hot, 6’3” women, with legs that go all the way to the ceiling.
So our stag weekend began – on Thursday. The first night, they dressed up the groom-to-be as a clown. We dragged him around on our pub crawl, to the bemusement and consternation of our Dalmatian hosts. The poor Croats were completely confused, and a number of children were left traumatized as well. The kids would run up to the groom/clown, no doubt expecting a balloon animal or something. Instead, they got a face full of cigarette smoke and were told to “piss off” in English. No doubt they didn’t realize how very scrofulous (and drunk) the clown was until they were too close and it was too late.
As I feared, the Old Town did indeed shut down at 11:30 pm, but we did find a string of clubs lining the bay. The weather was so perfect; the boardwalk itself became the club venue. Indeed, it was so warm, people were swimming all night long.
On the second night of our stag weekend, they dressed the groom in drag. The Croats simply didn’t “get” it. (The few Brit or Aussie tourists we ran into certainly did.) Some people did chuckle, but in general, we were avoided like the plague. This made for tough going when we hit the clubs.
All was not lost, though. Like Goldilocks, found that the third night was “just right”. Somehow, thing came together. The groom-to-be was dressed up like Marilyn Monroe, and the locals ate it up. Finally, here was something they could recognize. (Of course, they couldn’t understand why a guy was dressed up like Marilyn, but that was beside the point.) He was such a big hit, they had to parade him down the Riva (the boardwalk in front of Diocletan’s Palace) – much to everyone’s delight. Women ran up to have their picture taken with Marilyn, and the men wolf-whistled playfully, grinning from the windows above us.
This get-up even paid dividends at the clubs we hit. As mentioned, the region also produces tons of tall women who don’t play basketball. The club we frequented always had a string of 9s to perfect 10s who were 6-foot and taller. Always. The problem is, they won’t give you the time of day because i) you are not Croatian, and ii) even though they want out of Croatia, they won’t hook up in front of people who could report their activity back to their village.
They were – however – willing to talk to Marilyn. So I guess the English penchant for dressing in drag can be beneficial as an icebreaker.
Croatia’s conservatism did get under my nails though. What do you expect from a nation that actually looks up to the Germans? During our stag weekend, Croatia was progressing in the Euro 2008, and was set to play against Turkey. Theoretically, the city should have been going crazy, as they’d already beaten some very competitive sides. There were lots of flags and lots of scarves sporting the red and white [checkerboard pattern of the Croatian coat-of-arms], but that was it. Even though all the cafés had wide-screen televisions outside, one look at the crowd and you would have thought they were watching 1978 Cricket highlights. I think my fellow staggers’ attempts to get some football chants going weren’t too well-received either.
Only in the last few minutes did the place go off: after a scoreless 90 minutes of regulation time, Croatia scored in extra time…
Fireworks went off on along the Riva. People were going nuts, and sound systems started kicking out loud rock music. It was so loud in fact, no one notices when Turkey equalized 70 seconds later. People finally came to their senses, and the place went as quiet as a funeral home as Turkey went on to win in penalties…
Some of the guys were planning to dress up the groom as a Turkish dervish the next night (including a fez and long moustache!) but thought better of it. Definitely a wise move.
It was still a fantastic weekend, celebrating my buddy’s last few days of freedom. We even managed to find a way around the lack of kebab shops. The Croatian čevapi made a manageable substitute, and we even found a Cornish pasty shop that opened at 5 am when we were stumbling back to our hotel. An incongruity I didn’t dare question. After God knows how many shots of rakia, I couldn’t open my mouth to question coherently anyway.