Understanding the Croatian Way of Life

Tourism is booming in Croatia, and for good reason. It is home to stunning coastlines dotted with jewel-like islands, crystalline lakes ringed with deeply shrouded forests and a vast array of incredibly picturesque waterfalls dropping over ledges into river canyons below. It also has wonderful cities, where you can visit Slavic churches, Napoleonic forts and excellent museums, and cap it all off with a leisurely coffee in a local café.

But the centerpiece of Croatia is, of course, its people. And to get the most out of a visit to this amazing country, you must first understand a bit about hrvatskinačinživota, the Croatian way of life.

Home and Family

The home is the epicentre of Croatian life and Croatians have a very strong sense of family. Unlike Australians, Croats don’t leave home at the age of 18, but live much more of their adult lives with their parents in the family home. Often three (and sometimes even four) generations live under one roof, giving rise to inter-generational bonds of help and responsibility. In fact, young parents often rely on their parents, or even their grandparents, for childcare and other help in raising their own young families.

Among Croatians there is a general expectation that the elderly are afforded a high level of respect and they are widely understood to be a wonderful source of information about culture, traditions and history. Sacrifices are made to take care of elders (and other members) in the family. Making sacrifices to benefit one’s family is also highly regarded in the Croatian culture and many people give up work to spend time with their family, especially on the weekends. In fact, in many cases, Sundays are reserved exclusively for family.

Food and Wine

Customs at home are also very much centred on food. In a Croatian home there will almost always be food on the stove or on the table. If, as a visitor to Croatia you are lucky enough to be invited to a local’s house for dinner, you will want to make sure you go with an empty stomach. And when you are offered food, always take less than you want. You will be offered more, and then more again, and it is considered rude not to accept it. In fact, to be safe, it is best to never say no to food.

It is also considered good manners to take a small gift of chocolates, a nice bottle of wine or flowers for your host or hostess (just make sure the flowers have an odd number of stems as even numbers are reserved for funerals). You should also be prepared for a pre-meal prayer. Many Croatians are traditionally Catholic and still carry on the idea of saying grace.

Croatians love food; they generally prefer it to be very simple, but very high quality. Restaurants also tend to offer the same sorts of simple, well-loved items on their menu – risotto, fish, a meat platter or mussels in wine broth – but what differentiates them from one another is the quality of the ingredients and the preparation. If you are looking to try some traditional dishes you won’t go wrong with black risotto, made with cuttlefish or squid ink, brodetto, or fisherman’s stew, or fritule, donut-like fried pastries that vary from region to region.

The Croatians also adore their local wine. Situated on the Adriatic Sea directly across from Italy, it’s no wonder that Croatia has the perfect climate for wine making. Southern Croatia is known for its bold reds from Pelješac, and light whites from Korčula Island, while Plavac Mali is red wine made primarily from grapes grown along the Dalmatian coast.

If you want to try a very local wine, produced in the town or area that you are visiting, be sure to speak to the locals. Information in Croatia is widely passed by word of mouth and is not usually written down or advertised – this applies to food and wine as well!

And lastly, when it comes to food and wine be sure to enjoy it the Croatian way – leisurely and with friends!

Who you know

The sense of interconnectedness that Croatians feel within their extended families reaches out into the wider community as well. In fact, Croatians feel a deep sense of history and connection with and between the people who live in their villages. They watch out for each other and take care of each other.

This feeling is expressed in the Croatian expression ‘tkocekomeako ne svojsvome’, which means ‘who will you help if not your own?’ This begins with the family, but extends to the wider community or ‘village’ and is, at its core, a sort of favouritism.
While Australians may have a negative connotation of favouritism(getting something because you know someone), in Croatia, where people have historically been subject to the whims of the various rulers,it’s just the way that things get done. People rely on each other more than the system, which is not always reliable. Distrust in the system has made Croatians cling to the extended family and their little communities as a place of belonging and safety.

So, in Croatia, who you know matters.

Take it easy

No one is in a rush in Croatia. In cafés, Croats will often sit for hours, with a cup of coffee, socialising with friends and without any evident concern about what is going to happen next. In fact, Croatians seem to live in the moment, focussing on what they are doing then and now, without worrying about the next thing.

This holds true with work as well. While Australians often focus much of their time and energy on their work life and accomplishments, Croatians treat work as more of a means to an end. Even in the midst of a busy workweek, they will still find the time to sneak in a swim or catch up with friends for a long chatty coffee date.

Life is a celebration

Croatians will celebrate at any time, and any place and for any reason. There’s never a bad time to have a party in Croatia, even if you have to work the next morning, or it’s the coldest day of winter. As long as there is wine to share, and friends to share it with, there is a reason to celebrate.

So, take it easy. Dress well and with attention to detail. Drink the local wine. Share simple meals with loved ones. Dance with your friends. And sing spontaneously, whenever the mood strikes you.

These are the secrets to a beautiful Croatian life!

If you want help planning your Croatian holiday, just reach out to us on 1800 242 353 or chat live online.