10 years in Croatia: 120 little things I love about this country

Woman at source of Cetina river in Croatia
Me at the source of the Cetina river

Most the time, we are only given a brief moment to explain why we live in Croatia when asked. We boil it down to the highlights, and only take the broadest strokes. Soon it becomes a well-rehearsed speech that we always have at the ready when we need it.

I am certainly guilty of that. When people ask me “why Croatia”, I speak about the community and the safety, the mountains and the sea, the food and the people. It’s all true, but it’s not the complete picture. You need a lot more than that to build a life somewhere without a nagging desire to leave and try someplace new.

On May 7, 2022, I celebrated 10 years in Croatia, which is no small feat. Croatia does all it can to discourage foreign longevity, and also, it’s not unusual for people just to get tired of it. I’m here for the long haul because I love it to death. In honor of my 10 years in this country, I would like to share the little things I love about Croatia that there never seems to be time to share…one for every month I’ve lived in Croatia.

I do use some Croatian terms throughout this post. For those not familiar with them, I’ve added some nifty footnotes so you can easily click to get a translation.

Without further ado, the facts are these…

120 little things I love about Croatia

#1 I can walk home at 4am and feel completely safe.

#2 Watching people scrape out every last bit of coffee from their cup, like it’s chocolate pudding.

#3 Octopus salad

Octopus salad at Kaptenovo Lozje on island Brac

#4 Skradin risotto

#5 How people arrange their laundry.

#6 The purple irises that bloom all over my neighborhood in spring, which are the same purple irises that my mom grew in our front yard when I was growing up in Texas. The purple iris is Croatia’s national flower.

Croatia's national flower - purple iris
Purple irises in my Split neighborhood

#7 The lack of theft

#8 The lack of violence

#9 Seeing Dalmatian dogs in Dalmatia

#10 All the women with purple hair

#11 Running into people you know on the street, or a caffe, or in a shop or restaurant. If you leave the house, it’s bound to happen. It can be such a nice surprise.

#12 The way Croatians say “ej” and every single one of its meanings, including “really”, “no way”, “I agree”, “what the hell are you doing”, “I know” and “come on”.

#13 That a shoe shop can turn into a restaurant in 2 days, but a residence application can take 9 months.

#14 That Croatians bring gifts just because, and it’s usually edible. A bag of mandarins. A label-less bottle of wine. Olive oil in a Coke bottle. A handful of tomatoes. A box of grapes.

Croatian mandarin oranges
Mandarins left on my doorstep by a friend

#15 The women that dress up specifically to strut down Split’s Riva or through Zagreb’s Cvjetni Trg or along Dubrovnik’s Stradun like they are walking the red carpet. (I’M ONE OF THEM)

#16 How often the word “Splićanka1” is said in conversation.

#17 Murals for football teams that are specific to neighborhoods

Torcida Radunica mural in Split

#18 My local caffe bar where I receive coffee without ordering.

#19 Pašticada2

#20 There are more caffe bars than people, yet I’m intensely shamed for not having coffee at my house. I don’t know how to make it properly, and I don’t see the need to.

#21 The beefy men in skinny jeans with tiny dogs.

#22 The people who sell the cabbage peelers.

#23 The man who sells nothing but shoelaces on Split’s Riva.

#24 The woman who measures weight and height with her antique scale on Split’s Pjaca.

#25 When Split’s Peristil is completely empty during winter.

#26 Mercedes with Imotski plates

#27 The act of hanging leftover bread on trash cans for people who might be hungry.

Bread hanging on a trash can for anyone who needs it

#28 The many fig trees that grow in my neighborhood, even though I rarely get to them before the Splićani pick them clean.

#29 When I say “dobar dan” and a Croatian replies, “svaki dan3“.

#30 The drive from Split to Dubrovnik along the coastal road overlooking the sea, cliffs, villages, beaches and islands. Pacific Coast Highway in California has NOTHING on Croatia’s D8.

#31 How cheap it is to tailor clothes.

#32 When Croatians don’t charge you because they see it as uncomfortable or too much of a hassle to bother with it. They are just pleased to help, and that’s usually enough. (But you should always offer, no matter what.)

#33 My egg lady.

#34 Sitting for hours at the caffe bar with only one coffee – with nobody trying to move you along.

#35 How people seek to be outside as much as possible.

#36 Boli me kurac4“.

#37 Boli me Pipi5“.

Girl with Pipi soda in Split

#38 The danac orah (walnut pastry) from Bobis, but only from the Bobis in my neighborhood. The danac orah at the Bobis on Riva is completely different and total bull shit.

#39 When the sea is full of white crests and sea spray from intense bura.

#40 When the sea is still as glass, which is called “bonaca”.

#41 When the markets are overflowing with flowers for All Saint’s Day.

Flowers at the market in Croatia
Flowers at the market for All Saints Day

#42 Hearing Croatian spoken around me.

#43 The ridiculous and varied names of caffe bars.

#44 The giant palm trees on Split’s Riva.

Palm trees on Split, Croatia's riva promenade
Palm trees on Split’s Riva promenade

#45 The festival of Sveti Duje6 held in Split every year on May 7, the same day as My CroAnniversary.

#46 The wine fair held in the basements of Diocletian’s Palace every May.

#47 Families are always together. They have lunch together. They go on trips together. They go to the beach together. They go to Riva together. They commonly live together. The family unit is important and the positive impact is evident.

#48 Debit Sladić wine from Skradin.

#49 The phrase “tako je7”. It’s my favorite Croatian thing to say and I love how it feels in my mouth.

#50 How Croatians completely ignore celebrities in public.

#51 All the benches, absolutely everywhere, because Croatians love to sit.

People on benches in Split, Croatia

#52 People playing picigin8.

#53 Men wearing fanny packs.

#54 Men calling each other “dragi9”.

#55 Jugo. YEAH I SAID IT. Bura is the real instigator of madness and you cannot convince me otherwise.

#56 It’s totally normal to have coffee by yourself. Having coffee is an experience, whether you’re with a person or not.

#57 Vrgorac strawberries in April.

#58 Marjan asparagus in May.

#59 Peaches in July. And then I make cobbler, and it’s EXCELLENT.

#60 Watermelons in August.

#61 Pag cheese.

#62 Kras chocolate-covered napolitanke.

#63 Red wine is called “black wine” in Croatian.

#64 Blonde hair is called “blue hair” in Croatian.

#65 Men playing balote10.

#66 Men with their shirts pulled up over their bellies during summer.

#67 Men clustered anywhere chatting.

#68 The “armpit” overlook just before the start of the Makarska Riviera.

Makarska Riviera
The “armpit” at the start of the Makarska Riviera

#69 I don’t feel like I’m surrounded by strangers.

#70 Svinjska vrata (pork neck), which is GREAT in tacos.

#71 When Croatians tell me that my love for Croatia makes them love Croatia more.

#72 The big bushes of bay leaves all around Split.

Bay leaves
Bay leaves picked from a bush outside my house

#73 The blooming trees during spring in Zagreb.

#74 The fall colors during autumn in Istria.

#75 Istrian truffles

#76 Istrian olive oil. (Write me letters if you want, but I prefer Istrian olive oil. Sorry, Dalmatia!)

#77 Driving on the winding roads through Istria. Reminds me of Mario Kart.

#78 Watching the rainbow-colored lightning storms over the islands.

#79 Black risotto.

#80 Cat colonies and their associated cat ladies.

#81 Hiking to Putalj mountain lodge.

An aerial view of Split, Croatia
The view of Split from Putalj mountain lodge

#82 Gazing at the giant, yet decrepit, villa in Ičići and daydreaming about what I would do with it.

#83 How Splićani11 wear sunglasses no matter what, even if it’s overcast and rainy.

#84 Walking along the promenade from Bol proper to Zlatni Rat under a canopy of pine trees, with a caprese sandwich from Arguola.

#85 Baba12 hanging out the window, watching people.

#86 Homemade shortcuts that have worn through the grass from years of use.

Making a brand new path

#87 Taking the ferry.

#88 My favorite Croatian phrase: “ ‘ko to more platit”, which means “priceless”.

#89 Zrinjevac park.

#90 Dino Dvornik’s song Ništa Kontra Splita13.

#91 Shopping on my pazar. (Yes, I know that it’s not called “pazar” everywhere in Croatia, but I live in Split and that’s what it is called here, so for this context I will call it “pazar”. Curse me if you wish.)

#92 When my butcher spots me and lights up.

#93 When the veggie man calls me “hobotnica14”.

#94 All of the socks spray painted around Split.

Just one of many sock graffiti in Split

#95 All of the octopus tentacles spray painted around Split.

#96 When Croatians say “jebiga15” in professional conversations.

#97 When I hear a baba say “u pičku materinu16”.

#98 Seeing the village of Skradin from the highway bridge as I drive by.

Skradin, Croatia
Skradin near Krka National Park

#99 The way Croatians care for their homes, inside and out. They will sweep even if it’s a public space or community sidewalk. They always clean their windows, which is something I’ll do maybe once a year.

#100 The canals in Solin.

#101 Rosemary bushes EVERYWHERE.

#102 The architecture of the old stone cities.

#103 The brutalist architecture built under Yugoslavia.

Split 3 neighborhood in Croatia
Neighborhood of Split 3

#104 The Croatian sense of style.

#105 All the eccentric weird people that are cherished, rather than ridiculed, in Split – like Santa Claus (may he rest in peace).

#106 When Croats save money by collecting the 5 kuna “bears”.

#107 The very nice, and usually empty, highways. Even though they are expensive, they are a joy to drive on.

#108 You cannot have a party without pršut and cheese.

#109 For such a small country, Croatia is incredibly diverse in landscape, food, culture and language.

#110 There is a town called Milna on island Brač, island Hvar and island Vis. I’m sure there are even more than just these 3.

#111 When Croatians break out into song, and it somehow is completely harmonized.

#112 The deep pride Croatians have for their country that is not always visible on the surface. You need to be there at the right moment to see it spill out, like during World Cup 2018 or when Oliver died.

Me during World Cup qualifiers in 2021

#113 Slavonian kulen17, that somehow tastes like chorizo.

#114 The prevalence of pizza.

#115 The long drawn-out Croatian goodbye, that usually involves saying goodbye in multiple ways, all strung together, frequently in some kind of monotone tenor. “Ajde, bok. Čujemo se. Ćao. Adijo. Sretno. Vidimo se. Ugodan dan. Bok bok.18

[Read: All the ways to say “hi” and “bye” in Croatian]

#116 The lakes and rivers that are just as clear and turquoise as the Adriatic sea.

#117 All of the stunningly incredible roses that bloom in late spring and early summer.

#118 How pets wait patiently for their owners outside of shops without being tied up.

Dogs waiting outside a supermarket

#119 How Croatians are as descriptive as possible when they curse at each other. My Croatian colleague advised me not to use examples, so you’ll just have to hear it for yourself. 🙂

#120 Nothing is set in stone. There are rules, but they don’t always matter. So much of what happens in Croatia is decided by an individual. This can help you or this can hurt you. In my case, there were two moments where this helped me. In my third year, I divorced my EU citizen spouse. Split MUP didn’t know what to do with me, because they had never encountered a third-country divorcing an EU before. It was not clearly defined in the law, so they had to make it up as they went along. They assembled a committee and voted on whether or not to keep me in the country. Thankfully, they kept me. Second, when I applied for permanent residence, they said I needed a Croatian salary. So, I opened my company and hired myself. They did not make me hire 3 Croatians or invest 200.000 kuna like they impose on others. If they had, I would not be here right now. If either of these moments had gone another way, this article would not be written. I’d be somewhere else in the world, not as happy, in a place that wasn’t my first choice surrounded by people who are not Croatian. Thinking about how close I was to being kicked out, not once, but twice, gives me chills down my spine. I’m so grateful that Croatia kept me, and in return, I’ll keep Croatia for the rest of my life.

It was pretty hard to only list 120 things. There are vastly more minutiae that I love and fill out the complete portrait of why this place is my home. You’ll just have to stick around to hear the rest. Due to changes in Croatian law, we don’t accept new comments on this blog anymore – but, I’d still love to hear from you. If you see this post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, share the little things you love about this country.


Footnotes

  1. How often the word “Splićanka” is said in conversation. “Splićanka” means “girl from Split”.Click to return
  2. Pašticada is a Dalmatian beef dish that is my favorite of all Croatian dishes. First, the beef is marinated in red wine vinegar for several days. Then it is cooked with root vegetables, prunes and Dalmatian Prošek, which is a sweet dessert wine. It’s usually served with gnocchi. It is reminiscent of pot roast. Click to return
  3. When I say “dobar dan” and a Croatian replies, “svaki dan”. “Dobar dan” means “good day” and “svaki dan” means “every day”. Click to return
  4. “Boli me kurac” means “it hurts my dick”. This is a VERY commonly used phrase that essentially means that something sucks – generally speaking. Click to return
  5. “Boli me Pipi” is a phrase from advertisements for the soda called “Pipi”. This is a VERY commonly used phrase that essentially means that something sucks – generally speaking. Click to return
  6. “Sveti Duje” is the patron saint of Split. Every year, there is a week-long celebration in his honor, with a culmination on May 7. The entire city comes out and it is like a giant block party. Click to return
  7. “Tako je” means “that’s right” Click to return
  8. “Picigin” is a handball game that was invented on Bačvice Beach in Split. Read more about it here. Click to return
  9. “Dragi” means “dear”. Click to return
  10. “Balote” is another handball game frequently played by men. It originated in Italy. Here is an article about it in Croatia, because we couldn’t find one in English. Perhaps we should write one. 🙂 Click to return
  11. “Splićani” means “people from Split”. Click to return
  12. “Baba” is the Dalmatian word for “grandmother”. Click to return
  13. “Ništa Kontra Splita” means “nothing against Split”. Click to return
  14. “Hobotnica” means “octopus”. Click to return
  15. “Jebiga” means “fuck it”. Click to return
  16. “U pičku materinu” means “in your mother’s pussy”. Click to return
  17. “Kulen” is a spicy pork sausage from the Slavonija region of Croatia. Click to return
  18. “Ajde, bok. Čujemo se. Ćao. Adijo. Sretno. Vidimo se. Ugodan dan. Bok bok.” means “Okay, bye. Hear you. Bye. Bye. Happy (trails). See you soon. Have a good day. Bye bye.Click to return

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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